Whole Lotta Helium
April 10, 2008
Whole Lotta Helium
Romance returns to the air — at $14 per mile.
Zeppelin fans have been dreaming about it for decades. No, we’re not talking about the rock band reforming — nor the inaugural ride of a Led Zep roller-coaster at Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach — but a return of airships to the front rank of luxury travel. Come April 27, Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik will start operating sightseeing flights over Munich in the world’s largest airship, adding to their 10 routes over Lake Constance, on the fringes of Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Cruising at just 44 mph, with half-hour journeys costing $315, the Zeppelin NT may be pricier ($14 per mile) than anything else in the sky. But for romance in the air, it is beyond compare. Stretching 246 feet long — that’s slightly longer than a Boeing 747 — the new airship carries only 12 passengers and two crew. The experience? Think of floating gently over middle Europe on leather-backed chairs at an altitude of 1,000 feet, conversing quietly with your neighbor (cabin noise and vibration is minimal), and opening the windows over medieval vistas. Oh, and you don’t have to worry about going down in flames either — unlike the hydrogen-fueled blimps of the Hindenburg era, the Zeppelin NT is run on inert helium.
So does this signal a renaissance for airship travel? Perhaps. Zurich-based company Zeppelin Europe Tours plans to launch a fleet of 10 tricked-out blimps across Europe, while French designer Jean-Marie Massaud is working on the world’s first flying hotel. The Manned Cloud would, if it ever gets off the ground, have 20 guestrooms, a restaurant and sundeck. Plus, according to the Frenchman, the airship could circumnavigate the globe within several days and barely a toxic trace. With passengers “watching the Earth from above, rediscovering the marvel of traveling,” Massaud even claims his design heralds a new dawn for low-impact tourism. We’ll have to wait until 2020 to find out.