Air New Zealand is working with overseas consultants on a new lie flat economy seat for new ultra-long range planes.
Those involved in a test programme the airline has underway, say the new seat will be ''ground breaking'' and it will be different to its Sky Couch.
More than 160 staff and 35 cabin crew are involved in the product development programme at an Auckland venue named ''Hangar 22'' and are nearing the end of testing a range of products.
The participants, who have signed secrecy agreements, have done 11 rounds of testing of a range of seats and other products that will be fitted in revamped Air New Zealand cabins early next decade.
Sky Couch allows one or two people to lie across three largely standard economy seats.
The new seat could be more like a traditional lie-flat business class seat but with less furniture and personal space around it — and it will be narrower.
Passengers would also be unlikely to get the same meals served on real crockery and bigger TV screens than those enjoyed by those in premium economy and business premier cabins.
The airline is not commenting on details of the project which also involves complete redesign of other seats and cabins that will be fitted on its new Dreamliners to replace Boeing 777-200s from 2022.
Passengers pay more for Sky Couch - usually priced just below premium economy - and the new lie flat economy seats will also be more expensive than others in economy.
Aircraft cabin real estate is known as the most expensive in the world so Air New Zealand must get the balance right - delivering what passengers are prepared to pay for and getting enough seats in to make them pay.
It is understood two international consultancies along with industry suppliers are advising on the pathways to regulatory certification over the past fortnight. Patent lawyers AJ Park have been engaged to file to protect the airline's intellectual property.
Dreamliner alert: Air NZ checking planes for fire-fighting fault
Airbus prepares to steal march on Boeing with long-range aircraft
This would also give Air New Zealand the opportunity to sell the concept to other airlines which will it be keen to do if it decides the seats don't fit its own revenue mix .
San Francisco-based design experts IDEO is involved in the project after their work with Air New Zealand a decade ago when the Sky Couch was developed. The firm also helped design the premium economy Space Seats which were popular with travellers.
Air New Zealand's chief marketing and customer officer, Mike Tod, would not confirm the development of the lie flat seat and was not keen on discussing details of it.
However, he said the airline was ''happy'' with progress at Hangar 22.
Every aspect of the airline's business premier, premium economy and economy experience had been painstakingly reviewed.
''We've invested considerable time and effort in understanding emerging trends in consumer behaviour and technology across all the international markets where we operate," Tod says.
Customers and staff had generated hundreds of ideas at a series of design workshops last year.
''We are now definitely into the phase of final evaluation on a couple of potentially game changing ideas but there is still a bit of work to be done to give us enough confidence in the market opportunity."
Air New Zealand is expected to start announcing incremental changes to elements of its existing business premier product in the next few months that will be rolled out before the entirely new cabins..
The airline announced last month it will buy eight Boeing 787-10 planes that will free up capacity for its existing 787-9s - which at present have a longer range - to fly to new destinations including New York from Auckland.
It is possible that the New York route could be introduced before then.
New lie-flat economy seats will be another option among a growing number of choices for passengers as the airline, and others, ''disaggregate'' their products..
Last month the Herald revealed Air New Zealand is also working on an area of new standard economy seats that have extra legroom as part of the review of aircraft Layout of Passenger Amenities (Lopa). The seats - with a working title of ''economy plus or economy comfort - will cost an extra $150 to $250 for a long haul flight.
Want to see more from Grant Bradley]? Sign up here for the Business News newsletter to get the best premium stories sent to your inbox daily.