Due to its collection of outlying islands, sparse population density and challenging weather conditions, the Highlands and Islands of Scotland has a unique set of challenges to overcome in providing cost effective and efficient means of transportation to its communities with sufficient capacity for growth. Current infrastructure faces limitations in accommodating large aircraft, hindering connectivity. Enter Airlander 10, an aircraft that can connect the previously unconnected due to its minimal requirement for fixed infrastructure. This case study looks at the operational infrastructure requirements of the aircraft, showcasing how the incorporation of Airlander 10 could reshape transportation in the region, and in similar geographies, without significant cost.

The study

To better understand how Airlander could operate from the current airfield network in the Highlands and Islands we worked alongside our partners at AECOM. AECOM is the world's trusted infrastructure consulting firm, with expertise that encompasses a wide range of aviation facilities, from terminals to runways, hangars, and support infrastructure. In our collaborative effort, AECOM's focus was on assessing aerodrome infrastructure for both land and sea operations, as well as surface access and obstacle restrictions. Their comprehensive scope included evaluating the cost implications of changes, additions, and interventions at seven locations, supporting the safe and efficient operation of Airlander 10.

The study found that the current airfields are relatively small with low operating costs and short runways, meaning only very small aircraft can operate out of them. Compared to traditional aircraft, Airlander 10 boasts unparalleled operational flexibility. With a short take-off and landing run, akin to small light aircraft, Airlander opens the door to a multitude of locations, from small islands to water and ice surfaces.

Airlander operational infrastructure

Airlander 10 requires a reasonably flat surface to operate from, and unlike fixed-wing aircraft it is not restricted to using a single runway orientated towards one particular point of the compass. The study found minimal adaptions to the current airfields would be required. These adaptions would increase capacity ten-fold.

Mooring the aircraft requires a 200m circle. Of the sites surveyed most could accommodate this, of the ones that couldn’t, it would simply mean Airlander would need to be kept overnight at a different site. Aircraft servicing, maintenance and repair can all take place on the mooring mast. Requiring minimal specialised infrastructure, Airlander is designed for easy maintenance, eliminating the need for hangar facilities.

The envisioned Airlander passenger facility echoes an airport setup but with a streamlined, 'turn up and go' approach, featuring simplified security screening. Whether housed in existing buildings or temporary structures, this adaptable infrastructure ensures operational cost efficiency.

Airlander's impact is not only transformative but also economically viable. The study and our work with AECOM reveals that the required adaptations for Airlander operations are simple and cost effective, with an average modification cost of approximately £287k per site. This stands in stark contrast to substantial upgrade costs for other transportation hubs. Airlander 10 offers an innovative solution, poised to reshape transport dynamics in the Highlands and Islands, offering unparalleled connectivity without the burden of extensive infrastructure investments.

To delve deeper into the comprehensive findings of our feasibility study, download the full report here.

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