The Air Ship
Global Supply Chain has partnered with Brian Cartwright, Managing Director, Top Management Resources Group (TMR), to run a series of exclusive interviews with industry leaders to provide real time insight on the regional supply chain and logistics sector. Here, Cartwright talks to Julian Benscher, President, Skyship Services, about this new cargo transporting channel, the potential market in the country and region and the future.
Both Lockheed Martin and Hybrid Air Vehicles have made huge strides in this space and expect to have certified cargo airships operational within the next few years. Initial use of airships in the Middle East will be focused around surveillance, tourism and advertising, but more importantly the operation will provide valuable airship experience to the Airships Arabia team and the regional certification authorities. Airships are coming back in a big way and will certainly be a major disruptor to the traditional modes of air, sea, and land transport. Julian Benscher, President, Skyship Services, who is one of the world’s leading lighter-than-air businessmen, the son of a former European tycoon, he’s a man of many talents and who was one of the main investors and creators of boy band the Backstreet Boys.
Benscher has been involved in airships for over 30 years, he is the President of Skyship Services a US based company which owns and operates a fleet of Skyship 600’s, the world’s largest conventional Airship containing 666,000 cubic metre of helium and a 61-metre-long Airship. As Benscher is one of the key people in the world of airships across the globe, it made sense to pick his brains about airship technology in general and in particular its application for the logistics sector. Here is an excerpt from the conversation:
What would be the main advantage for using airships in logistics over other modes of transporting cargo?
When we talk about airships in logistics a major advantage is the ability to be able to take off and land without the need for an airstrip which is a potential game changer for delivering cargo to remote locations.
Is the ability to lift heavy cargo in an airship as simple as it appears to be?
Airships are deceptively complicated; their structure and physical attributes conceal some extraordinary complexities which must be considered. Most of the volume of the airship envelope consists of helium which is inert and therefore safe and the second lightest lifting gas which is available, hydrogen being the first with its inherent problems. Consequently, one has to consider the changes in atmospheric pressure that cause the helium to expand and contract. The envelope has a ballonet fitted in the front and rear of it. These ballonets enable air to be drawn within them and released from them to counter the expansion and contraction of helium.
A second but related issue, when considering cargo is how one compensates for the weight of the load that would be added and removed from the airship. These issues are simple to articulate but a solution for a commercially viable airship has taken huge investment and scientific innovation and endeavour to become a realisable possibility. Both Lockheed Martin and Hybrid Air Vehicles have made huge strides in this space and expect to have certified cargo airships operational within the next few years.
How do you see the airships industry developing in the Middle East?
Airships are coming to the region far sooner than many people think. One of our very own Skyship 600’s will be operational in the UAE in the second half of 2018 and will be operated by Skyship Services in conjunction with Airships Arabia. Initial use of airships in the Middle East will be focused around surveillance, tourism and advertising, but more importantly the operation will provide valuable airship experience to the Airships Arabia team and the regional certification authorities.
The hybrids are expected to be operating in the region by 2021 and will be suited to carrying high volumes of cargo. The initial Lockheed Martin model is forecast to have a payload of 20 tonnes and Airlander is working on a 12-tonne unit with future versions expected to carry 75 tonnes.
What do you think are the main obstacles the airships industry will need to overcome in this region?
The Skyship 600 is the largest twin engine certified non-rigid airship in the world today, by bringing this airship to the UAE with Airships Arabia now it is hoped that we will overcome any regulatory obstacles by familiarising the regional authorities with what we do. The current absence of specific regulations pertaining to airships is because there have never been manned airships in the Middle East. The Skyship had to undergo the same rigorous certification process as any twin-engine aircraft, and the cargo airships will have to comply with the same rigorous certification process. Once certification is achieved the remaining hurdles are to ensure that the airships and their operators follow local rules and regulations in much the same way as any certified aircraft and its operator that wishes to operate in the region.
How will airships compare in terms of time and cost versus cargo planes?
The time and cost resulting from the ability to operate to and from unprepared sites, including water, will be significant and is a game changer. They are also significantly more efficient in terms of cost to operate for example the Airlander 10 hybrid airship has a fuel burn rate of less than 500kg per flight hour, compared to say a 737 which burns 2,300kg of fuel per flight hour. Even the fuel per km comparison shows the Airlander 10 at less than quarter of the fuel burn of a 737.
For those who don’t already know can you explain the difference between conventional airships and hybrid airships?
Conventional airships such as the Skyship 600 only derive lift from the helium gas inside the envelope whereas hybrids derive lift from a combination of helium gas, forward motion generating lift from the hybrid airship’s lifting body hull shape and from vectored engine thrust.