Airships – Can they finally deliver?

Airships offer low operating costs, reduced infrastructure requirements and significantly lower carbon output. They don’t need airports and runways. They can load or discharge on rooftops if required. It’s a mystery to us why they haven’t been copied by the Greens as they burn less fuel, overcome many “last mile” congestion limits, and pollute less than other modes of transport.

So it’s great to hear that a British company is competing with commercial airlines/luxury yachts as a high-end passenger service. Maybe this heralds the serious consideration of airships as an alternative for 18-wheeler-container trucks, and even rail haulage.

The Airlander 10, which is expected to be certified and flown commercially in 2026, can carry approximately 130 people and cruise between 50 and 70 knots using noncombustible helium (so, no, not like the Hindenburg) for buoyancy and four kerosene-powered reciprocating engines for propulsion—a system that will burn 90 percent less fuel than similarly sized aircraft. And it will also be configured for the luxury market, with a handful of suites to complement its ability to stay airborne for five days. 

The technology at the heart of the Airlander 10 creates significant efficiency in flight. With four combustion engines, the standard Airlander 10 will deliver up to 75% reduction in emissions over comparable aircraft in a wide range of roles.

UK manufacturer Hybrid Air Vehicles has designed a hybrid-electric version of Airlander 10, an airship that could provide a less carbon-intensive alternative to short-haul flights. Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), which is based in Bedford, has designed a dirigible that could take 100 passengers on popular, short routes such as Liverpool to Belfast. The company calculates that using their airship would produce “75 per cent fewer emissions than conventional aircraft in similar roles”.

Other players are getting into this potential game changer for transport, including Google cofounder Sergey Brin with his LTA (Lighter Than Air) Research Pathfinder airships, and Skyship 600 from British supplier Airship Industries.

More about airships here.