Air New Zealand is looking at the zero gravity position of astronauts as a way of seating its long-haul passengers more comfortably as it continues secret work on its next-generation cabins.

The airline has for much of the year been working in ''Hangar 22'' on new concepts for its long-haul interiors next decade.

There is limited access to the secret site and airline staff and others working on the project are tight-lipped but it is understood the airline is tapping into Nasa's experience over decades.

Zero gravity sleep settings are similar to the position of astronauts when they launch. Through research in the United States space programme, ideal seating positions have been found.

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Last year, Emirates unveiled zero-gravity seats in some of its first-class suites and car company Nissan has been working for a decade on zero gravity seats to mimic the weightlessness of space, where the human body can experience a neutral spine posture, easing stress on joints and muscles and the lower back. Indoor and outdoor zero gravity lounging chairs are also becoming more popular.

Although not under nearly the same strain as astronauts who at launch face up to 3Gs - three times the force of gravity - there are potential benefits of the Zero G position for passengers who face even longer flights in the next decade as ultra-long-haul travel grows.

At the weekend, Singapore Airlines claimed the crown for flying the world's longest route from Singapore to New York and Air New Zealand is interested in non-stop flights from Auckland to the east coast of North America with cities such as New York - 14,185km away on the radar.

Air New Zealand will at the end of next month launch what will be its longest route to date, Auckland-Chicago, a distance of about 14,200km.

Experts working on the Air New Zealand project point out that by having a seat distribute the body's natural weight, it could alleviate pressure points and muscle tension, encourage better circulation. This could reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis.

Air New Zealand existing Business Premier product. It will be revamped. Photo / Supplied
Air New Zealand existing Business Premier product. It will be revamped. Photo / Supplied

Acoustic experts are also understood to be working with the airline in Hangar 22 on new ways of minimising noise in the cabin.

This includes ''active'' noise cancelling through a series of microphones that pick up the negative ambient noise and through a speaker, produce an "anti-noise" that levels out the frequency of the incoming noise, effectively cancelling it out.

Cabin lighting is also under review.

Lighting and the exposure to various types of light, have a significant influence on our body clocks. The airline is researching ways that the cabin could help reset or influence the phase change when travelling to minimise disruption to our natural rhythms, particularly when travelling into earlier time zones as flights travelling east to the US are.

There are thousands of different lighting combinations available on new planes and, on the ground, Qantas has modified lighting in its new Perth lounge to better prepare passengers for the marathon flight to London.

The work in Hangar 22 is timed around new aircraft entering the fleet from 2023.
Air New Zealand is getting closer to replacing its nine Boeing 777-200s and the new aircraft will be the first with the all-new cabins.

It is looking closely at the Boeing 777-X, ready by around 2022 and which will be fly further than anything in its current fleet, but is larger than anything it currently flies. The Airbus A350-XWB will also be a strong contender with the ultra long range version of that plane debuting on Singapore Airlines' New York route. Air New Zealand has been assessing engine options for the new aircraft with Rolls-Royce and General Electric presenting options to it.

Business Travel: The future of ultra long flights

The airline's uniforms are also being replaced but will be introduced in 2021 for about 4500 cabin crew and airline staff.

Customers - who have signed confidentiality agreements - have been part of the Hangar 22 testing programme.

The airline's chief marketing and customer officer, Mike Tod, wouldn't comment on the specifics of the programme but said it was aimed at helping passengers feel better when they arrived at their destination.

''Over the course of the past year, we've had a lot of customers through Hangar 22 testing various innovations and giving us their feedback. This continues to be invaluable for shaping our view in a range of areas, such as what the sleep proposition looks like in the future, how we think about seating in economy.''

Air New Zealand's Economy Sky Couch was developed in a secret location. Photo / Supplied
Air New Zealand's Economy Sky Couch was developed in a secret location. Photo / Supplied

The Herald revealed earlier this year consultants from United States firm IDEO have been Auckland. That firm has worked on projects ranging from an early mouse for Apple computers, a Levis trucker jacket with wearable technology to designing instruments for faster, more accurate spinal surgery.

The airline's existing business premier seats were developed last decade and the herringbone layout was pioneering at the time, with passengers facing away from the windows and seats flipping over to turn into beds.

While it has garnered awards in the past the airline's ''hard product'' is facing increased competition from other carriers at a different stage of their refresh cycle.

Work last decade in ''Hangar 9'' led to the development of the airline's Skycouch, three seats which can become a flat sleeping space in economy.