‘Change of Mindset’ would drive the Successful Return of Airships to benefit the Community, the Industry and the World at large!

Airships are a century old technology which has proven it’s mettle by playing a dominant role in boosting trade relations globally, by becoming a valuable asset to the defence infrastructure in world wars, by offering a luxurious flight trip to many passengers to enjoy the scenic beauty across the globe, by being useful in scientific explorations and much more.

Today, after 100 years of airship glory, we are faced with unjustified challenges of re-convincing the world that all this and much more is possible today with modern airships, which would be far more superior in their capabilities, thanks to the advancements we have achieved in material sciences, avionics and information technology.

What is then holding the industry back? In our several discussions that we have had at different platforms with technical experts, investors, collaborators and other stakeholders, we could conclude that a paradigm shift is needed in the ‘people mindset’ at large to deal with the roadblocks that are impeding the growth of the industry. We are glad that through these iterative discussions, we were able to identify and address the challenges and think of possible solutions for the same:

1. Need to Focus on Success Stories - Old and New: We realized that as much as we are trying to draw inspiration from the past, there is also an element of fear which is attached to the history and some failures that happened in the past. Too much media coverage and undue attention to some tragic episodes became an incorrect reference for the industry’s progress. Though, there is enough evidence that the failures of the past were more due to geo-political reasons and the technological limitations that existed then, they have been acting as major barriers in the minds of people, letting it overpower the bold, experimental and risk-tolerant approach, which is a pre-requisite to make airships a reality.

The focus is shifting gradually though, with projects of companies like Flying Whales, Hybrid Air Vehicles, already being funded for some meaningful applications where airships enjoy a significant competitive advantage over others. Lockheed Martin and Aeroscraft are few more prominent names who have established their mark in the industry by display of airship capabilities in different domains.

2. The Investor Mindset – Bold & Visionary: It is abundantly clear that airships have great potential. However, prototypes are proofs of concept are heavily relied on the usual development process of new technologies. Unfortunately, it is typically impossible to take a good design for a big airship and shrink it to 1/10th of its size to test it at the prototype scale. It does not perform in a reduced capacity.

Cargo airships require a different philosophy of innovation than what prevails with consumer items. The approach needs to be visionary, with more faith in technological principles and less reliance on track records as investment decision tools.

Airships require a futuristic investor mindset, with less focus on immediate gains. Instead, it requires clear foresight and good acumen to understand the innovative disruption and transition it can bring to have a strong and sustainable impact through endless possibilities that can get created through the application of this brilliant technology.

3. Great Lessons – Taught by Pandemic: The constraint of lack of suppliers in the industry is a point of discussion in almost all meetings that we have had so far. This point deserves inclusion in the list of challenges, solely because there is lack of awareness about the technology and there are only few companies in the world who are actively working on airship projects. However, this doesn’t seem to bother us enough as we know that every revolution or technological breakthrough leads to redefinition of existing industrial and economic infrastructures, paving the way for new industries, products and suppliers in the market.

We saw even during pandemic that as demand pattern changed, new suppliers emerged in the market to cater to that demand. Who would have thought that sanitizers would become a household commodity? But when that happened, there was no dearth of suppliers ready to cater to that demand. Similarly, we saw many companies and organizations changing their business models to adapt to the new environment and also did it at an extremely fast pace.

So, as far as the scarcity of suppliers in airship industry is concerned, I believe that this challenge in fact could become an opportunity for others and open up avenues for many to become a part of the massive industry in the future.

4. Regulatory Framework – Simplified & Consistent: India has no airship regulations at the moment. But with Idea forge becoming the first Indian start-up and the largest manufacturer of fully indigenous drones for defence, homeland security and industrial applications, the government support is clearly evident in easing of rules, as a tool to clear path for achieving the dream of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.

Currently drone rules would apply to small airships too. However, new rules and regulations will have to be formed for design, development and operations of airships too. An integrated regulatory framework, considering global industry perspective would be required to be considered.

Swati Mehta
Director at Empyreal Galaxy