Airship Applications for the Future of Aviation


The UK is central to the revival of the long-dormant and marginalized airship industry, with Hybrid Air Vehicles successfully conducting seven flights of its Airlander 10 prototype, made of carbon fibre composites, using helium for lift, with the capacity for ten tons of freight or up to 90 passengers at a speed of 130kmph using vectored thrust, but a 10th the fuel of helicopter operations.
It may take off and land on any 600-metre expanse, land or water, without the need for associated infrastructure. "It could land on the Thames at Greenwich," says Rod Sinclair, the company's chairman.

The company says the first diesel engines will cut emissions by 75%, increasing to 90% after 2025 as electric engines are added, and 100 per cent once hydrogen fuel cells come of age.r

Meanwhile, the French company, Flying Whales has secured US$23m of funding from the government of Quebec for helium dirigibles to supply the vast expanses of the Grand Nord and separately, Lockheed Martin is developing its own cargo airship. The UK start-up Varialift Airship had less luck than Hybrid Air in securing help from the UK government for its aluminium freight ship so it turned to France, which offered a disused military airfield at Chateaudun. Varialift Airship aims for full certification by 2023, claiming his ARH 50 model has the same cargo payload as a Boeing 747 but needs just five tons of fuel for a comparable trans-Atlantic journey.

The airship revival raises questions around aviation regulations, helium supply, and the viability of reintroducing hydrogen as a means of aerostatic lift, given its high flammability. The sector is developing quickly, and the need for decarbonized aviation technology solutions is increasingly pressing.