Belfast by blimp: Airship service to offer eco-friendly five-hour flights from Liverpool

Airships for European city hops could cut flying’s carbon dioxide emissions by 90%

Hybrid Air Vehicles hopes to produce 12 of its Airlander 10 airships a year by 2025, each capable of carrying 100 people on short-haul flights. Photograph: Hybrid Air Vehicles

Hybrid Air Vehicles hopes to produce 12 of its Airlander 10 airships a year by 2025, each capable of carrying 100 people on short-haul flights. Photograph: Hybrid Air Vehicles

 

For those fancying a trip from Belfast to Liverpool or Barcelona to the Balearic Islands but concerned about the carbon footprint of aeroplane travel, a small UK company is promising a surprising solution: commercial airships.

Hybrid Air Vehicles, or HAV, which has developed a new environmentally friendly airship 84 years after the Hindenburg disaster, has today named a string of routes it hopes to serve from 2025.

The routes for the 100-passenger Airlander 10 airship include Barcelona to Palma de Mallorca in 4½ hours. The company says the journey would take roughly the same time as aeroplane travel once getting to and from the airport was taken into account, but would generate a much smaller carbon footprint. HAV says the CO2 footprint per passenger on its airship would be about 4.5kg, compared with about 53kg via jet plane.

This isn’t a luxury product. It’s a practical solution to challenges posed by the climate crisis

Belfast to Liverpool would take just over 5¼ hours; other routes planned include Oslo to Stockholm, in 6½ hours; and Seattle to Vancouver, in just over 4 hours.

HAV, which has in the past attracted funding from Peter Hambro, a founder of the Russian gold-miner Petropavlovsk, and the Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson, says its aircraft are “ideally suited to intercity mobility applications like Liverpool to Belfast and Seattle to Vancouver, which Airlander can service with a tiny fraction of the emissions of current air options”.

Tom Grundy, HAV’s chief executive, who compares the Airlander to a “fast ferry”, says: “This isn’t a luxury product. It’s a practical solution to challenges posed by the climate crisis.”

He says that 47 per cent of regional aeroplane flights connect cities that are less than 370km apart, and emit a huge about of carbon dioxide doing so.

“We’ve got aircraft designed to travel very long distances going very short distances, when there is actually a better solution,” Grundy says. “How much longer will we expect to have the luxury of travelling these short distances with such a big carbon footprint?”

Grundy says the hybrid-electric Airlander 10 could make the same connections with 10 per cent of the carbon footprint from 2025, and with even smaller emissions in the future, when the airships are expected to be all-electric powered.

“It’s an early and quick win for the climate,” he says. “Especially when you use this to get over an obstacle like water or hills.”

HAV claims independent estimates put the value of the airship market at $50 billion over the next 20 years

HAV says it is talking to airlines about operating the routes, and expects to announce partnerships and airline customers in the next few months. The company has already signed a deal to deliver an airship to the luxury Swedish travel firm OceanSky Cruises, which has said it intends to use the craft to offer “experiential travel” over the North Pole with the Arctic explorer Robert Swan.

HAV’s aircraft was originally designed as a surveillance vehicle for intelligence missions in Afghanistan. HAV claims independent estimates put the value of the airship market at $50 billion (€40.9 billion) over the next 20 years. It aims to sell 265 of its Airlander craft over that period.

The €30 million Airlander 10 prototype undertook six test flights, some of which ended badly. It crashed in 2016 on its second test flight, after a successful 30-minute maiden trip. HAV tweeted at the time: “Airlander sustained damage on landing during today’s flight. No damage was sustained mid-air or as a result of a telegraph pole as reported.”

The aircraft, which can take off and land from almost any flat surface, reached heights of 7,000ft (2,100m) and speeds of up to 50 knots, or about 90kmph, during its final tests. The company has had UK government backing and grants from the European Union. – Guardian

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