Carrier expresses interest in air ship
UK-based Hybrid Air Vehicles, which is currently working on a hybrid air ship for U.S. defense contractor Northrop Grumman, is close to signing a contract with a major airline for a fleet of vehicles.
The lighter-than-air blimps are capable of carrying up to 200 tonnes at a fraction of the fuel costs associated with conventional cargo planes. Perhaps most significantly of all, the reborn airship will not be filled with highly flammable hydrogen, which was the downfall of its predecessors. Instead it will be filled with a mix of 60 percent helium and 40 percent air.
“We expect to sign a contract in June and will then have two years in which to deliver the first craft,” Gordon Taylor, marketing manager for HAV, told Air Cargo World . “The order would be in the double-digits and the craft used to augment the carrier’s existing operations.”
Taylor remains tight-lipped about the potential buyer, revealing only that it is a non-U.S., publicly listed company that currently operates more than 100 aircraft. This order, combined with the Northrop Grumman project, could be the start of a slow shift toward blimp-like cargo transportation devices. For Northrop Grumman, the company must build a vehicle that is capable of staying aloft for 21 days at a time and can be flown with or without a three-man crew. The craft is scheduled to enter service in early 2012.
“We really do see a big potential in the freighter market,” Taylor said. “One of these craft could easily fly between China and Europe in three days at a quarter to half the fuel cost of conventional aircraft and without the need to operate airport to airport, saving further on time and handling costs.”
Hybrid Air Vehicles already has designs on the drawing board for craft capable of carrying payloads of between 20 and 200 tonnes. It is a design concept that can easily be extracted to allow craft carrying up to 1,000 tonnes.