Sunday, June 26, 2022

Net Zero flights as a new era of airships take off

In the 20th century there were repeated attempts to use lighter-than-air flight, which were not entirely without success, but the technology of the early and middle years of that century was not up to operating lighter-than-air vehicles larger than a blimp to the safety standards civil society would demand, while there were few military applications as airships proved hideously vulnerable to fixed-wing aircraft. 

Over the last forty years, the excellent safety record of more recent airships and blimps have demonstrated that the original safety problems have been overcome, but the huge energy advantage enjoyed by lighter-than-air vessels - the fact that they do not have to use vast amounts of energy and generate a huge carbon footprint just to stay in the air - was not enough to offset the greater speed and flexibility of fixed-wing and rotary-wing heavier-than-air planes and helicopters. Hence airships and blimps have accounted only for a very small part of the aircraft we use.

However, with the increased price of fuel and the need to dramatically reduce carbon footprints, that equation is changing. And Britain may be at the forefront of a new era of lighter-than-air freight and travel.

The Airlander 10, built by Bedfordshire-based Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), has already landed a first-of-its-kind contract with Spanish airline Air Nostrum for 10 airships, which will be manufactured in South Yorkshire. These are expected to be in service providing regional air transport in Spain by 2026. The contract will bring with it 1,800 jobs and is supported as part of the Government's Northern Powerhouse strategy.

Designers say the Airlander's low-carbon output and ability to land on any stretch of relatively flat land will give it some very considerable advantages over conventional airliners.

Measuring 300ft in length, it will be the world's largest aircraft, and will be able to accommodate 100 passengers in a cabin much more spacious and less cramped than those of conventional airliners.

But HAV's real selling point is the Airlander's carbon footprint - as I understand it, this aircraft is expected to emit only 10 per cent of the greenhouse gas output per passenger mile of heavier conventional aircraft, at about 4.5kg per passenger per flight, compared with about 53kg per passenger on a jet plane.

By 2030, it is planned that the Airlander will use only electric engines and its operating carbon footprint will be zero provided it is using clean electricity.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said at the weekend: 

"Our aerospace sector is one of the crown jewels of the British economy and our well-earned reputation as a global centre of excellence for design and production has meant the world has come to us for the most innovative technology.

"Hybrid Air Vehicles ' airship will create high-skilled jobs as we build on our powerhouse export economy to showcase the UK's talented workforce globally."

No comments: