INTERVIEW. Aviation Agency Backing Puts Helium Aircraft on Course for Remote Regions

Last year, the European Aviation Safety Agency awarded Design Organisation Approval to Hybrid Air Vehicles, which builds aircraft combining aerodynamic and helium lift. The milestone puts the manufacturer one step closer to getting its Airlander 10 aircraft into production and in service with customers. Our reporter Lindsay Clark caught up with CEO Stephen McGlennan to gauge the direction of travel.

DirectIndustry e-magazine: What makes your aircraft so special?

Stephen McGlennan: Airlander 10 is a hybrid aircraft. Its unique combination of buoyant lift, aerodynamic lift, and vectored thrust combines the strengths of airships, aeroplanes, and helicopters. This combination means that Airlander 10 is able to carry larger payloads for a longer time while also being very efficient.

DirectIndustry e-magazine: How did you go about founding the company? From where did you get the backing?

Stephen McGlennan: We are a privately held UK company. We have also been supported by the United States and UK governments, and received funding from the EU Horizon 2020 programme.

DirectIndustry e-magazine: Where do you expect your aircraft will have the most impact? Where do you hope your greatest growth market will be?

Stephen McGlennan: Airlander 10 offers low-cost long-endurance and remote access capabilities across a wide range of sectors. One of these sectors is luxury travel. Airlander 10 is both very quiet and very low vibration, giving passengers a remarkable flight experience. Plus, the ability to take off and land from many surfaces opens up new options for destinations. Another key sector is defence: these customers benefit from Airlander 10’s unique combination of payload and endurance. The aircraft’s ability to carry a three-tonne multi-mission payload for up to five days will make new tactics, techniques, and procedures in surveillance possible. There is a large market – an independent market survey has forecast a $45bn market for hybrid aircraft over the next 20 years.

DirectIndustry e-magazine: All being well, when do you think flights of your aircraft will begin, commercially?

Stephen McGlennan: We expect to be the type-certified production Airlander 10 to be in service with customers in the early 2020s.

DirectIndustry e-magazine: What forthcoming technologies do you think will improve your aircraft in future?

Stephen McGlennan: Airlander’s buoyant lift and low drag make it an excellent candidate for electric power. Already low-carbon, we believe that Airlander can offer zero-carbon aviation across a variety of applications in the near future. All around us, we see new challenges to provide services into remote places, provide airborne connectivity, and reduce our industry’s environmental impact. The aerospace industry can’t solve these new challenges with variations on the same answers. With Airlander there is a way to do things differently – and better.

About the Author

Lindsay Clark is a freelance journalist specializing in computing. He has won industry awards as news editor at Computer Weekly. He has also written for newspapers including The Guardian, The Financial Times...

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