“Rethink the skies” – this is what Bedford-based Hybrid Air Vehicles vows to do with its innovative multi-function aircraft, Airlander. They plan a future with no jets, no pistons, no kerosene, no exhaust pollution. And not a conventional wing in sight!
For as CEO Tom Grundy explains, this is anything but an aeroplane. Looking similar to an airship, it is actually one giant wing in itself, with additional but controlled buoyancy (it doesn’t float away) provided by delicate interplay between helium, control surfaces, and motors.
This arrangement is the “Hybrid” in the company’s name, and when we caught up with Tom recently to talk about the benefits of Chamber membership, his passion and commitment to those “rethought skies” was palpable in every word.
Airlander – flight, but better
Tom is clear: Airlander takes flight into a whole new realm. Not just of sustainability (up to 90% fewer emissions per passenger-km), but, from the operators’ viewpoint, flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and infrastructure savings.
Forget those huge gantries restraining a floating zeppelin by its nose. Airlander 10 can land directly on the ground, where it can unload up to 10 tonnes of cargo or discharge up to 100 passengers without jet bridges or stair cars - and as it doesn’t require a runway, it takes up much less space than aeroplanes need.
At the same time, it can also take off from, and land on, water – a capability Tom says is a “game-changer” for poorly connected localities globally.
But getting Airlander off the ground in a financial and logistical sense was challenging – and this is where Chamber membership delivered particular value.
From Beds to Yorks: critical Chamber connections
Tom explains that although the company is an SME (it currently employs around 70 people), its financial and operational characteristics are very different from a typical company of that size.
Design and manufacturing are cases in point. The Airlander is a vast vehicle packed full of precision engineering, so highly specialist (and costly) design and manufacturing facilities are imperative.
With the help of the Chamber and its connection to other UK Chambers in the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) network, the company was able to access business expertise and build critical funding relationships both within andoutside Bedfordshire.
These enabled it to produce successful investment cases supporting both the business’s design and corporate office in Bedford, and a specialist manufacturing facility in Doncaster, to be part-funded by South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority.
Result: the company is now on the path to delivering 12 Airlanders, for passenger, logistics, luxury tourism, and communications & surveillance use, per year.
Ten Airlanders are already reserved by one of the largest regional airlines in Europe, and Airlander is being studied for use across Scotland’s Highlands and Islands, including Orkney.
Next stop: net-zero connections for remote regions, island nations and communities across the world!
A voice heard by Government
“I was keen to build links to Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce from the very start,” Tom says. “The Chamber has been excellent at recognising the special challenges that non-typical SMEs face.”
“But it’s a strategic relationship that goes way beyond supply chain; it influences policy and gets our voice heard by Government, too. The pressure the Chamber applied on Government to create the Future Fund during the pandemic, for example, delivered a lifeline for us, as on paper we didn’t meet the Government’s existing pandemic lending criteria.”
Tom also believes Bedfordshire Chamber is “unique in the way it operates both across groups and also upwards into the national agenda,” and praises CEO Justin Richardson, who is “absolutely brilliant, energetic, always out there, talking to businesses and helping them with the challenges they face.”
Hybrid Air Vehicles might be rethinking the skies, but it’s also reaching for them – and we at the Chamber are proud to be contributing at least some of the necessary lift!
If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of Chamber membership, call us on (01582) 522448.