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New mode of transport could be in the Highlands sky by end of decade

By Rachel Smart

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A new mode of transport could be seen flying in the skies of the Highlands by the end of the decade.

That is the view of Tom Grundy, the chief executive of Hybrid Air Vehicles, who have just conducted a feasibility study to see how the Airlander – a hybrid aircraft – could deliver cost-effective, green passenger transport and freight to the Highlands and Islands.

The UK based company is on a mission to revolutionise travel and is keen to improve connectivity and transport links in the region.

The study has been conducted by Hybrid Air Vehicles and a consortium of partners including, HiTrans, Highlands and Islands Airports, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Loganair.

It found that the integration of Airlander into established inter-island air and ferry services would greatly improve regional connectivity offering a significant expansion of air services.

The Airlander 10, which allows for 100 passenger capacity, could be delivered to small airfields with low-cost and nominal adaptations to existing infrastructure.

The total cost of modifying the six airfields surveyed was less than £2 million.

As part of this study, seven on-site surveys were carried out by engineers across HIAL’s airports taking into consideration weather conditions at each site, as well as runway, boarding and landing infrastructure to assess the compatibility of these existing locations with the operational needs of Airlander.

The locations included Kirkwall, Papa Westray, Stornoway, Barra, Inverness, Sumburgh and Scapa Bay.

The inside of an Airlander.
The inside of an Airlander.

Mr Grundy said: "We are developing Airlander, the world's most efficient, large aircraft.

"Passenger transport is at the core of what we are doing and what we believe Airlander can do in the Highlands and Islands.

"What we are doing is putting something into the transport network that sits in between sea travel and air travel. Air travel is super fast, relatively expensive with relatively smaller aeroplanes and relatively high emissions. Ferries are cost-effective and work in a different way.

"With Airlander we are doing something that is so different.

"We came with a passenger mindset to the Highlands, and we do think we can get the 100 seat aircraft into the airfields there. In addition to that our work is about freight to.

"We think that the Highlands is a perfect example where Airlander can make a difference to people's lives.

That's been the driving force for us.

By putting this middle piece in the transport jigsaw we believe we can provide services that are really hard to get into under served markets, and we also think we can help bypass choke points, and speed up things that hold people up."

Some Q&As...

What about the weather?

Mr Grundy said: "People ask about weather, so what we wanted to do was get under the surface of that in the Highlands and Islands, as an example where weather does effect all modes of transport.

"One thing we are really pleased about is that Airlander can provide a reliable, timely service for passengers and freight, in all the real world weather conditions that are experienced in the area."


When could we see it in the Highlands?

Tom said: "We have an airline in Spain that has reserved 20 Airlanders and these should go into service in 2027. We then plan to manufacture 24 a year after this in the UK, so we could have capacity to send Airlanders to the Highlands from late 2027 to early 2028."

Who will the operators be?

Tom said: "This is the feasibility study, this is about saying 'can this work?' We've got more work to do to make it work, but this was the stepping stone to see if it would. The answer is yes, and now it's onto the next phase to find out who and when."

The Airlander.
The Airlander.

How much will it cost for a ticket?

Mr Grundy said: "It's the operator that sets the ticket price, so I can't give a number. But we are working to make sure that this aircraft is as affordable as anything else operating today.

"We aren't asking customers to pay extra to curb emissions, It will be every bit as affordable as transport already around but it will be a more reliable and greener service for people in the Highlands."

Is it safe?

Mr Grundy said: "We are making it safe. We are in the 21st Century, with regulations and safety approaches in the aerospace industry. We are regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority in the UK.

"We design Airlander to exactly the same safety regulations as every other aircraft.

"It will go through all sorts of checks and balances. We've learnt a lot through prototyping and testing."


How else could it be used in the area?

Mr Grundy said: "The combination of uses is amazing in the Highlands. You've got many people travelling slowly in cruiseliners. Whether a passenger is sitting with 100 people or whether they are sitting with a few people just for Highland tourism, they're going to get floor to ceiling windows, they are flying quite low, you can see out and around.

"You are going four or five times faster than a ship, and it's quiet. It's accessible for everyone, with space for wheelchairs.

"You can provide people with a dinner cruise, or showing people around the islands.

"We plan to grow it into bigger aircraft over time so it can support wind turbine deployment, maintenance activities, and enable green infrastructure activities to grow and thrive as well. There is a bigger picture here."

Will it be referred to as an aeroplane?
Mr Grundy said: "We want it to be known as the Airlander as we are the first ones providing this new type of transport."

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