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The future of aviation is being created in Yorkshire

Greg Devine


White airship in the sky

Hybrid Air Vehicles, often referred to as HAV, is a British company looking to make waves in the aviation industry. HAV designs airships; their goal, to compete with traditional aircraft in terms of efficiency, but with greater emphasis on environmental impact.

The company has designed an airship that will be capable of flying as a hybrid vehicle and, eventually, as a fully electric airship. I appreciate this may sound like science fiction.

Interest from the US military saw HAV awarded a contract to develop a Long Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle (LEMV); however, the project was cancelled in 2013.

It’s fair to say that, so far, HAV’s story has been one of ups and downs. Whilst they’ve enjoyed some positive tests, they don’t currently have an aircraft that’s capable of flight; of their two prototypes, one has been retired and the other was damaged. One of them was actually the world’s longest aircraft, until it collapsed.

HAV’s situation, however, looks set to change.

Spanish regional airline Air Nostrum is the company behind HAV’s first ever commercial order. The airline announced that it had reserved ten of HAV’s Airlander Airships for delivery from 2026. Whilst HAV is based in Bedfordshire, the company will manufacture the huge vehicles in South Yorkshire. HAV claims that 1,800 new jobs will be created, thanks to Air Nostrum. The aircrafts are set to be used for regional flights within Spain.

When you think of this form of aircraft, the Hindenburg instantly springs to mind. For those who aren’t aware, the Hindenburg was a huge airship. On a flight in 1937, between Frankfurt to Lakehurst, New Jersey, the airship, which was carrying 36 passengers and 61 crew members, sadly caught fire and crashed during landing. 36 people died.

Positive connotations can also be made with airships—particularly in America. The Goodyear Blimp is an icon for sporting events in the USA (despite not technically being a blimp but an airship), which always captures the public’s interest. So, whilst opinions on the use of large airships may be mixed around the word, the future of aviation may be one where they take on a larger role.

Doncaster minster and surrounding skyline at sunset

Doncaster - Yorkshire

Doncaster minster and surrounding skyline at sunset

HAV say the Airlander 10 will cut emissions by up to 90% on Air Nostrum’s regional routes. They fly by using a combination of aerodynamic lift (similar to an aeroplane), lifting gases (like those on airships) and vectored thrust (similar to a helicopter). It’s the lifting gas that helps to keep the vehicle airborne. Since the gas also offsets the weight of the aircraft, less energy is required to stay aloft. Thanks to this, the vehicle can carry a large load whilst burning little fuel and continuously staying airborne.

It’s the aerodynamic lift that means HAV’s vehicle differs from a traditional airship. Without the aerodynamic lift, you don’t have control of how much lift you generate. This is why traditional airships must be tied down/secured whilst staff load them, fill them with fuel and conduct maintenance. They are technically lighter than air, as opposed to HAV’s Airlander, which is heavier.

What’s the catch? It’s not clear, given that the Airlander is environmentally friendly, that it will create thousands of jobs in the South Yorkshire region, and it fixes the issues traditional airships face. New aircraft isn’t cheap, but the Airlander’s reported base price of $50 million is considerably less than that of an aeroplane. For instance, Boeing’s flagship 787 Dreamliner, one of the most advanced and efficient airliners in the world, costs around $300 million. Perhaps more comparable, due to it being one of the more efficient, short-haul aircrafts, Boeing’s 737 Max costs around $99.7 million; however, this is still double the price of the Airlander.

The catch comes from something arguably more valuable than money—time. Whilst the Airlander is efficient and produces very few greenhouse gases, it’s not fast. Its innovation is centred on the environment, not speed. A flight between Oslo and Stockholm takes around 3 hours 49 minutes in an aeroplane. If you opted to take the same trip in the Airlander, you’d be travelling for 6 hours and 33 minutes, nearly double the time. Will airlines view these journey times as non-profitable? The saving in fuel and CO2 produced may be its saving factor. According to HAV, an aeroplane produces 53.88kg of CO2 per passenger, whereas the Airlander only produces 4.58kg of CO2 per passenger—around fourteen times less.

Public opinion may also be one element in the success or failure of hybrid airships. Would you feel comfortable flying on one? Personally, I’d have my reservations.

The Airlander represents a cheaper, more environmentally friendly alternative to modern aircraft. However, humans have become accustomed to their needs being met instantly. Time will tell whether convenience or principles will win out.

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