The return of the zeppelin? A Spanish airline just struck a deal for ten low-emission airships

Short-haul airship flights could cut carbon emissions by 90 percent.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of the Airlander.HAV

Is the airship making a comeback?

A Spanish airline, Air Nostrum, has ordered ten hybrid airships, called Airlander, from a company building environmentally-friendly zeppelins. Deliveries are scheduled for 2026, according to a report from CNN.

UK-based Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) developed the Airlander to drastically cut aviation emissions, with the company saying its airships cuts emissions by 90 percent.

100-passenger airships could drastically cut carbon emissions

The 100-passenger airships will float using helium gas and will use electric propulsion, allowing a range of 300-400 kilometers (186-249 miles), according to HAV. It's worth noting that max speeds are well below the average of a traditional airliner. The Airlander will travel at 129 km/h (80 mph), while airliners travel at an average speed of about 804 km/h (500 mph).

HAV announced that the deal follows six months of "rigorous studies and modeling" of internal routes in Spain. The company also said the Airlander could one day be used for other short-haul routes, including Liverpool to Belfast (168 miles), Seattle to Vancouver (127 miles), and Oslo to Stockholm (263 miles). The airship, which has already undergone various flight tests, will fly at a maximum altitude of 20,000 feet.

Though it is lacking in the speed department, the Airlander requires little landing infrastructure, and it could potentially land closer to city centers, allowing passengers to make up a little time in airport travel. The main draw will likely be the Airlander's low carbon footprint, though HAV also aims to bring luxury and leisure back into air travel.

The airship's interiors have a spacious 1-2-1 seating configuration with some seats facing each other. Transparent walls allow impressive views outside the airship.

Will the public be onboard for low-emission airships?

In a statementAir Nostrum President Carlos Bertomeu said the airships will help the airline meet the European Union's "Fit for 55" goals of cutting emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030. "Sustainability... is already a non-negotiable fact in the daily operations of commercial aviation," Bertomeu said. "Agreements such as these are a very effective way to reach the de-carbonization targets contemplated in the Fit for 55 legislative initiative."

Other firms also aim to bring back the airship and restore its reputation, which is still tarnished by the Hindenberg disaster of 1937. California-based H2 Clipper, for example, wants to restore public faith in the machines by providing air cargo transport first. The company says it can provide cargo transportation at a quarter of the cost of planes. 

HAV announced it will start building its own Airlanders this year, creating 1,800 jobs in Yorkshire, northern England. In the company's statement, CEO Tom Grundy said, "Hybrid Air Vehicles and Air Nostrum Group are demonstrating how we can get there — and get there soon." The company hopes its ten Airlander airships will be the first large-scale aircraft to achieve zero-emissions flight.

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