MMore than 80 years after the Hindenburg disaster, commercial airships may soon take flight – carrying goods from Africa and luxury transport for the super-rich on trips to the Arctic.
A small Bedford-based company emerged as a leader in a race to bring eco-friendly versions of the zeppelin-type aircraft back to the skies. Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), which in the past attracted funding from Peter Hambro, founder of Russian gold miner Petropavlovsk, and Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson, raised £ 1.6m – £ 630,000 in more than he was looking for – in his latest crowdfunding. campaign.
Tom Grundy, chief executive of the company, said the Covid pandemic and the stealing shame movement against air travel, could result in huge demand for low emission boats. “The pandemic has changed almost every aspect of our lives,” he said. “But one thing is certain: it has given us all a glimpse of a cleaner future. In just a few short weeks, carbon levels have dropped dramatically, in part due to a massive reduction in air travel, but this is a temporary change and is only a fraction of what we need to accomplish. to keep global warming within target limits.
Grundy claims that if all goes according to plan, HAV airships will by 2025 be able to transport people faster and with fewer emissions than road, rail or sea. The company estimates that its Airlander 10 aircraft will fly with up to 90% less emissions than traditional aircraft. A second generation of the company’s airship, due before 2030, will be electrically powered and emission-free, the company hopes.
The company says it has letters of intent for 15 commercial jets and “is working to secure major defense contracts supporting both the UK and the US”. The craft was originally designed as a surveillance vehicle for intelligence missions in Afghanistan. HAV claims that independent estimates place the airship market value at $ 50 billion over the next 20 years. It aims to sell 265 of its Airlander aircraft during this period.
“HAV is the only company in the world to have flown a prototype hybrid aircraft on a large scale,” he said in his fundraising flyer. “Over the past 10 years we have spent £ 116 million to develop Airlander. We are now ready for production, with a clear path to certification. “
The £ 25million Airlander 10 prototype has completed six test flights, some of which ended poorly. It crashed in 2016 on its second test flight, after a successful 30-minute maiden voyage. HAV tweeted at the time: “Airlander sustained landing damage during today’s flight. No damage was sustained in flight or as a result of a telegraph pole as indicated.
The aircraft, which can take off and land from almost any flat surface, reached heights of 7,000 feet and speeds of up to 50 knots in its last tests. The company has received support from the UK government and grants from the European Union.
Other international firms are also developing airships. Last month, French company Flying Whales partnered with the regional government of Nouvelle-Aquitaine in southwestern France to start building 154-meter airships near Bordeaux for transporting goods.
In the United States, Skunk Works, the innovation arm of defense giant Lockheed Martin, designs airships to transport medical supplies to remote locations. “Burning less than a tenth of a helicopter’s fuel per tonne, the hybrid airship will redefine sustainability,” says Lockheed Martin. “With unrestricted access to isolated locations around the world, hybrid airships safely and sustainably support a wide range of activities in areas with little or no infrastructure. The airship offers the simplicity of a pickup truck by carrying loads of cargo and personnel into and out of remote areas on a daily basis.
HAV says its planes could be used to carry up to 90 people or 10 tons of cargo, and could fly for days at a time. It intends to tap into the luxury travel market, offering the atmosphere of a five star hotel in the sky. He has partnered with Swedish company OceanSky Cruises to promote the future “experiential journey” over the North Pole with arctic explorer Robert Swan.
“The expedition will show that travel and air travel can be sustainable. Lighter-than-air technology can provide humanity with ultra-efficient means of mobility and operate in areas without infrastructure or civilization, ”the company says in its advertisements.
OceanSky said it will offer 10 luxury en-suite bedrooms, “skyline-to-horizon views from the airplane’s Infinity Lounge” and an “Altitude Bar” serving drinks with “the ultimate view.”