Qatar Airways became the first air carrier to fly an Airbus A340 plane on natural gas fuel.

The airliner powered by Rolls-Royce engines used a 50-50 blend of synthetic gas-to-liquids (GTL) jet fuel, which will help cut sulphur emissions and diversify fuel supply.

The fuel, processed from natural gas at a Royal Dutch Shell plant in Qatar, will be commercially available from 2012.

Qatar has the world’s third-largest gas reserves and Shell has said its Pearl plant there will process 320,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day into 140,000 barrels of liquid fuel and 120,000 of condensate and liquefied petroleum gas.

Shell’s managing director for the country Andrew Brown said that the company can now translate Qatar’s natural-gas reserves to the aviation industry.

GTL, although more costly than kerosene, has a higher density that implies that more can be pumped onto a plane to extend its range.