Air Nostrum hopes to have its 100-seat vehicle running on its short-haul routes by 2026
A sister airline of British Airways has put in the first big order for a new generation of helium airships from a venture backed by Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson. Valencia-based Air Nostrum, a franchisee of British Airways’ holding company IAG, has struck a deal to buy ten airships from Bedfordshire-based Hybrid Air Vehicles.
Air Nostrum is hoping to have the 100-seat vehicles running on its regional, short-haul routes as soon as 2026.
The deal could be worth more than $600m including leasing the aircraft and maintenance, according to insiders.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng hailed the deal as “proof of how the UK’s businesses are embracing new technology to drive growth and support high skilled UK jobs.”
Hybrid Air Vehicles’ Airlander 10 is slower than traditional jets, but much more efficient, aiming to slash the carbon output per passenger by 90pc. Slashing carbon output will also make the trips cheaper as fuel expenses are cut.
The 290 foot vehicles — which are around twice the length of a Boeing 737 — are kept aloft by lift from a helium-filled fabric hull. Its engines burn jet fuel steering the craft but the company plans to use fully electric motors from 2030.
The vehicles can spend five days airborne and the helium is held under low pressure, which means any leaks are slow, allowing time to return to earth for repairs.
The Air Nostrum order marks a turnaround of fortunes for Hybrid Air Vehicles after two high-profile mishaps during development.
A prototype crash landed in 2016 on its second test flight after its mooring line became caught on power cables. No-one was injured. Then, in 2017, two people were injured when it broke free from its moorings.
The prototype was retired in 2019 after the company said it had gathered enough data to begin production.
In spite of these setbacks, the company had been given Production Organisation Approval from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Design Organisation Approval from the European Aviation Safety Agency (Easa).
Iron Maiden singer Dickinson was an early backer of the company, which was founded in 2007. Hybrid Air Vehicles also received money from the Future Fund, a government scheme aimed at supporting start-ups during the pandemic. It is thought the company received as much as £900,000 from the government.
Aircraft makers and airlines are racing to find ways to decarbonise their products and have been slow in producing new models when compared to the motor industry.
Smaller, very short-haul crafts, known as air taxis, can use batteries. But for longer trips, large leaps in hydrogen technology will be needed to take hundreds of passengers across the Atlantic or Pacific at speed.
Hybrid Air Vehicles’ crafts are designed for short-haul flights. A trip from Liverpool to Belfast, which would take a regional jet 50 minutes, will take the Airlander two hours 45 minutes.
While the trip in the air is slower, the ability to take off from a field, dock or other flat space means less of a time gap for trips since passengers can avoid long waits at airports.
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.
“This agreement enhances the possibility of the revolutionary, British-made and designed, Airlander 10 aircraft flying across Spanish skies.”
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