For many, that means traveling by high-speed train, but on Wednesday UK-based company Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) released the latest details of its airship, which boasts a far smaller carbon footprint than a conventional passenger plane.
The Airlander 10 aircraft will seat up to 100 passengers and operate with 90% fewer emissions than conventional aircraft, the company said in a press release.
The airship requires less fuel than a conventional aircraft due to a combination of “buoyant lift from helium, aerodynamic lift, and vectored thrust,” according to HAV.
A hybrid electric and jet fuel model will be available by 2025, and a fully electric version by 2030, according to the press release.
HAV released a set of renderings of the cabin interior to show what it’s going to feel like to fly on the Airlander 10, company chief executive officer Tom Grundy told CNN on Thursday.
“As you can see, that’s a big, spacious, accessible cabin,” said Grundy, who emphasized the floor-to-ceiling windows.
“It’s low noise, low vibration, very little in the way of any turbulence effect that people worry about on other aeroplanes.”
The airship boasts an unpressurized cabin, and is built to withstand high and low temperatures, strong winds and even lightning strikes, to the same regulatory standards as other passenger aircraft, says HAV.
Airlander journeys won’t compete with long-haul flights or routes already well-served by high-speed rail connections, said Grundy, but will instead focus on pairing up cities a few hundred miles apart.
Examples include Liverpool to Belfast, Seattle to Vancouver and Stockholm to Oslo, and Grundy also pointed out that the airship would be particularly useful in island nations such as Indonesia, or in remote areas of northern Canada.
The airship has a top speed of 130 kilometers per hour (about 81 miles an hour), and a trip from Liverpool to Belfast – 271 kilometers (168 miles) – would take five hours 20 minutes, according to HAV.
That’s the end-to-end journey time – factoring in check-in and travel to and from city centers – which HAV compares to the four hours 24 minutes it estimates a traveler would spend setting out on a commercial airplane trip or nine hours 23 minutes on the existing ferry service.
Airlander has a significant advantage in this area because “we’re not reliant on airport infrastructure, so we’re able to take off and land from any reasonably flat surface,” says Grundy. “That includes water.”
In terms of emissions, HAV used UK government figures to calculate that, for the Liverpool to Belfast journey, an Airlander would produce 4.75 kilograms of carbon dioxide, compared to 4.98 kilograms on the ferry and 67.75 kilograms on an airplane.
“Our question really is: How much longer are we going to think it’s acceptable to get on these really fast aeroplanes to do really short sectors?” said Grundy.
In January 2019, a prototype version of the aircraft was retired from service after six test flights. The development process was hit by some high-profile setbacks – including a crash landing on its second flight – but HAV ultimately secured approval to work the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority on a production version.
While the cabin design is still at the concept stage, HAV says it “has incorporated many considerations to ensure it is practical, feasible and ready for the transition into production.”
The company plans to have three airships flying by 2023, with the first passengers welcomed on board in 2025 for luxury travel experiences, says Grundy.
Then HAV plans to enter talks with transport providers over its first point A to point B routes, on which pricing will be within the range of existing travel options, adds Grundy.
Mention airships and many will think of the famous Hindenberg disaster in 1937, when 36 people were killed in New Jersey when an airship went up in flames and crashed. However, that airship was filled with flammable hydrogen, while the Airliner 10 is filled with inert and non-flammable helium, according to the HAV website.
Arguably the best-known airships belong to tire company Goodyear, which have hovered over sporting events around the world for decades.
Other teams are also working on next-generation gas-filled dirigibles, such as the Phoenix, a 15-meter-long craft that could be used to provide WiFi coverage in remote areas.