The idea that airships could be the answer to eco shipping is not a new one. It has been 75 years since the catastrophic fireball stopped advancements in this technology, and now a new generation of eco conscious entrepreneurs are looking into airships as the possible answer to low-carbon shipping. The initial target for this eco friendly shipping technology will be developing markets including China, Arica and northern Canada where transportation infrastructure is non-existent.
There are many benefits to using airships for eco shipping. They can carry enormous payloads without requiring much tarmac access that normal air and truck transport does; and it does so at a fraction of the cost. All this while not polluting the atmosphere? Surely there is no better option for eco friendly shipping.
Conventional aircraft is especially useful for transporting perishables such as fruits and vegetables. While transporting these in refrigerated compartments as sea freight is a cheaper option, it this method of transport is considerably longer than sending goods by air. However, the airships offer both affordability and short transport times, and can transport everything from food items to heavy industrial equipment direct to the customer, thereby easing both logistics and cost.
Currently there are a few companies that are developing prototypes that should be commercially available anywhere between 2013 and beyond. One company has a prototype with a range of 1000 nautical miles and can carry up to 20 tons. Another airship under development will have a payload of 50 tons.
The industry is hoping to cater for the developing markets where infrastructure has not yet been developed for freight. While there aren’t any airships developed for these markets just yet, once they have been established on the frontiers however, due to the airships’ versatility, cost and fuel advantages, it should be easy for these to enter the more mature markets such as that of the United States.
In northern countries such as Canada where the ice roads are only operational for a few days of the year, it makes far more sense to send goods as air freight rather than on trucks. The cost of building roads is incredibly high and since these are covered by ice and snow anyway, when the airships take off it will make the construction of roads difficult to justify.
New aerodynamic designs and advanced materials and engines mean that the airships are far more durable and capable of longer and more autonomous flights. An onboard computer tells the airship what to do and with the creation of the air cushioned landing system, the airship can fly and land just about anywhere.
If this concept does take off we can look forward to cheaper and more sustainable shipping.