Humanity needs to build a lot of airships
By Carl-Oscar Lawaczeck, CEO at OceanSky Cruises
Our company, OceanSky Cruises, is focused mainly in one thing: generating demand for airship services. We want to contribute in building an airship industry, not just one airship, nor ten airships but hundreds of airships or maybe even, if we can dream, thousands of large scale airships. We believe in this technology, but in order to build an industry, there has to be a a few things in place.
1. There must be a reason…Why should we build an industry of airships?
2. There must be a strategy, a roadmap, and a plan to reach that goal
3. There must be a successful launch. We can’t afford to fail.
But…what does success mean? There must be an engineering success. The airship must be proficient. There must be also an operational success which means that we can not have any accidents. And there must be a commercial success; this is where we are trying to contribute.
Just because you build an airship doesn’t mean everything goes well from there. All three successes have to come together for the reemergence of airships into commercial skies to happen at scale.
Why should we have airships darkening the skies?
Airships have a lower energy footprint and this is very key. The climate crisis is nothing else but a clean energy crisis. We don’t have enough clean or renewable energy to supply all our activities on Earth. That’s why we’re having this crisis. 75% of the world’s energy consumption must be sourced from fossil fuels. If we want to live sustainably we have two choices: to increase the renewable energy production which requires infrastructure that will take decades to build or to reduce our consumption of energy in order to reduce fossil fuel consumption.
Let’s imagine a future with only renewable energy production. This is what most of the world wants and with sustainability on the agenda of every government today like all organisations with significance and most individuals this, is gaining speed. The only way to save this planet is by using less energy or share the energy we have. Aviation is the most challenging of all industries to make sustainable because it requires incredible energy to lift weight upwards with one exception: lighter-than-air technology. So, I think that airships can become a symbol, a messenger of humanity’s transition to sustainable activities on Earth. If we can fix aviation, we can fix everything.
In the past, airships were successfully used as propaganda tools. This wasn’t a bad idea in itself, although the messages at that time in the 1930’s were quite controversial. But airships are clean, they’re quiet, non-intrusive despite their majestic size and airships are slow. Airships are spacious and one of the core pillars of luxury is comfort that comes from space. All these attributes form a powerful message and narrative that is crucial to succeed with the revival of airships. Building up the sensation around airships is a task not to be considered lightly.
History is a pillar in the narrative of airships. The connection between the challenges of our time with the challenges of the past builds a bridge with our heritage and culture. The challenges of the past were exploration and national pride. The challenge of our generation is sustainability. With a clear story of how airships can be the answer to one of the most difficult industries to decarbonise, we’ll send the message to other industries that there are no excuses to find a better way to operate.
Abraham Lincoln said, “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed”. So, if the narrative is successful, the industry will be successful. We’ve seen throughout history aeronautical engineering feats, but only a few of these machines have made commercial success. Without the collaboration between the engineering or technical side and the commercial side the thing usually ends in just a prototype.
It’s not easy to build an engineering marvel and it’s even more difficult to make an engineering marvel become a commercial success. Two challenges in one. I really think humanity needs to buy a lot of airships and therefore we need to succeed in making them an engineering success, an operational success and also a commercial success.
How to make airships commercially successful?
For OceanSky Cruises, the key is not the low carbon footprint. The key is to maximise the competitive advantage of airships and that lies within space. Nothing else has the capability to offer as much space as an airship can. Space equals comfort, comfort equals luxury, luxury sells, sales drive revenue, revenue generates profits and profits build an industry. This is why we need to generate profits from the beginning.
What if we could start flying airships in 2025-2026? Show that the technology works, lowering the unit cost and start producing airships on a serial production after 2025? We can break into the experiential travel market, the cargo market, the passenger market. We would show that there will be a massive decrease of carbon emissions from this switch from airplanes to airships.
How do we get there?
Well, by lowering unit costs in every development cycle and also by engineering innovation and by business model innovation. Every technology is expensive in the beginning and we have to make all these sustainable alternatives as lighter-than-air technology become more affordable in order for people to choose traveling by airship instead of by plane and not because of sustainability but because of the price.
But we have to ignite this industry and that requires high costs in the beginning. The challenge will also lie in scaling it from a niche product into mass market segments. It involves building markets from zero. This requires endurance, strategy and collaboration. From luxury travel in the beginning, we can then go into special segments of aviation, cargo and passenger travel.
In order to fulfil all the requirements that constitute the beginning of a success story, landing on ground zero for climate change, the North Pole, makes, in our opinion, the best beginning for the revival of airships.
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