Forget Supersonic Planes. The Future of Travel Is…Blimps?

One company is bringing back airships as an eco-friendly mode of transportation

Airlander flying over snow

Courtesy of HAV

We'll admit it—airships have a less-than-stellar reputation. Historically, they instilled fear as bombers in World War I. Then there was the series of high-profile disasters of the 1930s, most notably the Hindenburg. Today, they've been largely reduced to floating billboards at sporting events. But U.K.-based Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) wants to rebrand the old-school vehicle as the new face of slow, eco-friendly travel.

In recent years, the carbon emissions of common modes of transportation—primarily airplanes and cars—have given many travelers pause as they prepare to take their next journey (see: Greta Thunberg). France is even moving to ban short-haul flights in favor of energy-efficient high-speed trains. But for cities that aren't easily connected by rail, HAV proposes airship flights for scenic, low-emissions connections.

HAV plans to launch such routes between cities like Liverpool and Belfast, or Seattle and Vancouver, with a fleet of in-development Airlander 10 vehicles, which it hopes to fly with passengers onboard by 2025.

Air cabin lounge

Courtesy of HAV

Each airship would be able to carry up to 100 passengers in a spacious cabin with lounge-like seats and floor-to-ceiling windows that offer pretty impressive views from the airship's cruising altitude of 20,000 feet—just over half that of planes.

While the airships aren't nearly as fast as planes or high-speed trains, they have a max speed of about 81 miles per hour, but what you lose in time, you make up for reduced emissions. For example, the base model of the Airlander 10, which still has standard combustion engines, produces 75 percent fewer emissions than "comparable aircraft," according to HAV. A hybrid model would reduce emissions by 90 percent, while an all-electric model would produce zero emissions.

"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," George Land, HAV's commercial business development director, said in a statement. "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."

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  1. BBC. "World War One: How the German Zeppelin Wrought Terror." August 4, 2014