PM’s Southeast Asia Visit Set to Boost Exports of NZ’s Rainmaking Aircraft

Apr 15, 2024

Media release

A new government-led mission to Southeast Asia could provide a $37 million boost to New Zealand’s aeronautical industry, according to an industry expert.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon will lead a delegation of senior business leaders representing a cross-section of New Zealand companies on a seven-day mission to Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand later this week. The diplomatic visit is designed to strengthen bilateral ties in the region, diversify trade and promote New Zealand’s strong expertise and innovation across key sectors including manufacturing and technology. 

Stephen Burrows, CEO of NZAero, the country’s only commercial aircraft manufacturer, says the opportunity to grow an existing supply relationship between New Zealand’s aviation industry and the Royal Thai Air Force during the visit will represent a multi-million dollar boost to the sector’s export earnings and could see the creation of dozens more jobs and significant expansion of the local industry. 

He says defence spending in Southeast Asia is expected to rise by billions of dollars in the coming years and New Zealand designed aeronautical technology has a growing role to play in supporting the military-led humanitarian needs of its regional partners - as well as helping to address the impact of climate change.

“In countries like Thailand where the heat index can reach as high as 54 °C,  precipitation is becoming less frequent and droughts are more prevalent and intense, air quality and climate change are the nation’s leading environmental concerns.

“At the start of every year Thailand’s Department of Royal Rainmaking and Agricultural Aviation initiates a cloud-seeding programme to stimulate artificial rain and dampen down fine particulates in the air caused by vehicle emissions and agricultural practices, as well as mitigating dry weather conditions in the main crop-growing areas.

“This operation utilises a fleet of 30 rainmaking aircraft to ease the impact of climate change on the country’s farming sector and prevent hailstorms and forest fires in some regions of the country.

“New Zealand has a 50-year history as an aviation supplier to Thailand - with their air force having purchased 72 aircraft and millions of dollars of parts from us in that time.

“We have recently launched our new SuperPac XSTOL (Extremely Short Take-Off and Landing) aircraft. With a 41% greater climb performance and 10% faster cruise speed than its predecessor, this model is specifically designed for high altitudes in hot and humid climates - allowing them to fly a 2,000kg payload over mountains at 4,000m, without impacting fuel efficiency.

“An opportunity exists to significantly increase the value of parts and maintenance exports to that market and help strengthen our relationship so that as their existing fleets are phased out, our new utility aircraft are seen as a viable replacement. 

“We would be able to migrate them from their current labour-intensive process where dry ice/salt are manually fed from sacks through a hole in an aircraft, to our new model which holds material in a dust-free hopper that can be released electronically using GPS or using pilot controls,” he says. 

Burrows says the SuperPac provides an off-the-shelf model that can be rapidly reconfigured for humanitarian and defence roles including medivac, border patrol, aerial photography, Intelligence Search and Rescue, skydive deployment, rainmaking, pollution control, firefighting as well as passenger/freight, agricultural operations and geophysical survey.

“They could reduce their fleet size by about 50% with each SuperPac being capable of delivering twice the payload of their current aircraft and convert the aircraft from rain making to pollution control or even firefighting - within half an hour.

“We are also looking at customising rainmaking technology for this market using an aircraft-mounted flare able to be deployed from the back of the plane into the atmosphere, during droughts or periods of intense air pollution,” he says. 

Burrows says they will also look to meet with defence force decision-makers and private aviation operators in Singapore and the Philippines.

“The Philippines is set to increase their annual defence budget by over 50% to modernise their military in the next five years, similarly Singapore’s increase in defence spending in the coming year will be highest in over a quarter of a century. 

“The timing of the upcoming mission to these countries is well aligned with New Zealand export objectives and provides a tangible opportunity to grow New Zealand’s aeronautical manufacturing capacity,” he says.

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