Blimps offer a green future for airfreight

Airplanes burn huge amounts of jet fuel and are some of the worst pollution/carbon emitters on the planet. Yet in the United States and in other industrialized nations, we are used to, and perhaps addicted to, the convenience of air travel and airfreight. So how do we cut emissions and still fly?

The Guardian’s Juliette Jowit reports that the UK’s former chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir David King, thinks blimps could be the aircraft of choice for shipping certain kinds of freight around the globe in the next decade. And King is not living in a fantasy world. The US Department of Defense has already made large grants to Boeing and Lockheed Martin to develop a fleet of blimps that could make airfreight cheaper and less polluting.

The new blimps would be slower than conventional airplanes, but could carry much more cargo. They would travel at about 78 mph, have a much greater carrying capacity than a Boeing 747, and slash carbon emissions by about 90%.

For example, one developer, the UK-owned SkyCat, says that it could:

carry twice the weight of strawberries from Spain to the UK of a standard cargo plane, with a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, much of which is from avoiding the huge fuel burn a jet engine uses to take off.

Other benefits included the possibility that airships would not need to use airports if they were fitted with “lifts” to pick up and land cargo. This in turn would reduce the need for trucking goods to and from transport hubs, and allow less well-connected areas, perhaps in inland Africa, to take part in international trade, said King. For the same reasons the blimps could also be used to reach devastated areas in need of humanitarian aid, he said.