Lighter Than Air | More on the New Airships

skycat 01 Lighter Than Air | More on the New Airships

You may not want to book future air travel too far in advance, for the new pricing wars may not come from recognizable names like Delta and American. The LTA (lighter-than-air) movement is taking off (pun intended) and competition in the design phase seems pretty stiff.

Here are the Contenders:

Perhaps the leader in airships right now is Skycat. Their Skycat-20 (a heavy-lifting, cargo aircraft) is due to make its maiden voyage in 2008 with a 6-month world tour. While most of us probably don’t have half a year to gallivant around the globe, what’s most intriguing is Skycat’s plan for a mass transport ship that will reportedly lower travel costs to $9 per 100 km, with movability (akin to that of a cruise) and passenger capacity (600+) unparalleled in modern flight services. Overall, Skycat flies the gamut of possible uses at about 25% the energy use of diesel and 40% of traditional aircraft.

Next in line for personal floatility, Aeroscraft is in the construction phase of its ML866 (I was hoping for something more colorful, but that’s what they’re calling it), marketing it as a “private air yacht,” an “executive office in the sky,” and a “luxury commuting and sightseeing” vehicle. While initially intrigued, after perusing their site, I was left uncertain of the different models and when they would be available. Moving on…

Millennium Airships brings up the rear in the LTA market with its SkyFreighter. I like the blimp-like shape, but Millennium hasn’t thought very far outside the box on possible uses, focusing primarily on freighting and military operations.

skycat 02 Lighter Than Air | More on the New Airships

Here are the pros: LTA aircraft are reportedly very safe and require significantly less energy to move around. They can also carry greater payloads than modern aircraft at lower prices, while moving freight faster than ships and trucks. Perhaps best of all, they can land on just about any flat surface – requiring neither large asphalt runways nor huge ports – so goods can be delivered from anywhere to anywhere with minimal costs. They also promise to make passenger flight cheaper and less impactful.

And, of course, there are cons. Again, moving to LTA technology requires a paradigm shift in thinking about freight and passenger travel. In a world that moves too fast, slowing down on the individual level will be a major challenge, even in modest analysis. But even a small shift would be welcomed. If airships catch on only for delivering goods to markets, it will be a major benefit – especially if we can talk these folks into using renewable energy to power their engines.

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