£330m deal to bring futuristic airships to Wolverhampton
A company based on Wolverhampton Business Airport has signed a £330 million deal to become the first to operate a new generation of airships.
Straightline Aviation (SLA) has become the first customer to order a dozen hybrid airships from US aviation giant Lockheed Martin.
SLA, based at offices on the airport, at Bobbington, revealed in March its plans to start operating a fleet of airships by 2018.
It has now signed a letter of intent to buy 12 airships and is working with Hybrid Enterprises, Lockheed Martin's hybrid airship reseller, to finalise the purchase agreement.
The deal was revealed by Lockheed Martin, which has been developing the airships at its top secret Skunk Works in California.
Mike Kendrick, co-founder and chief executive of SLA, said: "We are delighted to be first in line with this magnificent aircraft that is going to dramatically change the way cargo is moved around the world.
"The clear-cut economic and environmental advantages of these Hybrids are attracting vast amounts of attention from a wide-range of potential end users."
Rob Binns, chief executive of Hybrid Enterprises, added: "Lockheed Martin's Hybrid Airship represents a revolution in remote cargo delivery.
"Having an experienced team such as SLA recognize the Hybrid Airship's potential by signing the letter of intent solidifies the demand for this new mode of transportation. We are honoured and excited to share this milestone with them."
The helium-filled airships will be able to carry up to 20 tons of cargo or passengers using an air cushion landing system and burning less fuel than conventional aircraft. Initially it aims to supply the airships to work with gas, oil and mining companies working in remote areas.
Mr Kendrick used to run Richard Branson's Virgin Airship and Balloon Company, which had 19 airships in use around the world for advertising or promotional work. He was also flight director for Branson's balloon flights.
Lockheed Martin is one of the giants of the aviation world, employing 126,000 people and working on projects such as the next generation F-35 jet fighter.