Spanish based Air Nostrum, which is owned by British Airway’s holding company IAG, will buy ten of the airships from Bedfordshire-based Hybrid Air Vehicles. Air Nostrum hopes to have the 100-seat vehicle up and running by 2026.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the deal was proof that “the UK’s businesses are embracing new technology to drive growth and support high skilled UK jobs”.
The deal will see Air Nostrum lease the vehicle, known as the Airlander 10, and includes maintenance.
Currently, the Airlander 10 is suited to regional, short-haul routes – a flight from Liverpool to Belfast will take approximately two hours and 45 minutes compared to a 50-minute traditional flight.
The Airlander will be able to land and take off from fields and docks or other flat areas which may mean waiting times to board and disembark could be significantly cut.
Although the vehicles work well for short routes, advances in hydrogen technology are likely needed to allow the vehicles to ferry passengers across oceans.
Critically, an Airlander 10 flight releases about 90 per cent less carbon than a traditional aircraft.
Although the Airlander’s engines are currently powered by jet fuel – the company plans to use fully electric motors by 2030.
Mr Kwarteng added: “Hybrid aircraft could play an important role as we transition to cleaner forms of aviation, and it is wonderful to see the UK right at the forefront of the technology’s development.
“This agreement enhances the possibility of the revolutionary, British-made and designed, Airlander 10 aircraft flying across Spanish skies.”
The Airlander 10 is 290 feet long, double the length of a Boeing 737. It is kept afloat by a helium-filled fabric hull and can spend five days airborne.
The helium is kept under low pressure meaning that any leaks would occur slowly, allowing the vehicle to land and make repairs if necessary.
The deal is a turnaround for Hybrid Air Vehicles after some high-profile mishaps during development.
In 2016, a prototype vehicle crash-landed when its mooring line became caught on power cables. No one was injured in the incident.
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The following year, two people were injured after the vehicle broke free from its mooring. In 2019 the company retired the prototype, claiming it had enough data to start production.
Despite these mishaps, the company has been given Production Organisation Approval from the Civil Aviation Authority and Design Organisation Approval from the European Aviation Safety Agency.
The company is thought to have received as much as £900,000 in funding from the Government through its Future Fund start-up assistance scheme.
The venture has also been backed by Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson who invested shortly after the company was founded in 2007.