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Air New Zealand backs radical self-piloting air taxi

October 24, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Air New Zealand has thrown its support behind a remarkable self-piloting electric air taxi that “rises like a helicopter and flies like a plane, eliminating the need for a runway and creating the possibility of taking off from places like rooftops”.

The New Zealand airline, in conjunction with Zephyr Airworks, has signed an agreement to work collaboratively on bringing the world’s first autonomous electric air taxi service to market in New Zealand.

The agreement between the national carrier and the operator of Cora, as the electric air taxi kis named, signals the intention to form a long-term relationship “to make autonomous, electric air travel a reality for all New Zealanders”.

Cora has been developed by Kitty Hawk Corporation in the US and is currently being tested in New Zealand by Zephyr Airworks, which says it chose New Zealand because the country “is recognised for its safety-focused regulatory environment and a strong history of excellence in airspace management.

“These qualities are vital in giving people confidence that we are serious about making Cora the best air taxi in the market.”

Kitty Hawk’s chief executive is Sebastian Thrun, who founded X (previously Google X), where he led the development of the self-driving car, along with Google Glass and other projects. Thrun spent several years as a professor at Stanford University where he led the Stanford Racing Team, whose “Stanley” won the DARPA Grand Challenge.

Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon says the airline is committed to embracing new technologies that make life easier, as well as understanding the potential of cleaner energy solutions for travel.

“Zephyr Airworks is leading the way in re-defining personal mobility to make it easier for all of us to get around. Zephyr Airworks’ innovative technology and commitment to New Zealand make them an ideal partner for advancing the future of travel in New Zealand.

“Both companies see the potential for our airspace to free people from the constraints of traffic and its associated social, economic and environmental impacts.

“Through the development of their autonomous electric air taxi Cora, the possibility of getting from A to B quickly and safely, and also relieving the impact of polluting emissions, is very real indeed.

“The announcement today is the start of a long-term relationship. We’ve 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 that will benefit all New Zealanders.”

Zephyr Airworks Chief Executive Fred Reid says the company is delighted to be fostering a close relationship with one of the world’s top-rated and successful airlines.

Kitty Hawk chief executive Sebastian Thrun

“Air New Zealand is one of Aotearoa’s best-known international brands. With its culture of innovation, high standards, and vision for a sustainable future, Air New Zealand is the perfect partner to help us reinvent mobility for everyday flight in New Zealand.

“One day, everyday people across the globe will be able to use Cora to bring flight into their lives. While we are not at that point yet, we are showing people what is possible. That is why we are excited to be drawing on Air New Zealand’s wealth of operational expertise in the New Zealand market.”

Working with New Zealand regulatory agencies, government, community, iwi [Maori communities] and business, Zephyr Airworks is also connecting with local communities to make sure everyday flight becomes a reality for people around the world.

“With our aircraft Cora, we are building on eight years of research, development and leading 21st century technology. We are applying everything that revolutionised the world of communications to transport – we are showing people what is possible. There is also the long-term economic and environmental advantages that will benefit future generations,” Reid says.

The New York Times has described Cora thus: “It looks like a cross between a small plane and a drone, with a series of small rotor blades along each wing that allow it to take off like a helicopter and then fly like a plane.”

It has a wingspan of 11 metres with a dozen rotors all powered by batteries.

Written by Peter Needham

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