The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has given the green light to Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) – the developer of the Airlander hybrid airship – its approval to start flight testing airships for type certification. It is a move that recognizes the UK- based manufacturer’s expertise in large aircraft design and enables the company to start type certification and eventually, commercial operation of the Airlander 10, world’s largest aircraft.

Hybrid Air Vehicles announced on October 4, 2018, the company has been awarded EASA’s Design Organisation Approval (DOA), essentially clearing the company to launch a full flight test program towards the type certification of its Airlander 10. The company has previously operated the prototype Airlander under temporary permission from the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and EASA.

HAV has hailed the EASA’s go-ahead as an “important milestone” for the company – certainly a step closer to the commercial production of the airship. “Achieving our DOA was always an important milestone in our Airlander 10 production plan,” said Executive Director Nick Allman in a statement. “Working directly with EASA, we have made excellent progress on developing the appropriate regulations for an aircraft like Airlander. Having our DOA will support our preparation for a type certification programme as we move ahead with the production aircraft.”

Hybrid Air Vehicles joins the ranks of only eight other organizations that currently hold an EASA Design Organisation Approval for type certifying large aircraft. The DOA means that a manufacturer has been acknowledged as capable of designing large aircraft, it also demands tha companies have the “right organization, procedures, competencies and resources” for the task, Aerospace Testing International explains.

“[…] we have worked hard to make sure that we were thoroughly prepared for every step of the DOA process. As a result, we have succeeded in securing our DOA,” commented Nikky Pittkin, Safety and Airworthiness Engineer for HAV, in the company’s statement. The manufacturer says it expects to receive certification of a customer version of the Airlander 10 aircraft and have it enter into service „from the early 2020s“. It has also announced that its order book is now open.

The European regulator’s recognition is about the best news HAV has had in a long time. According to Aerospace Testing International, the development of the Airlander started in 2007, right at the time Hybrid Air Vehicles was founded. The design was originally produced for the U.S. Air Force. Since then, the project has suffered several setbacks related to crashes, including a collapse of the Airship last year.

In November 2017, a prototype of the hybrid aircraft break free of its mooring mast, triggering a safety feature that collapsed the hull and caused the structure to sustain serious damage. Following the incident, HAV had to cancel its initial flight test program. Prior to that, in August 2016, a hard landing on the Airlander’s second flight wrecked the gondola leading to eight months of repairs, Flight Global reports.

Rethinking the skies – with an Airlander 10

According to Hybrid Air Vehicles, the Airlander can take off and land from virtually any flat surface, and can be configured for multiple roles in both military and commercial sectors: from surveillance and border patrol operations, search and rescue missions, to cargo transportation and expeditionary tourism.

The Airlander 10 is a helium-filled hybrid airship that is part lighter-than-air blimp (a “pressure airship”, which is not to be confused with a zeppelin) and part airplane. Its shape gives the airship an additional lift to minimize fuel usage. With that, the Airlander can stay airborne for up to five days at a time.

The airship is 302 feet (92 meters) long, 143 feet (43.5 meters) wide, with a height of 85 feet (26 meters). It can reach a maximum altitude of 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) and top speed of 90mph (148km/h). It is also capable of carrying up to 10 metric tons, or 22,050 lbs (10,000 kilograms).