Straightline Aviation ZAS0071
Written evidence submitted by Straightline Aviation
Introducing The Hybrid Airship Opportunity
In an era where connectivity is moving at the speed of light, it is hard to imagine that we still live in a world where less than 50% of the population is connected by paved roads and other common means of transportation. This is a global challenge for the logistics world as the current modes of aviation transportation, be it heavy-lift helicopters with low range and poor safety records, or fixed-wing aircraft with the need for runways and significant infrastructure to support landing, are severely inadequate for addressing global trade and disaster relief missions at a scale where it is needed.
The current modes of aerial transportation, limited as they are by lack of infrastructure and operational considerations, have created a huge market inefficiency where the limitations on accessing vital untapped resources including rare earth minerals, oil and coal reserves, and other market driving commodities are affecting the global supply chain. Further, basic human necessities of shelter, food, and healthcare are often left unmet due to the inability of the global infrastructure network to satisfy the ability to transport goods and services to land- or sea-locked locations or those affected by a natural disaster. This often results in the incapacitation of growth and stagnation of progress where capital cannot be efficiently deployed. It is not uncommon that provisioning basic goods and services can reach 30x normal market costs due to the cost of transportation in some remote locations.
The Hybrid Airship Thesis: Given global connectivity and strategic development goals of First World and Developing nations, airships and more specifically Hybrids, can significantly enhance the ability to access previously locked resources while also bringing about a greater use of a more efficient technology for air cargo transport, and humanitarian and disaster relief solutions. Hybrid airships in many scenarios will often be the only solution to unlock natural resources or provide economical access in areas which suffer from lack of infrastructure. Whilst traditional airplanes, and heavy-lift helicopters are operationally limited, the new Hybrids are fully capable of removing restrictions on economic development which will result in both economic and social benefits in support of regional and national strategic development goals.
Additionally, the low emission nature of the vehicle, means that airships are pioneering the development of green solutions in the cargo and heavy-lift market, while not sacrificing operational capability.
About the Team
There is no operating team in the world that even comes close to the experience of Straightline Aviation. Our team has consistently led the airship market having operated a fleet of 19 airships, employing more than 400 staff in 6 offices around the world. Mike Kendrick along with Mark Dorey developed the largest fleet of commercial airships in the world, operating them for major customers including multi-million contracts with blue-chip clients like Goodyear and Budweiser. As partner with Sir Richard Branson the team built the Virgin Airship and Balloon Company into a global lighter-than-air operating business with over 200 aircraft, in over 50 countries around the world.
A graduate of the London School of Economics, Mark is an experienced commercial director. He has held senior international positions at a variety of service industry companies including PepsiCo and trained as a Chartered Accountant with Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers).
On leaving PepsiCo he joined the Virgin Group, where he worked with Mike Kendrick for almost 10 years in the aerial advertising and marketing services division.
As COO of The Lightship Group, he also managed the largest fleet of commercial airships ever operated with responsibility for business strategy and planning.
He negotiated numerous of multi-million dollar service contracts with blue-chip clients like Goodyear and Sanyo and established businesses in Brazil, Singapore, South Africa and the USA.
He was also responsible for corporate structuring, mergers, acquisitions and partnerships.
Mark held the position as Responsible Officer in respect of the Civil Aviation Authority for UK operations and was also a director of the Virgin Airship and Balloon Company and Richard Branson’s round the world balloon attempt.
Subsequently, Mark acted as Managing Director of a number of companies in media, marketing and events sectors before joining up with Mike again as a shareholder and director of Mineseeker before co-founding Straightline Aviation.
When the term airship is used, it is easy to confuse the various solutions in the market. Many of the current potential solutions continue to be lighter-than-air (“LTA”) and still face significant operational challenges associated with tethering and ballasting to remain on the ground and therefore the management of loading and off-loading of cargo and people. They also require significant ground support infrastructure rendering them less capable for true heavy-lift operations. These are the traditional airships of old, which are akin to the Goodyear blimp floating over sports stadiums. However, key technology steps forward which have resulted in the development of Hybrid airships like the Lockheed Martin LMH-1 and Hybrid Air Vehicles’ Airlander 10*, which are in fact heavier-than-air (“HTA”), will result in a much greater capability in the field of heavy-lift cargo transportation. These Hybrids utilize a combination of traditional airship technology, such as the helium-filled envelope which provides buoyancy, with ground handling technology designed for the removal of ground handling logistics and infrastructure issues.
In its simplest form, an airship is a power-driven aircraft that is kept buoyant by a body of gas (usually helium, formerly hydrogen) which were mostly traditionally classified as LTA.
Historically, these airships have successfully worked as marketing and promotional platforms, as well as finding usage as survey and surveillance vehicles for border and coastal monitoring and passenger options. But until recently, airships have not been a reasonable solution for heavy-lift cargo or disaster relief purposes primarily due to the need to “moor” the airship to prevent the vehicle from drifting off, the significant ground infrastructure needed to support, and fallacies in the structural designs which made the airships incapable of creating large enough carrying capacity to make the economics make sense.
While it is true many companies have continued to make improvements to the existing designs, any LTA airships planning a carrying capacity of 20+ tons face significant engineering design and operational challenges before they are feasible. It hasn’t been until the last decade that the improvements in the technology have led to the creation of the HTA Hybrid airships which are a viable market solution for heavy-lift transportation.
The new Hybrid airship design combines all the best characteristics of fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and hovercraft with cutting-edge aerospace technology.
At first glance, because of their immensity and basic configuration, Hybrids may bear some resemblance to the airships of old, but that is about as far as any real comparisons go. This category of airships, based on a non-rigid design are considered “Hybrid” because they apply both aerodynamic and aerostatic technologies to achieve lift. The Hybrids have an aerodynamically shaped envelope with no rigid structure filled with non-combustible helium, and fly with a positive aerostatic condition, usually equal to the empty weight of the system, with the variable payload sustained by propulsion or aerodynamic contribution. At sizes and dimensions the size of a football field, Hybrids provide a cost-effective means of transportation.
Critically, Hybrids have the potential to offer a key solution to enhance logistics, accessibility and mobility without the detrimental impacts inherent with other aircraft. Hybrids are also a more economical solution than other forms of aviation as they burn less fuel than conventional aircraft, using a fifth of the fuel of a helicopter and a third of that of a jet aircraft, while traveling up to 6x the range of helicopters at maximum speed. In many cases, Hybrids can reduce operating costs by 70%-90% over traditional means and reduce infrastructure costs by 95%.
With their heavy-lift capability and increased range, Hybrids will change the way the industry processes heavy goods and cargo transportation by facilitating point-to-point delivery at a fraction of the cost of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft used for the same purpose, while also eliminating the time and infrastructure expense of intermodal handling at points in between. Further:
Hybrid aircraft are GREEN:
Can be operated ANYWHERE:
As a cheaper, more efficient alternative for transport, clients can save hundreds of millions of dollars in logistics and operations costs including the cost of building and maintaining infrastructure such as roads, bridges, tunnels and airports that traditionally service heavy industry or disaster relief sites. The Hybrids are key new logistics tools that will reduce overall CapEx for clients while de-risking projects in environmentally sensitive areas as a result of their revolutionary green technology. This means that the Hybrid solution should operate in a sweet spot in cost and time, just slightly above road freight but much more economical than fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.
More on the environmentally friendly nature of the Hybrids: With one-third the fuel burn and carbon emissions of a similar payload fixed-wing aircraft, Hybrids will reduce the environmental impact of roads, airports and other infrastructure traditionally needed that permanently scars the landscape, particularly in wilderness areas. Hybrids will also make previously inaccessible areas now available thus reducing the burden on many existing sites and the need for road or rail connections. Studies from the Social Stock Exchange Report show a 66.7% reduction in carbon emissions compared to fixed-wing, and 92.5% compared to a typical heavy-lift helicopter. Through the reduction of carbon emissions, greenhouse gases, damaging environmental infrastructure, transport congestion, etc. Hybrids will be less harmful to the environment whilst improving global communication links, which in turn, support fair trade and bring opportunities to communities previously out of reach of global markets. With little to no infrastructure costs needed, the costs for clean-up will be lowered if not removed completely.
The hybrid airship also provides the ideal platform for the development of hydrogen fuel cells and other technologies paving the way for true zero emissions air transport in the future.
Hybrids will also reduce the need for nodal transport models particularly for larger heavy lift aircraft. Being able to reduce the distance between nodal points is a significant value when designing local logistics and humanitarian projects. With heavier carrying capacity and increased landing range this has potential to match intermodal shipping and trucking models, without the need for infrastructure and ground crew costs. While the market currently can be serviced with Hybrids lifting 20 metric tons, plans for development of larger aircraft may ultimately allow for carrying volumetrically higher loads, as high as 250-500 ton ranges. At these numbers, the Hybrids would compete with shipping containers and road freight for larger point to point logistics projects.
Hybrids are only marginally heavier-than-air. Approximately 80% of their lift comes from buoyant helium and 20% from the aerodynamic lift generated by the shape of the hull and ‘vectored thrust’ from the craft’s four rotatable engines. Solutions utilizing the HTA format, if designed correctly, create vast improvements on ground handling capability and limit cargo loading and unloading challenges presented by LTA vehicles that require mooring and large ground crews. The best options in the market will be those that require no mast and mooring circle, eliminating the need to control the swing of an airship on the mast in windy conditions.
Many Hybrid solutions won’t require being tied down during the loading and unloading processes. This fact, combined with improvements in ground handling technology such as the LMH-1’s ACLS hovercraft and surface grip technology to better secure the vehicle during the process, are industry game changers that create a window for managing ballasting and cargo weight transfer during loading and unloading.
Current location infrastructure costs can run anywhere from tens of millions of dollars to close to $1 billion or more on a single project, with road construction alone costing between $2m-$3m per kilometre. The use of Hybrids is a market disruptor with both tangible and intangible benefits that can be quantified to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. The core clients it serves include natural resource companies as well as energy companies including renewables such as wind turbines and solar power. In fact, independent research suggests a global market today in excess of 500 aircraft with such diverse applications as remote freight handling through to humanitarian, disaster relief and high-end tourism. Additionally, the Airships, with inexpensive flight operations and the ability to stay airborne for multiple days, will open up markets currently underserved by today’s airborne logistics operators:
For several of these markets, like media and telecommunications services, traditional LTA aircraft (and even unmanned aircraft) can provide sufficient coverage to implement economical programs. However, when delving deep into the requirements of heavy-lift cargo, mineral exploration, survey and surveillance and humanitarian needs, LTA aircraft struggle to get around the limitations of carrying capacity and/or the need for significant landing infrastructure. These limitations make LTA aircraft unviable for these segments, whereas Hybrids are better suited due to the technological improvements in airship design.
V. Why are Hybrid Airships the ideal solution for First World and Developing Nations
Simply put, a model whereby governments have new options for servicing logistics needs while also having the capability to quickly shift utilization to humanitarian, emergency and disaster relief programs is a potential win. Airships are key logistical solutions that not only reduce operating and infrastructure costs, open communities and resources up to the larger economic ecosystem, but also fit within the grander scale of helping regional and remote communities meet the economic and social development goals. Additionally, unlike other heavy-lift competitors - the advantages of Hybrid technology can set a more optimal standard for sustainable development and transportation while paving the path for future green aviation.
VII. Hybrid Airship SWOT Analysis
As outlined, there are multiple airship solutions of varying degrees of credibility that can be useful in assisting with aviation decarbonisation strategies whilst also delivering solutions to the supply chain issues we are facing in the market today. The technology is now in place to effectively reduce both carbon emissions and operating costs while increasing range and dependability of aerial transport using this new type of aviation platform. With the variety of products in both LTA and HTA categories, it is absolutely critical to understand the technical differences of the airships themselves and their operational capabilities. Furthermore, it is essential to engage with organizations that can demonstrate extensive operational experience in this field in order to properly evaluate each opportunity and the applicability of airship solutions to different scenarios. It is our opinion that airships, in particular Hybrid airships should be considered as a viable option beginning as early as 2024, when it is anticipated the first airships will be available for operation.
For inquiries contact:
Straightline Aviation Limited
 *It should be noted that the Airlander 10 still requires a mast and significant ground works for mooring, so is not truly free of ground support and therefore still relatively limited in respect of remote operations.
 Performance Data sheets on LMH-1 by Lockheed Martin
 Social Stock Exchange Report