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Experiential travel will ignite the Airship Industry and provide an alternative in aviation

By Carl-Oscar Lawaczeck, CEO at OceanSky Cruises

I’ve been a commercial pilot for 17 years with a university degree in logistical transportation economy. My background probably explains why I started looking at airships 10 years ago which developed into what is today OceanSky Cruises; an airline of airships. We understood that for aviation to move forward we need a sustainable airline. 

We will continue to travel in the future, so we need an alternative solution, an energy efficient non-fossil dependent solution. All mankind’s activities must be truly sustainable and I have to use the word “truly” because of the greenwashing of the word sustainable. Sustainability means that you can do something for eternity without depleting resources. 

In aviation, the only solution I see today and probably decades to come, that fulfils that criteria, is airships. Maybe in ultra short-range aviation, we can use electrical airplanes (although not energy efficient they can be zero emission), but when looking at mid-range and long-range travel, the only proven technology is airships.

Photo: Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd

In the end, sustainability is all about energy, or the preservation of energy. Energy consumption is the road to sustainability. Zero emission is less important while energy preservation is many times more impactful. This has been repeated by many respected transport experts and climate researchers.

Consumer behaviour must also be mentioned, as it is the most important factor (not to travel at all is the most ecologically sustainable). Every time we can preserve energy, we reduce our fossil footprint in the world due to the simple fact that the last kwh produced is fossil generated. The world will change through political mechanisms, human behaviour and new technologies in our drive to phase out fossil energy.

Airships are energy efficient because they don’t have to consume energy by keeping aloft. The lower speed, compared with airplanes, also reduces energy consumption. The piece of the puzzle that we want to bring, as OceanSky Cruises, is to scale the airship industry, to catalyse the technology into an industry, and we need to do it fast. The world is in dire need of an airborne transportation system that can cross seas and land, using the atmosphere as infrastructure, in a sustainable way.

“Airships open the world of pristine nature and wildlife that is out there and we have to protect that.”

The leading voices of the airship industry at the roundtable on “The Revival of Airships”, at ExpoDubai
Carl-Oscar Lawaczeck, during the conference hosted by OceanSky Cruises at ExpoDubai

In order to scale into an industry, we need profitability, entrepreneurship and business models without life support from charity or government. We need business models that can stand on their own two feet. Our expedition to the North Pole will bring the attention of the world to what airships are capable of. 

This will be a very small step, but it will be the first step, and the hardest step to achieve, to build an industry that the world needs. If Zeppelin could build airships that flew around the world with passengers in elegant comfort in the 1920’s and 30’s using painted cotton fabrics for the skin and cow intestines for gas bags, I think we can build airships today that far outperform the proficiency of those historical giants.

This very first step in igniting the airship industry will be through experiential travel. But this is just a first step. It’s a matter of proving the operational and commercial capability of airships. When we can reach any corner of the world, it also designates a huge responsibility. 

The first airship is the challenge, what follows after that is building an industry

Airships make sense, and for me, the world doesn’t make sense today because of the tons of fossil fuels we use every day. But, in 10 years, we’ll start to see a new world and this change is going to change the economics of the game. In that future, there will be winners and losers. The winners will be those that consume less energy. 

Today, the economics of airships doesn’t make sense in a broader market application; it’s limited to a niche market, but in the future where airships reach serial production- more advanced development stages and where energy becomes a scarce commodity, airships will make a lot of sense. By building the first airships we’ll see what the problems are and we’ll fix them, this is what humanity is so efficient at doing.

Photo: MBVision_TomHegen_KirtXThomsen

The challenge is to get the first large scale airship certified, safe and proficient with a commercial and operational success. The first airship is the challenge, what follows after that is building an industry. When we land on the North Pole, we prove the technology, the commercial potential and we open the doors to a new logistical solution. Then, the development in lighter-than-air vehicles will explode.

The lighter-than-air industry is still very small today, despite hundreds of millions invested in development. But, in 5 years, I think it’s going to be an industry worth tens of billions of dollars where investments in R&D is flowing in and capitalism will do its wonder scaling up the industry at an extreme rate. If everything goes according to plan, we’ll have more than 100 airships in 10 years handling cargo, experiential travel and, I hope soon, also passenger transport- a train in the sky!