Air­ships over PNG skies?

Paradise - - Contents - — KEVIN McQUILLAN

Hy­brid air­ships look set to make their mark in Pa­pua New Guinean skies over the next few years, pro­vid­ing a new way to carry freight to and from re­mote ar­eas, and to of­fer tourism ad­ven­tures.

PNG is a clas­sic lo­ca­tion where air­ships could play a piv­otal role in de­vel­op­ing agri­cul­ture, min­ing and tourism, ac­cord­ing to Peter Wal­lace, di­rec­tor of Air­ships Aus­trala­sia, which plans to op­er­ate air­ships in Asia and the Pa­cific.

“Their ma­jor ad­van­tages are con­ve­nience and cost,” he says.

“They don’t re­quire any in­fra­struc­ture, so they don’t re­quire an air­port. All that’s needed is a rel­a­tively flat clear ground or wa­ter for land­ing.”

Wal­lace says the air­ships will rev­o­lu­tionise the way oil and min­ing com­pa­nies haul equip­ment to re­mote lo­ca­tions, where there are no roads, or poor qual­ity roads.

“They can move 20 tons of cargo, plus about 20 peo­ple, and set down on nearly any flat sur­face, in­clud­ing sand, and wa­ter,” he says. “Their range is up to 3500 kilo­me­tres.

“For ex­am­ple, an air­ship could take all min­ing per­son­nel and equip­ment to and from a mine, do ini­tial pro­cess­ing at the mine and trans­port con­cen­trated ore from the mine. That means a mine could be de­vel­oped with­out con­struct­ing a road or rail link into a re­mote area – a ma­jor cost sav­ing and maybe the dif­fer­ence be­tween a mine be­ing fea­si­ble and not be­ing fea­si­ble.

“For a large agri­cul­tural project an air­ship rep­re­sents a fast way of get­ting prod­uct out at a much cheaper cost than tra­di­tional air freight.

“And there’s also the ad­van­tage of not hav­ing mul­ti­ple han­dling, so prod­uct wouldn’t be spoilt or dam­aged as it might be by road trans­port.”

Hy­brid air­ships use quite dif­fer­ent tech­nol­ogy to the orig­i­nal air­ship de­sign, with he­lium pro­vid­ing 60 to 80 per cent of the lift, and the re­main­ing lift from the aero­dy­namic shape of the aircraft and its four thrust vec­tor­ing en­gines. The air­ships also fea­ture a hov­er­craft-like air cush­ion land­ing sys­tem that fa­cil­i­tates taxi­ing and holds the craft firmly on the ground.

The two de­vel­op­ers of hy­brid air­ships are UK-based Hy­brid Air Ve­hi­cles and US-based Lock­heed Mar­tin.

Cana­dian min­ing com­pany, Quest Rare Min­er­als, has be­come Lock­heed’s first cus­tomer, sign­ing a 10-year $US850 mil­lion mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing for seven air­ships from 2019. ■

Up, up and away ... air­ships may rev­o­lu­tionise the way oil and min­ing com­pa­nies haul equip­ment to re­mote PNG lo­ca­tions. Tourism ad­ven­tures may also be pos­si­ble.

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