A Bedford-based company has made history after signing a deal to produce and deliver ten 100-passenger helium airships. The deal, concluded between Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) and Spanish airline AV Nostrum, is expected to create 1,800 jobs in South Yorkshire and contribute to the UK’s sustainability goals.
The Airlander 10 airships will be built at a recently constructed green manufacturing cluster in South Yorkshire and are expected to provide an employment and financial boost to the local economy.
Beyond this, the Airlander 10, which HAV says will have less than a tenth of the carbon footprint per passenger of a traditional jet plane, represents a leap forward in the race towards a cleaner and more climate-friendly aviation industry.
Responsible for roughly 3% of global emissions, the aviation industry has long been a target for a green revolution. But climate-friendly air travel has remained largely within the realms of experimentation, until now. While various options including clean aviation fuel, electric planes, and direct capture devices have all received varying levels of consideration, the industry had shown little promise of a viable and scalable option that could drastically cut C02 emissions.
However, HAV’s futuristic Airlander 10 airships can potentially move the needle on climate progress within the industry. Acknowledging the progress that the company’s deal with AV Nostrum represents, UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said, “hybrid aircraft could play an important role as we transition to cleaner forms of aviation, and it is wonderful to see the UK right at the forefront of the technology’s development.”
Kwarteng also noted that the local jobs being created by the deal was just as satisfying. “It is more proof of how the UK’s businesses are embracing new technology to drive growth and support high skilled UK jobs.”
The promise of helium airships
There are many promising aspects to the Airlander 10 deal, but I believe industry players would be most interested by the multiple applications to which the aircraft may be put. HAV initially designed its airship as a surveillance and reconnaissance vehicle during intelligence missions in Afghanistan since it is less noisy than a helicopter and can stay in the air far longer. But it also has interesting applications in commercial travel.
With a 400km range and a rigid body that can land or lift off from any surface, the craft does not need a runway or pressurized cabins. Therefore, airship stations can be more space-efficient, while the aircraft itself can provide more windows and cabin space for passengers. According to Rebecca Zeitlin Head of Marketing and Communications at HAV, the Airlander 10 presents a more enjoyable, and potentially more luxurious, passenger experience. She says that “every seat will be a little bit like a business class experience. The whole experience will be more restful.”
Helium airships can also make an impact in disaster relief operations, such as combatting wildfires and effecting evacuations during emergency situations like tsunamis, flooding, industrial accidents, and earthquakes. The craft can carry more than 200 people per trip and potentially delivers four times the amount of water – up to 300 tons per day – traditional firefighting planes carry.
I think there’s a lot to anticipate from the blossoming rigid airship industry in the coming years. It would be to see how the aircraft performs in real life situations, and with AV Nostrum set to take delivery of its Airlander 10 airships by 2026, we may not have long to wait before we get to see them in action.
by Doğan Erbek and STF Team