A look back on 2022 from our CEO
Working as a part of Hybrid Air Vehicles is a unique experience with the whole team driven by our purpose: to Rethink the Skies and deliver a future of zero-emissions aviation.
This purpose began with technology innovation, research and development to answer the question of whether hybrid aircraft technology could deliver new, practical and economic air services. Our prototype flight test development answered this question. It provided the data we needed to define the production standard Airlander 10, establishing the foundations that have now led to a defined aircraft certification plan and the regulatory approvals that our business holds.
This year saw the 10-year anniversary since our full-scale prototype aircraft flew as a part of the US Army’s Long Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) programme. I have been proud to reflect with members of that first flight team on their dedication to this project, the knowledge, insights, and intellectual property they have developed, and their excitement to deliver Airlander aircraft to customers at the next stage.
With that technology and knowhow in place we have been able to focus on building the orderbook. So I am delighted that we reached a landmark agreement with launch airline customer Air Nostrum Group in the middle of 2022, with their reservation agreement for ten, 100-seat Airlander 10 aircraft in a deal valued in the hundreds of millions.
Listening to Air Nostrum Group CEO Miguel Angel Falcon talk about this deal at the Farnborough airshow was the highlight of my year. On the hottest day ever recorded in the UK, aviation’s impact on the climate had reached a level of public awareness in a way that I’ve not previously experienced in my time in the industry. Miguel spoke about the imperative for change, his determination that his company will be a leader of that change, and how Airlander will provide a path to sustainable growth for companies like his. He also spoke about how the experience of travelling on Airlander will be different and better for his customers, providing point-to-point connections, quiet comfort and spacious seating, with journey times and costs comparable to Air Nostrum’s existing regional aircraft and high-speed rail operations. His words powerfully highlighted how Airlander will deliver better services, new connections and sustainable operations at net zero (and soon to be actual zero) emissions of carbon dioxide.
Reflecting on this, I think that Miguel’s words provide one illustration of a trend towards better understanding of how Airlander will fit in to future transport networks. This year ICAO, the UN body that oversees global aviation, commissioned a chapter on Hybrid and Lighter than Air aircraft, co-authored by Sebastien Bougon of Flying Whales and me, for incorporation in their ICAO Environmental Report 2022. For the first time, this positioned our technology alongside developments in sustainable fuels, jet aviation and other passenger aircraft, demonstrating the market gaps between today’s fast, energy-intense aircraft and today’s constrained surface transport networks, and how aircraft like Airlander can fill these gaps to deliver better services while cutting sector emissions. This is a message that we have taken to numerous conferences, industry bodies and customers throughout the year and that we’ve built on with our partners, including AECOM, Collins Aerospace, University of Nottingham, the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, 2 Excel Aviation and others.
In another example, we have begun a concept study to explore the use case of Airlander 10 in Scotland with Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd, and a consortium of organisations including Loganair, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, HITRANS, and Orkney Islands Council. This study is investigating the introduction of Airlander 10 aircraft for zero-emissions passenger transport and freight connections across Scotland’s Highlands and Islands.
In the longer-term, logistics is a very significant part of the market for Airlander, so the launch of our Airlander 50 development programme, with partners, has been a natural step to take to build our business beyond Airlander 10. It is superb to see the range of uses for Airlander 50 brought to life in recent workshops covering air freight, infrastructure services, wind turbine transport, passenger operations and more besides. A few months into the programme, our group of partners is expanding steadily and we have more announcements to follow shortly on this programme.
Progress with commercial aircraft customers has had a very positive impact in our defence markets, as it is now clear that we will be able to deliver standard aircraft from our production line for customisation. This reduces perceived costs and risks for military customers and can lead to different and more cost-effective acquisition models. Our work with the US Navy through our co-operative research and development programme has been a very important part of our year in this regard, as it encompasses work on use of Airlander, and work on how the US DoD can work better with industry to reduce their acquisition costs and timelines. The collaborative work at the heart of this programme has already begun to spin off numerous opportunities across the US Department of Defence and we expect to make further strides in 2023.
So next year it remains for us to launch the Airlander 10 production programme, to put us on the path to delivering the orderbook. While details are not yet announced, we have spent much of this year working with regional partners across South Yorkshire and with potential financial partners to deliver this programme. I constantly remind myself that what we’re achieving is an extraordinary ambition. We are working to deliver the first new aircraft manufacturing facility in the UK in my working lifetime, incorporating over 1 million square feet of production facilities and over 1200 new jobs, delivering a new, long-term export market for sustainable aircraft.
Walking around the offices and participating in our all-staff weekly briefings I can feel the energy and enthusiasm from our team to do just this. I share their excited anticipation, so I am glad that this year’s achievements have demonstrated the importance of Airlander in the future zero-emissions transport network, the urgency of getting the technology to market, and the inspiration that our project can deliver.
We believe that a zero emissions future can be compatible with better and more affordable services – and there’s no better example of this than rethinking the skies with Airlander.
I hope that you have a happy and healthy festive season and new year and I hope you continue to follow our journey as we rethink the skies.
CEO, Hybrid Air Vehicles