Airships for saving lives in disasters

It’s hard to deny it any longer. The advent of this year – 2020 has brought along big set of challenges and struggles that we all are dealing with. Last week, Cyclone ‘Amphan’ ravaged the coastal areas of West Bengal, making it one of the worst disasters in the state in recent times. Besides killing more than 80 people, the cyclone uprooted trees, damaged buildings and disrupted essential services like drinking water, power and telecom. Yesterday, we witnessed yet another cyclone ‘Nisarga’, which made landfall on the Maharashtra coast in India.

Soon after the fury of the storm subsided in West Bengal, the snapped electrical wires and damage to water pipes led to power shortages and water shortages across the state and in the capital of Kolkata. The lockdown, shortage of manpower amidst the existing pandemic situation has created further difficulties for relief work. The city airport was flooded in rainwater and roads and rain infrastructure also got disrupted due to blockage and flooded waters.

Helicopters/aircraft are being used in relief operations. However, the flooded airport put infrastructural challenges for carrying out relief operations. There are other limitations too. An alternative air-transport vehicle, which is infrastructure-independent with no requirement of run-ways, which has the ability to vertically take-off and land on any surface, which can go around blocked paths and roadways and brave rainstorms to rescue stricken-people promptly and which has the capability to carry tonnes of payload could be an ideal air-vehicle during such crisis situation.

Airships, which are Lighter-Than-Air aircraft have the above strengths and with the latest advances in information technology, and with the use of AI, IOT and sensors, they can be remote-controlled unmanned air vehicles, which can be used for timely and efficient supply of basic necessities like food, portable water, medicines and other emergency items for providing a quick relief and help to so many people who are stuck in natural calamities.

Airships, with remote-sensing equipment, high installation cameras and other sensors can easily identify the areas where help is needed and can play the role of an aerial ambulance and save lives of people. They can stay in an area for long periods of time, facilitating 24-hour long searches and deliveries to disaster-stricken people, something helicopters can’t achieve. During a time where we are witnessing an acute shortage of manpower and also battling the complexity of maintaining social distance to mitigate the spread of coronavirus disease, deployment of airships with drones on board for delivery of essentials could prove to be a very valuable tool in uninterrupted supply of essentials and saving millions of lives.

Helicopters typically throw food packets from a certain altitude with chances of it falling into the waters and getting wasted is quite common. Airships, with their ability to fly at lower altitudes can achieve a better precision which is important when providing help to people stuck in disasters. They can hover at one place for a longer time, as compared to conventional aircraft. Also, drones on board can make quick point-to-point deliveries and go back to the Mother Airship, so that the operation is carried out in the most efficient manner without wastage of time.

One major challenge in the disaster recovery process is restabilizing the damaged infrastructure. Airships can be used to assist in the installation of electric power lines, which could be a much faster, simpler method of restoration in areas where land infrastructure is damaged severely. By moving the cables with airships, potential damage to the cable and time spent in moving the cable can be minimised.

Environmentalists are worried about the increase in pollution levels as 1.65 lakh hectares of green cover of the city and districts (West Bengal) have been lost in the cyclone. According to their studies, it might lead to at least 400 percent rise in the pollution level which is against the permissible limit of World Health Organization. It would take at least seven years for the trees to start absorbing carbon dioxide. Since last many years, there have been increasing concerns in the increasing levels of CO2 emissions contributed by the transport sector, with increasing emphasis on finding new approaches for transport which is fuel-efficient and environment friendly. Airships, which derive their lift through buoyancy, doesn’t need fuel to be expended and since they fly at lower altitudes of 4000 ft, their water vapor trails contribute almost nothing to global warming.

Swati Mehta
Director at Empyreal Galaxy