The developer of the Airlander hybrid airship has won European Aviation Safety Agency design organisation approval, in a step, it says, that "is an important milestone on our path to getting the production Airlander 10 in service with customers".
The approval clears Hybrid Air Vehicles to launch a full flight-test programme to certificate a customer version of the world's largest aircraft by the "early 2020s". Until last year, HAV had been operating the prototype Airlander under temporary permission from the authorities. The Bedford, UK-based company says its orderbook is now open.
The EASA go-ahead comes some 11 months after an incident seriously damaged the prototype and caused HAV to cancel its original flight-test campaign. That event, in November 2017, saw the helium-filled aircraft break free of its mooring mast, triggering a safety feature that collapsed the hull and caused the structure to sustain damage.
It was the second time the flight-test effort had to be halted. In August 2016, a hard landing on the Airlander’s second flight wrecked the gondola and led to eight months of repairs.
HAV said after the second accident that shareholders – around 2,000 of whom are enthusiasts, with a tiny stake in the company – remained supportive, and that an insurance payment would help fund the development of a production-ready aircraft in 2018 using data accumulated from 15h of sorties.
The UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch said in June that it was classing the November 2017 as "non-reportable", meaning that HAV did not have to make any serious revisions to the programme.
The company has been pressing on with its marketing programme for the Airlander during 2018, revealing at July's Farnborough air show a concept luxury cabin for the aircraft, designed with agency Design Q. In June, it relocated from the historic airship hangar at Cardington to a new production facility in Bedford.