First balloon flight to the North Pole in three years

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At least that’s what OceanSky Cruises promises, and apparently they already have the vehicle. Founded in 2018, the Swedish company will use its Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) Airlander 10 airships to transport passengers to the northernmost point on Earth, who will also be able to land on the ice for a six-hour free programme, according to Interesting Engineering. If they succeed, the travel agency is sure to make history, as no one has ever conquered the North Pole in a balloon before.

It’s been a long time since passenger airships disappeared from the skies almost a century ago, and only recently has this convenient and climate-friendly way of travelling begun to be rediscovered. The Airlander 10 is now much safer than the airships of the early 20th century, using helium instead of flammable hydrogen, and modern electronics and redundant systems to ensure that the airship is accident-free. Even if the Airlander’s engines should fail for some reason, it would still sink rather than crash, and because it is made of lightweight materials, it would not sink on landing.

OceanSky Cruises is scheduled to start scheduled flights to the Arctic from 2024 or 2025, once a month from March to October. Passengers will depart from Longyearbyen in Norway’s Svalbard for the 38-hour voyage, which will take them in true luxury to one of the most inaccessible places in the world. Airlander 10 has a total of eight double cabins with showers, where passengers can enjoy the scenery through the large panoramic window or the glass floor in front of the bar. OceanSky Cruises promises that the airship will sometimes cruise at an altitude of just under 30 metres, low enough for passengers to see whales or even polar bears from above. In addition to the passengers, there will be a crew of seven on board, including four pilots, a flight attendant, a mission leader and a chef.

Although the reputation of airships has not been the best since the Hindenburg disaster, in recent years more and more people have realised that this form of transport can have enormous environmental benefits. Although OceanSky Cruises promises to minimise the consumption of airships by exploiting ideal wind currents, it is easy to see that the luxury trip to the Arctic is not the best example to demonstrate this. In other cases, however, a hybrid airship capable of carrying up to 100 passengers could make a significant contribution to reducing the roughly one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted by aviation each year, which accounts for almost 2.5% of global emissions. Hybrid Air Vehicles announced in May this year that from 2025 it will launch scheduled flights between several cities in Europe and the US, including Liverpool to Belfast, Oslo to Stockholm, Seattle to Vancouver and Barcelona to Mallorca. According to the manufacturer, the trips will be just under a tenth of the length of a conventional airliner, including airport check-in, while emissions per capita will be less than a tenth of those of a conventional airliner.

It’s no coincidence that Hybrid Air Vehicles is not the only company to see the potential in these giant “flying whales”, as recently, Atlas LTA of Israel and Sergey Brin’s LTA Research have announced similar projects. Airships are still in use today, but apart from a few sightseeing vehicles, they are more typically used for research or observation purposes.

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