Qatar Airways has sealed an agreement with aerospace and energy specialists formalising its intentions to explore the potential use of gas-to-liquid fuel, an alternative fuel obtained through the conversion of natural gas.

The airline last month expressed an interest in introducing natural-gas derivatives to power its aircraft fleet.

It has signed a research agreement with Qatar Petroleum, Qatari fuel company Woqod, Shell International, Airbus and Rolls-Royce to study the creation and use of synthetic fuels. Qatar Science and Technology Park will also participate in the effort.

Qatar Airways says the agreement will enable it to become the first carrier to operate services with gas-to-liquid kerosene, which has similar properties to regular kerosene and could serve as an initial substitute.

The gas-to-liquid fuel would be combined with regular kerosene initially but the researchers are hoping to study fully-synthetic fuels at a later stage.

“We are engaging in a project aimed at understanding the potential of gas-to-liquid kerosene fuel to power aircraft,” says Airbus future programmes vice-president Christian Scherer, adding that “no one industry has all the answers” to the issues.

Qatar Airways chief Akbar Al Baker says the pact demonstrates that the aviation industry is taking seriously the focus on environmental preservation.

The research effort has been devised as Qatar continues progress on the Pearl gas-to-liquid programme, expected to be ready in 2010, which will extract natural gas from the North Field offshore reserve and convert it to liquid fuels.

Programmes to derive gas-to-liquid fuels which meet international standards for aviation use are being co-ordinated by the industry’s Commercial Alternative Aviation Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) consortium. The consortium supports approval of a semi-synthetic fuel blend by 2008, and a 100% specification by around 2010.