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Could an airship solve travel woes in the Scottish Islands?

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As the Highlands and Islands step up efforts to create a more sustainable future for aviation and support for Scotland’s more remote regions in their transition to net zero, an interesting new concept study has been released.

A study, paid for by the company, to examine the case for introducing Airlander 10 aircraft, a large electric airship, for passenger and freight transport in the Highlands and Islands has been launched by Hybrid Air Vehicles. The project, which should take three months to complete, will focus on finding out how Airlander 10 might assist regional sustainable travel while also increasing connectedness for communities throughout the Highlands and Islands.

For travel in the Highlands and Islands, an area where the firm say that “air travel is a necessity rather than a luxury”, Airlander 10 might considerably reduce emissions. To be operational by the end of the decade, HAV is now developing an all-electric version of the Airlander that will emit no carbon dioxide.

Previously, a prototype was used to conduct test flights in England. With a length of 302 feet (92 metres), it was the longest aircraft in the world and achieved six successful test flights.

The ability to land on the water

A group of organisations, including Orkney Island Council, Highlands and Islands Airport (Hial), Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership (HITRANS), Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and Glasgow-based airline Loganair, are supporting the new study, which will compare emission reductions with current transportation options and examine opportunities to operate at locations other than airports by utilising the aircraft’s water operation capability.

The project will also take into account the ability of Airlander to transport freight using a multipurpose model of the aircraft. Airlander 10’s 10-tonne payload could improve regional passenger connectivity and logistics.

Green short-haul flights

Inglis Lyon, Managing Director, HIAL, was quoted as saying:

“HIAL’s aim is to become a net-zero carbon regional airport group. To achieve this, we need to investigate innovative solutions for sustainable air travel. This collaboration allows us to explore the potential use of Airlander 10 as part of the region’s transport network. A network that provides essential and lifeline services to some of Scotland’s most remote regions.”

Tom Grundy, CEO, Hybrid Air Vehicles, was also quoted:

“Hybrid Air Vehicles are changing the way we think about regional travel and sustainable aviation. This is particularly the case for sometimes hard-to-reach regions such as the Highlands and Islands. This study will, I hope, pave the way for a revolution in green short-haul flights in this wonderful, beautiful, if sometimes inaccessible, part of the world, boosting connectivity and the local economy as we do so.”

Ronald Robertson, Partnership Director, HITRANS, added:

“HITRANS are delighted that this study is being undertaken. It offers an opportunity for us to understand the potential offered by Airlander 10 as part of the region’s journey to net zero aviation. Airlander offers an opportunity to provide low carbon transportation of passengers and freight with the potential to develop new routes where journey time savings can be realised on current modes of travel including road and ferry.”

A reliable and sustainable future for island communities

More generally, the intention is to improve transport links in the area, isolated settlements will be better connected, attracting more visitors and inhabitants, as well as offering an economic boost for the area.

A project to use drones and hybrid electric planes to establish a low-carbon aviation zone in the Highlands and Islands received over £9mn in financing earlier this year. There have already been examples of drone deliveries, which might potentially reduce the need for lengthy car trips in rural and inaccessible areas.

These less expensive aircraft represent the future of air travel in Scotland, in the light of net zero targets, declining reliability of ferry services and the high expense of flying.

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