Cargo Airships – Something for the Future?

Lighter than air (LTA) technology for cargo transport is seems is something which the logistics industry may well be seriously looking at for future transport of military and very heavy cargo as well as other purposes.

Image of the “Cargo Ship“ projected by Worldwide Aeros  / source: Worldwide Aeros
Image of the “Cargo Ship“ projected by Worldwide Aeros / source: Worldwide Aeros

The subject of cargo airships has been on and off agendas during the past few years.
Mostly off - as supporters from the logistics community were few and far between.
This, according to recent studies could very well change.

Military spending has in most countries been wound down considerably during the past years due to the “then” peaceful state of affairs throughout the world.
This may change dramatically in the coming years if the emergence of a new cold war becomes obvious.

Military spending for transport aircraft is almost at rock bottom and that’s maybe why the LTA industry is looking at advancing work on a new generation of airships for cargo transport.
Presently, there are none of these types of transport being used in the cargo, whether commercial or military, sector. The only ones in the air are for advertising purposes or for tourist trips.

Loading of the “Cargo Ship”
Loading of the “Cargo Ship”

Who’s interested?
Commercial interest in this form of transport might even give a boost to military interest which has waned these past years.
However, it’s back to the drawing board in most cases.
Today’s airships are not seen as being viable for long range cargo transport.
Therefore, there are many obstacles to overcome including understanding and mastering the technology needed as well as industry requirements.
Last but not least - funding for such a venture. Governments have largely dropped interest in even thinking about funding, so those who wish to go forward will need new, commercial fund raisers.

There are those out there who are interested
Lockheed Martin is developing a hybrid airship which they hope will get U.S. Federal Aviation (FAA) approval. They are confident it will work and would dearly like to have it commercially and militarily available sometime soon. Two or three years from now – that’s their target.
Then, there is the U.S. company Worldwide Aeros, who sees a future with this type of transport which can be very cost effective between sea and air cargo transport and carry much heavier single loads over long distances at much less the price.
These are just two of many companies researching and developing into this mode of transport.

The “Airlander” named airship is on the drawing boards of UK’s Hybrid Air Vehicles  /  source: company courtesy
The “Airlander” named airship is on the drawing boards of UK’s Hybrid Air Vehicles / source: company courtesy

Moving cargo is nothing new
So anything which these and other companies might bring onto the market has to attract shippers and the logistics world’s interest.
That in essence means - cost savings over present means of transport, much faster than sea or surface transport and lower operational costs at origin and destination.
The successful development and construction of cargo airships might well be very interesting for U.S. and UK military transport departments. They would probably only have to give input into their needs and specifics for a commercial outfit to design and build the airship. Then they (military) could do a deal with the producer to rent-in or hire-in on a block hour basis for transport needs.
Little or no investment on their part and quick and easy access for transport.

Large commercial companies such as gas and oil, wind park producers and those with equipment even too heavy for today’s Antonov 124 operators, could basically use the same system. Rent in on a block hour basis.

Worldwide Aeros is presently developing what it calls the ML866 which today already proclaims a 66 tons payload over long distances.
It has not been an easy time during the past twenty years for budding airship builders. Most have gone down the tubes financially or just lost interest.
Today’s developers are a different breed, but need to have some form of confidence from the logistics world that their ideas will be taken seriously.
In this sense - it would be good if there were to be a combined brain storm in this area.

A long way to go yet
As was recently shown by the UK manufacturer, Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), who has been forced to delay the flight testing of their newly developed Airlander 10 hybrid airship from December of this year until at least May of 2015.
The reason being funding for carrying out the test flight has not yet been forthcoming.
Still, development seems to be moving up a gear, question is will it take too long and interest again start to wane?

John Mc Donagh

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