Spanish Airline Plans Airship Services From 2026

 - June 15, 2022, 8:57 AM
Spanish carrier Air Nostrum wants to operate 100-seat Airlander 10 airships on domestic routes. (Image: Hybrid Air Vehicles)

Spanish regional airline Air Nostrum is preparing to launch airship services with plans to acquire 10 of the 100-seat Airlander 10 aircraft being developed by Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) in a leasing deal that could be worth $600 million. Under an agreement announced on June 15, the company says it has “reserved” 10 of the airships for delivery beginning in 2026, which is a year later than the UK-based manufacturer previously targeted for the start of commercial services.

Air Nostrum, which has not disclosed the price for the provisional order, intends to operate services across Spain. HAV plans to start building the Airlander 10 at a new site near Doncaster in northern England later this year, potentially creating 1,800 jobs.

Over the past six months, Air Nostrum and HAV have conducted studies and modeling exercises to assess how best to operate the airship on domestic routes. In some cases, the Airlander 10 will replace or complement Air Nostrum’s existing fleet of jet and turboprop aircraft, generating only around one-tenth of the carbon dioxide emissions.

The Airlander features an outer fabric hull filled with helium to provide lift, composite structures, and two diesel engines powering a pair of 500-kW electric propulsors. Collins Aerospace is HAV’s key partner for the overall propulsion system, with Red Aircraft providing its A03 diesel engine. The University of Nottingham's aerospace engineering department is also contributing to the project.

HAV aims to introduce an all-electric zero-emissions version of the airship by 2030. Cabin concepts published in 2021 show possible alternative configurations, including a spacious 10-seat layout for luxury tours or on-demand urban air mobility services.

According to HAV, the Airlanders will be able to operate on routes of up to around 425 km (265 miles). While their top speed is only around 75 kts (86 mph), the company says they will save time for travelers by being able to bypass airports to fly directly from one downtown location to another, taking off from seafronts, docks, or any flat surface on land. HAV and Air Nostrum told FutureFlight they are "exploring novel operating locations" for the Airlander.

“We are exploring each and every possible way to reduce our carbon footprint,” said Air Nostrum president Carlos Bertomeu. “The Airlander 10 will drastically reduce emissions and for that reason, we have made this agreement with HAV. Sustainability, which is good news for everyone, is already a non-negotiable fact in the daily operations of commercial aviation.”

According to Bertomeu, part of the airline’s motivation for investing in the airship is to meet its obligations under European Union climate change legislation that requires member states, including Spain, to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. As an intermediate step toward this objective, the EU is committing to cutting emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030.

Air Nostrum operates more than 70,000 scheduled flights per year carrying more than 4.7 million passengers. It operates regional services for the Iberia airline group.

In January, EASA announced the final special conditions under which it will allow type certification of “gas airships.” HAV is aiming to start test flights with Airlander prototypes by 2023. Since the company is based in the UK, which is no longer an EASA member state, it will have to work with the UK Civil Aviation Authority and aim to achieve EASA approval concurrently.

HAV says it aims to start the type certification process this year and build the first full-sized Airlander prototype. The first three aircraft are expected to be flying by 2024.

HAV has previously raised around £140 million ($170 million) to support development work and is now undertaking a further £50 million funding round to get the Airlander 10 into production at initial rates of 12 per year. In August, it announced that it had reached an agreement with Global Emerging Markets to provide $200 million via a share subscription facility that will be exercised over a three-year period when HAV completes a planned initial public offering.

This story is from FutureFlight.aero, a news and information resource developed by AIN to provide objective, independent coverage and analysis of cutting-edge aviation technology, including electric aircraft developments and advanced air mobility.