Flying the Flag for an Airship Revolution

The rise of freight airships could represent a new high for Asian companies who are looking for various ways to reach world markets, according to research published in the International Journal of Aviation Management.

Lockheed Martin’s P-791 Airship-Second Flight on 14 Feb.2006; Photo: Bob Driver

Barry Prentice and Yui-yip Lau working together at the University of Manitoba, Canada, explain how the reinvented technology of airships has come apace in recent years and is a far cry from the trial and error methods and primitive materials used to build the giant Zeppelins of yesteryear. They have  developed a  conceptual model, which they refer to as the value-density cargo pyramid, to help them analyze dedicated cargo airplanes, sea-air logistics, sea containers and transport airships, through the busy trade corridors between Hong Kong,  Europe, and North America.

Lockheed Martin's Artist's Impression -P-791 Airship
Artist’s Impressions of P-791 Airship; Credit: Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin's Artist's Impression -P-791 Airship


The benefits of airships over “conventional” freight vehicles – airplanes, ships, trains and trucks, for instance, is that they can fly over land and sea, access coastal ports, airports and reach remote inland regions too.

“The transport airship is a disruptive technology that has the potential to modify freight transport markets, change geographical advantage and alter world trade patterns,” the team explains.

Hybrid Air Vehicle's Airlander-10; Credit: Hybrid Air Vehicles
Hybrid Air Vehicle’s Airlander-10; Credit: Hybrid Air Vehicles

They point out that these advantages coupled with relatively low costs and a smaller carbon footprint might make airships the freight transport choice of the future sooner than the conventional couriers anticipate.

However, airships could simply fill a niche rather than out-competing conventional aircraft. Airships are slower than airplanes, but have much bigger capacity and loading doors and so could reduce the economic barriers for the carriage of low-density and low value-perishable cargoes that are usually sent by even slower marine routes.

“This is a sizeable market, and one that does not necessarily erode the markets of established carriers,” the team points out.

Airlander10 First Test Flight; Credit: Hybrid Air Vehicles
Airlander10 First Test Flight; Credit: Hybrid Air Vehicles

“Both technical and economic reasons lie behind the 80-year delay in the commercialization of large freight carrying airships, but in the 21st century no obvious technological barriers remain. The race is on to create this new transportation mode and the first-movers will have an advantage,” the team concludes. We are looking forward to the day when someone will actually be able to calibrate the value-density pyramid.

Adapted in part by Sitara Maruf
Source: Inderscience Publishers

Publication date: 7 September 2016

Journal: Prentice, B.E. and Lau, Y-Y. Market potential for transport airships in service to Hong KongInt. J. Aviation Management, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp.68-83.

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