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Hybrid Air Vehicles Secure Commercial Airship Deal

A British company will take a big step towards returning airships to commercial service after more than 70 years on Wednesday when it announces its first customer in a deal that could lead to orders for up to 45 air vehicles worth more than £2bn ($3.3bn). Hybrid Air Vehicles, a privately owned company based in Cranfield, will announce that it has signed an agreement with Canada’s Discovery Air, a Toronto-listed specialist aviation company, to develop an airship capable of carrying a 50-tonne payload, which can operate without the need of an airstrip and land almost anywhere, including on water. Discovery Air, whose customers include mining and oil and gas companies exploring in some of the world’s most inhospitable and remote regions, will partner with HAV on the project to develop the airship and get it through the certification process that any new aircraft must undergo. Stephen “Fig” Newton, director of business development at Discovery Air, said that, pending the successful certification of the airship, the company was planning to place an order for between 10 and 45 vehicles. “We already have more than 130 operational aircraft so we look at the airship as a natural extension of our fleet,” he told the Financial Times. Gary Elliot, chief executive of HAV, described the deal with Discovery Air as “absolutely huge for us. It means we have our first commercial client and one that shares the same outlook and philosophy”. He said each airship would cost between $30m and $50m. HAV aims to have the first airship in commercial cargo service in 2014, 77 years after the Hindenburg disaster in New Jersey that ended the era of passenger-carrying airships. HAV is already building a smaller version of its airship as part of a $517m contract it won in partnership with Northrop Grumman, the US defence contractor, to supply three lighter than air vehicles to the US army for battlefield surveillance. Most of the rigid structures for the first airship are being manufactured in one of the big hangars at Cardington in Bedfordshire, which was where the UK’s airship industry started early last century. The HAV design looks nothing like the cigar-shaped early airships and is more like a large flying wing, hence the term “hybrid”, since the shape of the vehicle helps generate lift along with the mixture of non-flammable helium and air that produces buoyancy. The airships are powered by four engines that rotate to help it manoeuvre and are also fitted with hover cushions that allow it to take off and land almost anywhere.
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