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Humanity needs to build a lot of airships

By Carl-Oscar Lawaczeck, CEO at OceanSky Cruises

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OceanSky Cruises, has a primary target goal: generating demand for airship services. We want to contribute to building an industry centred around airships, far beyond a small fleet fulfilling boutique travel services but rather thousands of large-scale airships filling the skies and servicing many industries and needs. This is a powerful technology, but to make it viable, we need to establish the following:

  1. There must be a reason. Why should we build an industry around airships?
  2. There must be a strategy, roadmap, and execution plan to follow through 
  3. There must be a successful entry into the market

1. Why should we have airships lightening our skies?

 

Airships have a significantly lower energy footprint than airplanes which is key to actually lowering emissions rather than relying on offsets. The climate crisis is nothing more than a clean energy crisis. Current clean and renewable energy production is not able to supply humanity’s current energy demands on Earth. This is the core of our crisis. Seventy-five percent of the world’s energy consumption is sourced from fossil fuels, which we know is the primary contributor to carbon emissions. Across the globe, we agree that we need to significantly reduce our carbon emissions to slow climate change which leaves us with two options: dramatically increase renewable and clean energy production (requiring infrastructure that will take decades to build) or reduce our energy consumption in order to reduce our need for fossil fuels. 

In the future, we will have undoubtedly expanded our renewable energy production exponentially. This is a clearly stated goal and desire that organisations, individuals, and governments have expressed and one that has gained traction and speed. However, we do not have the luxury of waiting for decades for the required infrastructure to be built. We need an interim and lasting solution to reduce and further mediate our energy consumption. 

There is no denying that aviation is the most challenging of all industries to make a sustainable transition because of the intensive energy requirements needed to create lift and high speed for heavy aircraft. Lighter-than-air technology is an exception since the craft itself is buoyant. With this in mind, airships can become a symbol of humanity’s innovation to achieve a sustainable transition of earthly activities. If we can fix aviation, we can fix everything.

Airships are not only clean, but they are quiet and non-intrusive despite their majestic size. They are spacious and comfortable, both strong improvements on the current state of passenger travel by airplane except for the most privileged. However, there are challenges in breaking common current perceptions – airships are unsafe (due to one famous Hindenburg accident that was caught on film), or that the journey needs to be completed in the shortest possible time. For these reasons, creating sensation around airships is a task not to be considered lightly. 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. 

Historically, airships have continuously played a role as a symbol of progress- for exploration, perhaps unfortunately for national pride. Today they can play a role in decarbonising our future. It is a message to other industries that there are no more excuses. This is our narrative. If this is successful, then we can create a successful industry of airships. We also must remember that success will also be formed from a blend of commercial and engineering success. If one exists without the other, the future of airships risks stalling in the prototype phase. Building an engineering marvel is difficult, time and cost-consuming, therefore we must build business models to support them.

The 1920s and 1930s were the golden age of airships

Innovation has made today’s airships lighter and safer. 

2. The strategy to make airships commercially successful?

 

For OceanSky Cruises, the key to success is not the low carbon footprint, though a welcomed outcome. The key is to maximise the competitive advantage of airships. No other aerial vehicles have 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 industries. This is why we need to generate profits as early as possible.

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 shortly after? We can break into the experiential travel market, the cargo market, and the passenger transport market. We would show that there is a massive decrease in carbon emissions from this switch from airplanes to airships.

Space and comfort are the key advantages of airships. 

Airships will bring a massive decrease of carbon emissions in the skies. Photo: Atlas

3. The entry point and beyond

 

But, what does a successful entry into the market look like? The answer is multi-fold. At the baseline, airships need to prove to be efficient and safe from an engineering and operational standpoint. Layered on top is the launch of a commercially feasible product. This part of the equation is where OceanSky Cruises is focusing. 

The existence of airships does not guarantee that this industry will grow. It requires that there are engineering, operational and commercial successes to be able to create a robust, scalable airship industry. 

First, by lowering unit costs in each development cycle and also through engineering innovation and by business model innovation. Every technology is expensive in the beginning especially since we have to create custom sustainable alternatives that are light and durable. As airship production volume increases, it will become more affordable and likely win a bigger audience that is choosing the mode of transportation not necessarily for environmental reasons, but for value. Value in relation to speed and comfort. 

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, we are beginning the journey by landing on the epicenter of climate change, the North Pole.

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Photo: Tom Hegen