The Golden Age of airship travel could return with eco-friendly credit to boot
In a new future-meets-the-past venture, Swedish company OceanSky Cruises is bringing airship journeys into the 21st century with a 36-hour route from the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard to the North Pole.
The Airlander 10 is the largest flying vehicle on the planet both in length (about 91.4 metres) and volume (0.037 million cubic metres). And it’s five times the size of the Goodyear blimp.
It’s been nearly a century since something of its kind has flown commercially, and founder and CEO Carl-Oscar Lawaczeck says the diesel- and electric-powered airship is being outfitted like an ocean liner in the sky, with eight en suite staterooms, a lounge, bar and fine dining on board. Viewing areas will be equipped with panoramic windows and transparent floors, ideal for gazing at the Northern Lights or for low-altitude whale watching.
OceanSky is the result of one man’s obsession with dirigibles. Lawaczeck says his interest in unconventional aircraft began from “a logistical, economic and aviation point of view,” emphasising that airships achieve flexibility in take-offs and landings that fixed-wing aircraft simply can’t deliver.
“They solve a huge problem,” he explains, “and are a last-mile solution to bring passengers and cargo to places where there’s no infrastructure.”
He also points out that unlike helicopters, which are often used for the same purpose, airships consume a fraction of the fuel and offer considerably more range. He estimates that the Airlander will use about 17 per cent of the energy a powerful jet does, making carbon emissions a whopping 83 per cent lower.
With lower power requirements, however, speed gets sacrificed. But Lawaczeck sees that as part of the pleasure of flying in such a craft. “We calculate a low cruising speed of 50 knots,” he says. “We fly low and slow to enjoy the journey.”
For the Airlander’s leisurely maiden voyage to the North Pole (a jet could make the round trip in just 1.5 hours, in comparison), OceanSky promises an expedition led by Robert Swan, the first person to reach the North and South Poles by foot. The airship’s first commercial flight is planned for 2023 or 2024. The company is accepting 5 percent deposits on the total ticket price of US$94,000 (S$126,959), which are placed in a state-sponsored escrow account and can be fully refunded if the endeavour quite literally doesn’t take off.