Air New Zealand is in the early stages of scoping the private afforestation fund with the government but planting could begin next year.
The airline will work with the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to explore the establishment of a private afforestation scheme, providing funding to landowners to plant trees in return for the carbon benefits this will create.
Air New Zealand emits about three million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year but is part of a global push among airlines to carbon neutral growth after 2020.
If it goes ahead, Air New Zealand will spearhead the scheme, and is likely to provide grants to private landowners to plant trees on their land in exchange for the carbon units generated. It could be up to 15,000ha of new native and exotic trees and the airline says it would be aimed at helping It is hoped to benefit regional economies.
Air New Zealand would not be involved in the physical planting.
"While Air New Zealand employees who volunteer for our internal Green Team are involved with a range of community planting events, the proposed private afforestation fund is the first time we've developed and will directly fund an initiative to encourage new planting for carbon benefits," a spokeswoman said.
The airline's chief executive Christopher Luxon said Air New Zealand had been a strong advocate for more quality offsetting options.
"We are pleased to work with Government to encourage thousands more hectares of trees into the emissions trading scheme, which will create broader social, environmental and economic benefits," said Luxon.
MPI director-general Martyn Dunne says the Ministry was well-placed to be involved with this initiative.
"MPI has significant expertise and experience in forestry and forestry-related investment."
In October 2016 the International Civil Aviation Organisation reached a historic agreement on a global scheme designed to achieve carbon-neutral growth from 2020.