Making a case for returning airships to the skies

Article By International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis Photo credit: CC0 Public Domain Reintroducing airships into the world’s transportation-mix could contribute to lowering the transport sector’s carbon emissions and can play a role in establishing a sustainable hydrogen based economy. According to the authors of an IIASA-led study, these lighter-than-air aircraft could ultimately increase the feasibility of a 100 percent sustainable world. Airships were introduced in the first half of the 20th century before conventional aircraft were used for the long-range transport of cargo and passengers. Their use in cargo and passenger transport was however quickly discontinued for a number of reasons, including the risk of a hydrogen explosion—for which the Hindenburg disaster of 1937 served as a stark case in point; their lower speed compared to that of airplanes; and the lack of reliable weather forecasts. Since then, considerable advances in material sciences, our ability to forecast the weather, and the urgent need to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions, have steadily been bringing airships back into political, business, and scientific conversations as a possible transportation alternative.