Air New Zealand (ANZ), Boeing and Rolls-Royce are to conduct a biofuel demonstration flight in a move they say is designed to help accelerate the development of alternative fuels for use in commercial aviation.

The three companies are due to sign a memorandum of understanding today and ANZ says in a statement that they will “work together on projects aimed at ensuring that commercial aviation continues to become more environmentally sustainable”.

Boeing says in a statement of its own that a demonstration flight is planned for the second half of 2008 using an ANZ Boeing 747-400 that will be powered in part by biofuel.

“Boeing is in discussions with fuel-source providers around the globe to identify potential biofuels that are available in suitable quantities for laboratory and jet-engine performance testing and in compliance with stringent aviation requirements,” it says.

“Our near-term goal in this pioneering effort is to identify sustainable alternative bio-jet fuel sources for the planes that are flying today.”

Star Alliance carrier ANZ says the trial will probably be carried out from its Auckland base and the Rolls-Royce RB211-524G-powered 747-400 will not be carrying passengers. It says only one engine will run on a blended biofuel/kerosene mix and the remaining three will be powered by standard aviation fuel.

“An announcement on the source and mix of the blended fuel will be made closer to the time of the flight,” it adds.

Earlier this year Virgin Atlantic Airways, Boeing and General Electric announced that they were teaming up for a similar biofuel demonstration flight planned for early next year in the UK.

ANZ CEO Rob Fyfe says that “as little as a year ago biofuel seemed like ‘pie in the sky’ to many aviation industry observers, but it is now a possibility and technology is moving so fast that it may become viable in a much shorter timeframe than previously thought”.

Boeing adds: “The Air New Zealand bio-jet fuel demo flight will highlight the suitability of environmentally progressive fuel solutions (bio-jet fuels) that differ from traditional biofuel development. Bio-jet fuels will incorporate second-generation methodologies relative to sustainable feedstock source selection and fuel processing, which are uniquely suited for aerospace applications.

“These bio-jet fuels can potentially be blended with traditional kerosene fuel (Jet-A) to reduce dependency on petroleum-based fuels. Additionally, sustainable bio-jet feedstock sources avoid deforestation practices and potential competition with global food resources, while helping to lower aviation carbon dioxide outputs.”