The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Hybrid Air Vehicles Makes the Case for Its Airship to Replace Airliners

Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) says its hybrid-electric Airlander 10 airship is on track to be ready to carry up to 100 passengers on regional airline services beginning in 2025. Newly released cabin concepts show possible configurations ranging from a spacious 10-seat layout for luxury tours or on-demand urban air mobility services to higher-density versions for scheduled city-to-city operations.

The UK-based company says the aircraft will be able to support airline routes of up to around 425 km (265 miles). With a top speed of around 75 kts (86 mph), the Airlander 10 will be significantly slower than conventional aircraft. However, HAV believes it can be competitive by offering passengers the chance to completely bypass airports to fly directly from one downtown location to another, taking off from seafronts, docks, or any flat surface on land.

In some cases, HAV says, the Airlander would generate 75 percent lower CO2 emissions than alternative means of transportation. The company aims to offer an all-electric version of the airship by 2030.

The Airlander features outer hull fabric with helium providing lift, composite structure, and two diesel engines powering a pair of 500 kW electric propulsors. Collins Aerospace is HAV’s key partner for the propulsion system, and the aerospace engineering department of the University of Nottingham is also involved in the program.

In a selection of sample city pairs released in May, HAV showed how the Airlander’s environmental footprint would be far lower than those of today’s aircraft and cars. It could even result in lower carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per passenger than train services.

For example, a 205-km flight from downtown Seattle to the center of Vancouver in an Airlander 10 would take four hours and 12 minutes, generating 4.61 kg of CO2 per passenger. Allowing for airport transfers and lengthy check-in and security processes, the same trip via current airline service would take three hours and six minutes, but would result in CO2 emissions of 53.15 kg per passenger.

Another example comes from Scandinavia where governments are rolling out policies intended to drive down the carbon footprint from air travel. HAV says the Airlander 10 could make the 423-km journey from the center of the Norwegian capital, Oslo, to Stockholm in Sweden in six hours and 33 minutes, which is significantly longer than the three-hour, 49-minute airline trip, but with just 4.58 kg CO2 per passenger compared with 64.28 kg for the airline flight.

Other potential city pairs for which HAV believes the Airlander would compete favorably with both airline and ferry services include Barcelona in northeast Spain to Palma on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca. In the UK, Liverpool on the mainland to the Northern Irish capital Belfast is another possible route for which the airship would be significantly faster than ferries and not much slower than airline service.

"For many decades, flying from A to B has meant sitting in a metal tube with tiny windows, a necessity but not always a pleasure," said George Land, HAV's commercial business development director. "On Airlander, the whole experience is pleasant, even enjoyable." 

According to research conducted by UK industry group Aerospace, Defence and Space, around 47 percent of regional airline flights are shorter than 370 km. HAV chief executive Tom Grundy told FutureFlight that the Airlander can provide a viable alternative to both turboprop and jet airliners, and also train routes, for which infrastructure can be costly and in some locations are never likely to be available.

HAV has been developing the Airlander for various other applications, among them surveillance platforms for military and government agencies, including the U.S. Army’s now-abandoned Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) program. That program suffered a setback in November 2017 when an earlier prototype was destroyed after it became detached from a mooring mast.

The company now expects to start a civil certification process later this year and to have three aircraft engaged in test flights by 2023. Grundy said it has raised around £140 million ($196 million) and needs to raise about the same amount again to get the Airlander 10 into production at initial rates of 12 per year.