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By Tom Grundy

This article was originally shared on LinkedIn Pulse, you can join the conversation over on LinkedIn here.

Having spent my working life developing aircraft, I believe in the power of flight to connect people and provide benefits unthought of a few short generations ago. I’m proud of being part of a profession that enables people to take the efficiency, safety and sheer availability of modern aviation for granted. Its benefits are engrained in our daily lives.

The effect of Covid-19 on the aviation industry

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us a glimpse of life without these benefits, but our quieter, cleaner skies have also added to the pressure on the aviation industry to reduce emissions. A recent European YouGov survey, commissioned by Transport & Environment and the European Public Health Alliance, found that 64% of people said they do not want to go back to pre-Covid pollution levels.

Countries worldwide are committing to legislation or policy goals to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The UK aviation industry has already committed to a road map to net-zero by 2050, which includes the use of carbon offsetting, changes to the way our airspace is managed to make flights more efficient, the use of sustainable aviation fuels as well as the development of new technology. The fact that this roadmap doesn’t anticipate simple like-for-like replacement of jet aircraft by electric aircraft has led some to think that maybe the only thing that we can do for our environment is stop flying altogether.

New ways of thinking about carbon reduction in aviation

It’s true that there are enormous challenges in moving to electric aviation. Modern airliners have become extremely efficient since they first appeared in our skies, thanks to the cumulative effect of thousands of engineered improvements in structures, aerodynamics and propulsion systems, and aviation fuel is packed with energy. As Airbus CTO Grazia Vittadini pointed out recently, even batteries 30 times better than today’s best would only be enough to power a modern short-haul airliner to 1/5 of its current range with half its current payload.

This does not mean we need to make that false choice between flying or not flying. It simply means we need to embrace many new ways of thinking about the challenge.

But this does not mean we need to make that false choice between flying or not flying. It simply means we need to embrace many new ways of thinking about the challenge. We should resist the idea that flying is the problem and must be stopped. CO2 emissions are the problem. From smaller electric vertical take-off and landing “air taxis” to solar-powered high-altitude communication drones, new and disruptive technologies are emerging to satisfy niche demands and prove out low-carbon technologies that may be suitable to scale up. Sustainable aviation fuel has a big part to play while technology develops to carry more people further through electric propulsion. Hydrogen is also emerging as a leading contender for a future safe and clean aviation fuel.

The future of zero-carbon aviation

At Hybrid Air Vehicles, we have invested in delivering low-carbon aircraft at scale, providing a platform for these emerging electric, hybrid and power storage technologies to deliver early results. We can deliver a hybrid-electric Airlander 10 within five years, building on over a decade of development in which we demonstrated a 75% CO2 reduction with our full-size flying prototype.

From 2025, our aircraft can be flying with 90% fewer emissions in mobility, experiential travel, logistics, and communications and surveillance applications.

From 2025, our aircraft – with standard or hybrid-electric engine options – can be flying with 90% fewer emissions in mobility, experiential travel, logistics, and communications and surveillance applications. We can achieve this without placing additional demand on existing runways, nor requiring new ones.

To put that in perspective, we’re talking about an aircraft with 9g CO2 emissions per passenger per kilometre, capable of carrying 90 passengers over short-haul regional distances and taking cargo much further. That’s fewer emissions than many domestic trains, according to government figures. It’s also efficient enough to fly for days at a time to deliver communications and surveillance capabilities. And this is achievable by 2025.

Yes, Airlander looks different and is a little slower than a normal aircraft. But at up to 130km/hr and with no need to be constrained to current airports, in many cases it’s faster than travelling by road, rail or sea.

The choice is ours – we can fly without flight-shame, if we just think a little differently. That’s why we are asking people to Rethink The Skies. If we let go of preconceptions about what aviation looks and feels like we can create new ways of connecting people and places, and offer real low-emissions alternatives to drive our green recovery from Covid-19.

Interested in investing in HAV? We have just announced a new crowdfund, you sign up to get early access here.

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