Airships are far slower than jets—–generally reaching speeds of 100 miles per hour—–but they are also far more fuel efficient. Unlike trains and cars, they require little infrastructure; new models can land on water and get to remote places without the need for roads or rails. They can carry heavier loads than planes and move faster than ships.
Several companies, including Boeing, are taking a serious interest. The impetus is not necessarily out of an ecological concern (Boeing’s forthcoming airship, the SkyHook, is targeted for oil-exploration firms), but the concept is catching on for broader applications.
The Washington-based Millennium Airship Inc.’s SkyFreighter, like the Boeing model, is geared for heavy lifting, though it has no Chinook rotors and could conceivably be modified for tourism. Aeros Corp., in California, is already targeting the travel industry, developing its buoyant AerosCraft for long, luxurious voyages, with a cabin five times larger than that of a 747.
Naturally, the slow travel movement is keeping a close eye on airship developments. The British World SkyCat Ltd. has already carried sightseers around London, and similar dirigible day trips are in the works for Monterey Bay in California. It’s still hard to imagine daily airship departures for the 24-hour flight from New York to Los Angeles. But if travelers take to these unusual, slow-moving flying machines, pragmatic use of airships may become more viable—–and even common.
Tom Jones is a Bay Area travel writer and author of guides for Lonely Planet and Wilderness Press. His research for "Airports 101" involved no travel–and thankfully no airport limbo time. Downs spoke with the behind-the-scenes people who influence the way we get from point A to point B. "Everything is manipulated, down to the mood of the traveler will experience on a plane."