Air New Zealand aims to help develop the autonomous air taxi concept by partnering with Zephyr Airworks—a company testing such an aircraft in New Zealand.

The two companies have signed an agreement to “work collaboratively on bringing the world’s first autonomous electric air taxi service to market in New Zealand.”

Zephyr Airworks was established in New Zealand in 2016 by California-based Kitty Hawk, which developed the Cora electric air taxi prototype. Kitty Hawk selected New Zealand as the location to conduct further flight testing, development and certification work.

Air New Zealand will not be making a financial investment in Zephyr or the Cora program, an airline spokeswoman told ATW’s sister publication Aviation Daily. The carrier’s involvement will be “providing technical support and expertise to help Zephyr as it works through regulatory processes” with the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority, she said.

The airline signaled it is too early to determine whether air taxi services could link with Air New Zealand operations. “At this stage we’re just interested in the technology and are happy to support its development,” the spokeswoman said.

The partnership agreement “is the start of a long-term relationship” between the two companies, Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon said in a joint statement. Luxon said the airline has been “impressed with Zephyr Airworks’ innovative and considered approach and our core values are aligned when it comes to delivering reliable, convenient and sustainable air travel.”

He added, “Zephyr Airworks’ innovative technology and commitment to New Zealand make them an ideal partner for advancing the future of travel.”

Zephyr CEO Fred Reid is former head of Virgin America. The first Cora aircraft was shipped to New Zealand in October 2017, with testing beginning soon after. The prototype can carry two passengers. It does not have a pilot, but uses “self-flying software combined with human oversight,” the company said.

Kitty Hawk said it chose New Zealand because it is “recognized for its safety-focused regulatory environment and a strong history of excellence in airspace management.” The parent also highlighted the country’s “commitment to innovation and forward-thinking regulatory ecosystem.”

Adrian Schofield, adrian.schofield@informa.com