The Airships are Coming – Global Supply Chain Interview Series

Read the full transcript from Brian Cartwright’s interview with with Julian Benscher, President, Skyship Services (First published April 2018 in Global Supply Chain Magazine)

Brian Cartwright, Managing Director, Top Management Resources Group:

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. Airship technology really captured my interest around three years ago when I first read about the ongoing development of hybrid airships by companies such as Lockheed Martin and Hybrid Air Vehicles. Since then I have been actively supporting the growth of the sector in region and am now working closely with the regions first Airship operator Airships Arabia which is based in Dubai World Central.

It was through my involvement with Airships Arabia that I recently had the privilege of meeting Julian Benscher 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 who I was also surprised to learn was one of the main investors and creators of boy band the Backstreet Boys.

Julian 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 Julian is one of the key people in the world of Airships across the globe I took the opportunity to pick his brains about Airship technology in general and in particular its application for the Logistics sector.

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 and as such the envelope has ballonet fitted in the front and rear of the envelope. 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 endeavor to become a realizable 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-ton 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 familiarizing 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 Airship’s 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 Vs 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 ¼ 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.

Brian Cartwright, Managing Director of Top Management Resources Group (TMR Group), is well known throughout the international Supply Chain & Logistics sector as a focused and highly proactive business leader, mentor, and thought leader. He has partnered with Global Supply Chain magazine to run a series of exclusive interviews with senior executives to uncover the facts and provide real time insight on what’s happening in Supply Chain & Logistics sector across the region.

Read the full magazine