I go on about airships a fair bit but, despite the headlines, we’re still yet to see them steaming their way through the skies on a regular basis. Part of that might be down to cost (upwards of £300 million in some cases) and the fact that it’s an industry that is being reborn, so involves feeling the way.
One country that could afford those costs is China though, and it may need to. Its economy has been built on massive exports due to a large, cheap workforce that manufacturers most of what the rest of the world consumes.
That’s starting to change as rising transportation costs, greater use of robotics and, in the future, 3D printing mean it’s cheaper to manufacture in the country of consumption. Already ships are travelling slower to save fuel and sails are likely to make a comeback.
Airships aren’t exactly quick, but as fleets slow their ships down to around 17 knots (19.6 mph) to save fuel they don’t need to be greyhounds and as they can fly over land they can take far more direct routes.
Oil prices aren’t as high as they have been (currently hovering around $95 a barrel for West Texas Intermediate) but despite a forecasted increase in production, demand is going to soar as citizens of developing countries like China, India, Russia and Brazil start being able to afford cars.
So if China wants to remain competitive as the world’s manufacturer and keep those exports high, it needs a cheaper way to transport goods to their markets (and faster, part of the reason for US companies moving manufacturing back home is to speed up time to market). Airships offer that, providing lower fuel costs than both planes and ships, greater load carrying ability than a plane and greater speed than a ship.
So go on China, you can afford to build a fleet or two, and it could help save your economy.