New Zealand's first fully autonomous electric vehicle has arrived at Christchurch International Airport.

The driverless shuttle, which carries 15 passengers, arrived at the airport yesterday a spokeswoman confirmed.

A trial will soon begin on the airport grounds, starting on private roads with no public present.

The long-term aim is to move to public roads "once the safety case has been made" and all regulatory approvals are in place.

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HMI Technologies brought the French-made Navya 15-person shuttle, which has no steering wheel, into New Zealand.

Christchurch Airport general manager of corporate affairs Michael Singleton said last year when the trial was announced that the airport's interest centres on future plans for linking key areas around the airport campus.

"We hope to eventually see autonomous vehicles operating in and around the airport," he said.

"Before that could happen, we want to understand the infrastructure and operating requirements for these vehicles, to understand the human/technology interface and to build the safety case for autonomous vehicles on our campus."

Former Secretary for Transport, Martin Matthews is overseeing the trial.

"Autonomous vehicles are coming, whether we are ready or not, so we are taking the initiative to be ready," he said.

"Many people believe we are years away from seeing these vehicles on our roads, but I disagree. I believe they will be with us very soon, so it's important we understand what is required for them to operate safely here."

The trial partners are working with University of Canterbury researchers and developers, as well as the Ministry of Transport and New Zealand Transport Agency.

Christchurch City Council is also using the trials to raise awareness of how the vehicles and other technological developments may alter the way cities work in the future.