Most Influential Projects 2021

47 Airlander 10


For promising premium air travelers a smoother, eco-friendly upgrade

Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) is on a mission to reinvent a bygone mode of travel. Creating its own more eco-friendly take on an airship, the team says its Airlander 10 hybrid craft will produce just a fraction of the emissions of conventional airplanes, with reduced fuel burn, noise levels and turbulence. But the team isn’t skimping on the luxury that was once a signature of airship travel, with the 100-seat, hybrid-electric air vehicle offering floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows set inside a blimp-like exterior. And because it’s designed to take off and land anywhere, the Airlander 10 will not only give passengers an eco-conscious luxe means to travel to even the most remote spots, it also means they can skip all that wait time at the airport. Even the aircraft’s slower travel times are being marketed as a plus—offering all the more time for passengers to take in the views.

“For many decades, flying from A to B has meant sitting in a metal tube with tiny windows—a necessity but not always a pleasure,” says George Land, HAV’s commercial business development director. “On Airlander, the whole experience is pleasant, even enjoyable. And in the hybrid-electric and future all-electric configurations, Airlander is fit for our decarbonized future.”

Despite all the benefits, the project will likely need some serious stakeholder buy-in to get past comparisons to the most famous aircraft of its type: the ill-fated Hindenburg. To that end, the company has lined up an impressive lineup of supporters, receiving backing from the European Union, U.K. government and U.S. Department of Defense. And although one of HAV’s early prototypes crashed during landing in 2017, positive developments have followed. In July, the electric motor created in collaboration with Collins Aerospace and the University of Nottingham passed its critical design review. 

Along with its venture into commercial travel, HAV is pitching the aircraft for surveillance, search and rescue, defense and security applications—pointing to its ability to land almost anywhere and stay airborne for up to five days. 

HAV is targeting passenger flights by 2025, but it won’t have the skies to itself. A handful of other companies already have joined the race, including Lighter Than Air Research (started by Google co-founder Sergey Brin) and Flying Whales, a French company developing an airship capable of loading or unloading up to 60 tons of cargo while staying aloft.

With competitors circling, it’s no surprise that HAV is looking to gain an edge. Swedish aviation startup OceanSky Cruises plans to use the Airlander 10 for Arctic tours in the years ahead. And HAV has another project in the works: the fully electric Airlander 50. Targeting a 2033 delivery, the company is promising it will use lessons learned from its first airship to transform the future of heavy lift freight transport for everything from remote mining to humanitarian aid.