(Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approved a certification plan developed by Lockheed Martin for its hybrid airships, the company said, taking it one step closer to starting commercial deliveries of the airships.
The airships can transport heavy cargo to remote locations, burn significantly less fuel than conventional aircraft and land on any flat surface, including sand, snow and water.
Lockheed and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have worked together for more than a decade to define the criteria to certify hybrid airships for transport.
The FAA approved the criteria in 2013 and since then Lockheed has been developing a 'project specific certification plan' to detail how it will follow these new regulations.
Lockheed said on Tuesday that the FAA had recently approved this certification plan.
"The approval of the certification plan represents an important risk reduction milestone for our customers," program manager Robert Boyd said in a statement.
The airship, filled mostly with helium, can carry 20 tons of cargo, but can easily be scaled to roughly the size of a football field with 500 tons of capacity. It has a fuel capacity of 5,000 gallon with a range of 1,400 nautical miles, and can cruise at a speed of 60 knots.
The airship's four hovercraft-like landing pads allow it to set down on flat land without being required to be moored on large towers like traditional airships.
The airships can revolutionize the way oil and mining companies haul equipment to remote areas, such as the Arctic, without roads or infrastructure, enabling affordable delivery of heavy cargo and personnel.
Lockheed kicked off sales for the 20-ton variety of the hybrid airship earlier this year and is on track to deliver operational airships by as early as 2018.
Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D'Souza