Airships over PNG skies?
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.