Airship could serve Oxford-Cambridge

The Oxford Times:

A FUTURISTIC passenger airship could provide commuters with a new link between Cambridge and Oxford.

The SkyCat helium balloon would float passengers from Cambridge to Oxford in an hour.

But it is now a question of finding investors ready to pump in millions of pounds to get the revolutionary new form of air travel off the ground.

The project is being led by the Oxford author and businessman, Michael Stewart, chief executive of World SkyCat Ltd.

Mr Stewart, of Wytham, believes the new air vehicles will offer an alternative to the UK's clogged-up roads, with the first SkyCat-50 scheduled to make its maiden flight in about two years.

He said the air vehicle was capable of landing in fields or virtually anywhere, with the minimum of ground infrastructure required. With about 200 passengers aboard, it could take off almost vertically.

"They are relatively slow, travelling at about 100 mph, so something like an Oxford-to-Cambridge run would be ideal. The emissions are less then ten per cent per tonne per mile of an average aircraft," said Mr Stewart, who lives in Wytham Abbey.

Mr Stewart's company is working on the project with Hybrid Air Vehicles, which is developing the airships at the Cardington sheds in Bedfordshire, the home of the UK's airship industry.

The airships combine lighter-than-air airship technology and air-cushioned hovercraft technology. The air cushion landing system allows the air vehicles to land on flat land, grass, snow or even water.

Mr Stewart said: "It is a massive opportunity but we are bedevilled by lack of capital.

"But I hope we are now about to break through. We want to create a fleet of them."

While he believed there would be potential for a Cambridge-to-Oxford service, his one concern was that a light aircraft service between the two university cities recently failed because of a lack of commuters.

Three years ago, doubt was cast on the entire SkyCat programme, when the company behind it went into administration.

But Hybrid Air Vehicles has set up in business to continue the work.

Company spokesman Gordon Taylor said: "Our teams have been working for over 35 years flying traditional airships.

"It is a very safe form of transportation. We believe there is a large market of passengers wanting to travel east-west.

"But there is still a lot of work to be done. We are now building two prototype air vehicles."

He said SkyCats could be configured as ultra heavy cargo ships and airborne surveillance platforms, as well as passenger airships.

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