updated 9/28/2007 2:48:41 PM ET 2007-09-28T18:48:41

Air New Zealand will partner with Rolls-Royce Group Plc. and Boeing Co. to conduct the first trial flight of a Boeing 747 airplane partly run on biofuel by early 2009, the airline said Friday.

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New Zealand's national carrier, 76 percent owned by the government, said it had signed an agreement with airplane maker Boeing and engine maker Rolls-Royce to work together on projects to make commercial aviation more environmentally sustainable.

The first part of the deal is a trial flight of a Boeing 747 partly run on blended biofuel, to take place in the second half of 2008 or early 2009, it said.

One Rolls-Royce engine on the airplane will run on a blended mix of biofuel and kerosene while the other three will be powered by regular aviation fuel.

The flight is likely to depart from the company's base in Auckland but will not carry passengers, it said.

Air New Zealand Chief Executive Rob Fyfe said technology advances have made biofuel a viable possibility for the aviation industry sooner than expected. He did not elaborate on the biofuel blend to be used.

"Air New Zealand is keen to encourage research into alternative fuels and wants to work hand-in-hand with industry partners and the New Zealand government on promoting this type of activity," he said.

The New Zealand government welcomed the move.

"I'm delighted that Air New Zealand has taken the lead by signing up for the first commercial trial of a biofueled ... aircraft," said Climate Change and Energy Minister David Parker.

"Achieving Air New Zealand's plan to become the most environmentally responsible airline will put New Zealand further along its path to becoming the first truly sustainable country in the world," he said.

New Zealand announced last year the ambitious goal of becoming the world's first greenhouse gas-neutral nation.

At the time, Prime Minister Helen Clark likened the threat of climate change to nuclear holocaust during the Cold War, and said New Zealand must lead the way to combat it.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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