Logistics, health, and aid – Air logistics: are we on the same paige? - A Humourless Lot

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Air logistics: are we on the same Page?

by Michael Keizer on May 6, 2009

Wouldn’t it be great if we could transport our goods from one place to another using just one transport means from place of dispatch until the spot where we deliver aid (thus eliminating time and capital intensive loading and unloading activities), staying high above conflicting parties until we have reached the very place where we want to land (thus avoiding highway robbers, pirates, lacking infrastructure, and roadblocks), at relatively high speeds (130 – 160 km/hour), with excellent fuel efficiency (thus dramatically decreasing transport costs) – and all this without having to invest in very expensive infrastructural works?

Well, the technology is there. What we need now is someone to invest in it.

After the dramatic holocaust of the Graf von Hindenburg, airships were off the map for anything remotely interesting. This lasted for quite a while, but the early 1990s saw a resurgence in development efforts for airships. Most of these were unsuccessful and ended in financial problems. However, there are some successful examples as well, e.g. de Zeppelin NT. What is still missing is a large, long-range airship: the ones used now are much smaller than their pre-WWII cousins, and have a much shorter range.

The problem is that the market for the sort of airship that would be useful for aid work is very limited: only activities that normally have high numbers of transit points, have issues with roads leading to their destinations, and have relatively high cargo and passenger number requirements, would be able to sustain these much larger and farther-ranging airships – and that leaves very little but the humanitarian aid effort and the military (and yes, there has been some interest from various military powers in airship development).

So the question is: would we be able to support the development of an airship model suitable for aid work? Or have someone do it for us, e.g. a big donor? It will be clear that supporting the development of a big airship will be impossible for almost any aid agency (with the possible exception of one or two UN agencies) – but would there be a case here for a consortium of aid organisations and/or donors to put money in it?

A number of initiatives have sprung up that seem to answer this in the affirmative; but none have been very successful, possibly partly because support from aid organisations and donors has been totally absent. The potential advantages of using airships for aid work are immense; but nothing will happen without that support.

It is about time we start being less conservative about aid logistics and look at possible revolutions instead of only looking at incremental evolution. And perhaps, in some years, this will not be the only Zeppelin involved in aid:

(Image courtesy J. Rohrer)

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