Airbus’s High-Flying Drone Unit Eyes Potential IPO

Aalto HAPS CEO Reveals Possible Public Offering After Commercial Launch

A little-known Airbus subsidiary that develops solar-powered, high-altitude drones called Zephyrs could consider an initial public offering (IPO) in the coming years, according to its chief executive, reports The WSJ. Aalto HAPS, based just outside London in Farnborough, manufactures fixed-wing drones designed to operate above 60,000 feet in the stratosphere.

These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), known as high-altitude platform stations or HAPS, can be equipped with payloads that provide 5G connectivity and Earth observation services such as prevention and border control. The Zephyr project originated with British defense company QinetiQ in the early 2000s before acquired the program in 2013.

Lightweight Design Enables Extreme Endurance

The current Zephyr S model boasts a 25-meter wingspan but weighs only around 75 kg. Its lightweight construction, combined with solar panels on the wings that charge batteries during the day, allows the drone to fly continuously for months at a time in the stratosphere at altitudes of 65,000-70,000 feet.

Aalto HAPS envisions Zephyr as a more affordable and versatile alternative to satellites for tasks like surveillance, communications, and environmental monitoring. The platform could provide persistent coverage over a local region for both military and commercial applications:

  • Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR)
  • Communications relay
  • Monitoring missions
  • Mobile coverage and internet service in remote areas
  • Disaster relief support

Record-Breaking Flights Demonstrate Potential Airbus Drone

In recent years, Zephyr has achieved significant milestones that showcase its potential for ultra-long missions:

  • In 2018, a Zephyr S flew for nearly 26 days continuously from , setting a new endurance record for any aircraft.
  • In 2022, another Zephyr flew for 64 days before crashing, just short of the overall flight endurance record.

Airbus continues to develop and test the Zephyr platform to enhance its capabilities, viewing HAPS as an important future market alongside its traditional aircraft and satellite businesses. With its extreme endurance and adaptable payloads, Zephyr could unlock new military and commercial applications in the stratosphere.

As Aalto HAPS prepares for commercial operations in the coming years, an IPO remains a possibility to fuel further growth and development of this high-flying technology. The unit's CEO believes that Zephyr's unique capabilities position it well in the burgeoning HAPS market as demand for persistent, flexible aerial solutions continues to grow.

Photo courtesy of Airbus.

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Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ or @hayekesteloo.

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