Air New Zealand has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Airbus to cooperate on a joint research project “to better understand the opportunities and challenges of flying zero-emission hydrogen aircraft in New Zealand”.

Under the agreement the carrier will analyse the impact hydrogen aircraft may have on its network, operations and infrastructure, while Airbus will “provide hydrogen aircraft performance requirements and ground operations characteristics to support Air New Zealand to develop its decarbonisation roadmap”.

Air New Zealand’s chief executive officer Greg Foran said that the agreement “brings us a step closer to our net zero emissions by 2050 commitment, and to realising our aspiration to put low carbon solutions in place for our shorter domestic and regional flights in the next decade”.

Foran added that at this stage both hydrogen and battery electric aircraft were “still on the table as potential options for our shorter domestic flights”.

Meanwhile the carrier’s chief operational integrity and safety officer Captain David Morgan said that the agreement was an opportunity to be part of the design and definition of how a hydrogen-powered aircraft might fit into Air New Zealand’s operations.

“We’ll be working closely with Airbus to understand opportunities and challenges, including achievable flying range and what ground infrastructure or logistics changes may be required to implement this technology in New Zealand,” said Morgan.

Last year Airbus unveiled a new project codenamed ZEROe with which it hopes to bring zero-emission commercial aircraft into service by 2035.

The manufacturer detailed three aircraft concepts, all relying on hydrogen as their primary power source, which Airbus says it believes “holds exceptional promise as a clean aviation fuel and is likely to be a solution for aerospace and many other industries to meet their climate-neutral targets”.

Airbus unveils concepts for zero-emission commercial aircraft

The Air New Zealand / Airbus project is a first for the Asia-Pacific region – in December British Airways has announced a new partnership with hydrogen-electric aviation solutions firm Zeroavia, to explore “the transformational possibilities of moving from fossil fuels to zero-emission hydrogen to power the airline’s future fleet”.