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Aviation: Airlander makes progress

Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), manufacturer of the world's longest flying machine, has been granted Production Organisation Approval (POA) by the UK Civil Aviation Authority; that is, the regulator has found HAV's administrative, quality control, supply chain and production methodologies suitable for aircraft construction. It is the latest step in the firm's drive to put the Airlander 10 - a combination of airship and aircraft - into production.

Hybrid Air Vehicles are moving ahead with plans to put the Airlander 10 into production. (Hybrid Air Vehicles)

HAV claim the vehicle can be used as a luxury 'sky yacht', for surveillance or to transport outsize loads and it hopes that the first will start revenue operations in the early 2020s. It can carry internal or underslung 10,000kg loads at 80kts (148km/h) and reach 20,000ft. Its endurance of five days enables it to undertake lengthy missions or loiter statically. The passenger version will boast a walk-through cabin and an optional viewing deck.

The Airlander 10 can carry underslung loads. (Hybrid Air Vehicles)


At the same time it announced it had recieved POA, HAV also revealed that the prototype Airlander 10, which only made six test flights, would remain grounded. The vehicle, which looks like an airship but derives 40% of its lifting capability from its aerofoil shape, made headlines when it hit the ground at the end of a test flight from Cardington in Bedfordshire, UK, on August 24, 2016. Following the incident it was repaired but then broke free from its moorings on November 18, 2017 and deflated (venting of gas from the envelope is a safety feature that ensures the vehicle does not drift if it becomes detached from its mast).

The prototype Airlander 10 has been retired as the manufacturer concentrates on setting up production. (Hybrid Air Vehicles)

Stephen McGlennan, CEO of HAV, said that the firm's focus was now on building production Airlanders and that its "focus is now entirely on bringing the first batch of production standard, type certified Airlander 10 aircraft into service with customers. The prototype served its purpose as the world's first full-sized hybrid aircraft, providing us with the data we needed to move forward from prototype to production standard. As a result, we do not plan to fly the prototype aircraft again."

Larger version

The concept behind Airlander 10 was originally developed for the US Army Space and Missle Defence Command, but has more recently been adapted for civilian use. Hybrid Air Vehicles has already received design authority approval from the European Aviation Safety Agency and is also developing the the Airlander 50 as a big brother to the £32m Airliner 10. The larger model will carry more than 50 tonnes of cargo in a bay exceeding 500m³ and will cruise at 105kts. Its envelope will measure 103,000 m³ and it will be 119m (390ft) in length. Much of the technology in the two aircraft will be the same but the Airlander 50 is designed specifically for the freight and heavylift market. The manufacturer claims it will offer lower haulage cost per tonne-km than other aircraft or surface transport on bush or ice roads. It will also be capable of point-to-point transport without needing airport infrastructure, making it suitable for logistics in industries such as mining, oil and gas, and humanitarian relief. The firm hopes both the 10 and the 50 will be commercially deliverable in the early 2020s.

Passenger transport

As far as The Aviation Oracle can see, we won't be travelling on hybrid aircraft / airships in the near future. There will only be a limited market for both version of the Airlander. Its restrictive top speed makes it impractical as a vehicle to transport passengers across oceans or large land masses - except maybe leisure trips akin to sea cruises. The vehicle may find applications as a surveillance platform thanks to its lengthy endurance but it won't be very stealthy due to its size. Airlander also has limited internal lifting capacity, but may find a role moving light but very large payloads in areas where surface transport is impractical.

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