Lonely Planet Writer

Return of the Zeppelin: new generation of giant airships gets ready for takeoff

Giant flying blimps were once all the rage until a major accident almost 80 years ago saw their popularity wane.

World's largest aircraft
Major aerospace companies see massive potential for giant airships in the cargo transport market to remote areas of the world Image by Chris Radburn/PA Wire

However, the huge airships are now making a comeback as numerous aerospace players look at the possibility of developing them for long-distance cargo transport or to enter areas of luxury travel.

The Hindenburg, which exploded and crashed in New Jersey, US in May 1937. Image by: Henry Aldridge & Son/PA Wire
The Hindenburg, which exploded and crashed in New Jersey, US in May 1937 causing the airship industry to shrink overnight. Image by: Henry Aldridge & Son/PA Wire

Indeed, CNBC network reports that by 2018, these airships could become part of commercial travel as well.

A number of massive airships are set to battle for supremacy in an area of flying that could be worth up to US$50 billion within the next two decades.

The head of partnership at Hybrid Air Vehicles, Chris Daniels, whose company is one of several developing such an airship, told CNBC that the hybrid craft are very efficient at carrying heavy loads because of their ultra long endurance.

Mr Daniels believed the passenger market would remain small, as it was confined mainly to enterprise space. However there were plenty of other uses such as search and rescue missions, surveillance as well as luxury travel.

He said Hybrid Air Vehicles saw potential in emerging markets where there was substandard infrastructure.

In the same way as mobile phones had superseded landlines in the developing areas of the globe, he felt that there would be no need to build expensive roads or railway lines if such air transport mechanism could provide an alternative.

Between the two world wars, airships became very popular but were virtually wiped out after the Hindenburg Disaster in 1937 which resulted in 36 deaths.

While airships travel much slower than commercial airplanes, they do not need to refuel and have incredible endurance.

The modern airship is also much safer than the Hindenburg which used hydrogen. It has been replaced by helium and new technology has allowed for more durable material as well as better power solutions.