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Shropshire pair aim for the sky with next generation airships

Bridgnorth | News | Published:

A business flying a new generation of airships is being set up by two Shropshire businessmen. Straightline Aviation will be based at Halfpenny Green Airport near Bridgnorth.

The airships will transport goods and passengers to normally inaccessible areas of Africa, Canada and even China.

Mike Kendrick, from near Bridgnorth, runs the Mineseekers Foundation based at the airport. He is behind the scheme along with his business partner and fellow Shropshire resident Mark Dorey.

In two years time the pair say Straightline will have a fleet of four to six hybrid airships flying passengers and freight.

The ships are not expected to fly regularly over the West Midlands, but the global operation will be based at the airport in Bobbington.

Mr Kendrick and Mr Dorey formerly ran Richard Branson's Virgin airship and hot air balloons business, and Mr Kendrick has also worked with balloon pioneer Per Lindstrand in the past.

The duo are in talks with the two companies currently developing the new airships, Hybrid Air Vehicles in the UK and US aviation giant Lockheed Martin, to become their first customer. Both companies expect to have their airships ready to fly commercially in 2018.

Filled with helium – rather than the hydrogen often blamed for the Hindenberg disaster in 1936 – the new airships use a combination of lighter-than-air aircraft and helicopter technologies.

They can land on any piece of cleared ground or even the water.

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"No airport, no problem," said Mr Kendrick. "These aircraft will transport cargo and passengers to previously inaccessible locations around the globe.

"The first versions will carry up to 20 tons of freight as well as passengers but they are scalable to many times that number.

"The current versions are about the size of the Molineux football pitch.

"They can land almost vertically on unprepared ground, grass, sand, snow or even water and, as they are not lighter than air, have excellent ground handling characteristics."

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As well as working in developing countries lacking modern transport networks, the airships would be ideal for oil and gas exploration companies working in inaccessible areas, he said.

"It can cost these companies up to £20 million a mile to build new roads to some of these sites," Mr Kendrick said. "One company we have talked to said if they had been able to use one of these hybrids on one particular site they could have saved 900 million US dollars.

"They are also cost 70 per cent less to operate than other aircraft and their carbon footprint is 90 per cent smaller."

The company is talking with potential customers and is now looking for investors, having already secured wealthy US toy inventor Brian Kessler as its chairman.

The company has also recruited David Tait, the man who built Virgin Atlantic in the US, as its president. Mr Tait was awarded an OBE in 2001 for "services to British aviation in the USA".

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