Fight against COVID-19: Time for Airships to return

The world is currently facing a severe crisis. The pandemic caused by COVID-19 has become a war that all the nations across the globe are trying to fight. There is looming uncertainty, distress and fear for life. The pandemic is throwing its challenges towards us - in terms of loss of life, global economy slowdown, mass panic and distress.

The lockdown state in different countries and social distancing regulations have thrown roadblocks in the way of deliveries. Supply-chain challenges have been existing for a long time, but COVID-19 has worsened it further. This event has exposed the vulnerabilities of many organizations and would force many companies and industries to rethink and reform their global supply chain model. Though immediately digital supply chain network might gain prominence, but what is required is to think of long-term solutions that are sustainable and implementable for global benefit.

Airships, which are Lighter-Than-Air aircraft can become an essential valuable asset to the supply chain by moving time-sensitive shipments including medical supplies and other essential goods to keep the world economy going. Airships were operational almost a century ago for passenger as well as cargo transport. Today, with the use of modern materials, avionics, IOT, AI, these can be remote-controlled unmanned vehicles which can deliver supplies without any need for human contact, thus mitigating the risk of transfer of disease. Airships can carry tonnes of goods and ensure point-to-point delivery in a very timely and cost-effective manner. Drones on board can further simplify the delivery process and make it safer.

As airships derive their lift from the lifting gas, they don't need any infrastructure to support its flight. They have the ability to land and take-off from any surface. Use of technology would mean zero dependence on ground crew for its operations. Given the current situation, where most staff members are supposed to stay at home, this mode of operation would mean uninterrupted supply of goods without risking the lives of people.

Given that COVID-19 has spread to almost every corner of the globe, if and when a vaccine is produced, logistics providers will face the particularly daunting task of transporting potentially time-sensitive COVID-19 vaccines across the world to be delivered to patients. In 2019, UNICEF procured an estimated 2.45 billion doses of vaccines to around 100 countries to reach approximately 45% of the world's children under five. However, key carriers have cancelled flights and the limited capacity of already burdened cargo aircraft are not sufficient for timely vaccines shipments. Also, in an already over-pressed economy, it becomes imperative to find alternate solutions which can take away the burden of putting additional cost burdens on the economy. Airships are a much cheaper alternative to airplanes, they are fuel-efficient and contribute almost nothing to global warming. Airships are faster than road and sea transport. If we think in the context of current scenario of pandemic, they offer very obvious advantages as compared to transport by trucks or railways which anyways have come to a halt.

In India, the supply of essential commodities with most markets such as vegetables, edible oil, grains and pulses are being disrupted because they don't have workers and transport facilities are not smooth. Indian logistics is largely an unorganised sector and is majorly driven by a traditional approach of trucking, loading and unloading and material handling. About 60 percent of the truck drivers, who hail mainly from northern India, have fled to the villages fearing the coronavirus outbreak. This massive shortage of truck drivers is starting to bite India's trade. The sector lacks technological development and over-reliance on traditional methods for all supplies are adding to the problems.

If airships would have been operational, these issues could have been easily tackled. Airships, which are capable to reach even the remotest locations could save so many lives by supply of medicines, food and other essentials. Ensuring continued smooth delivery operations of time-sensitive and essential supplies with minimal need for human contact would have been its greatest advantage for us.

Swati Mehta
Director at Empyreal Galaxy