Aviation: The Near Future

There’s been talk for a while now about the troubles facing the aviation industry, troubles that don’t stir pity in my heart for them in the slightest.

The aviation industry is one of the worst contributors to climate change, so much so that merely taking a return flight can add a ton of carbon to your personal emissions per year. Our own environment minister’s largest source of emissions last year were plane flights.. ironically ones he had to take to an environmental conference in Bali as part of his duties.

In the face of rising fuel costs and pressure from the EU to cut emissions, aviators are being forced to cut emissions and consumption at the same time, although anyone could have told them that efficiency pays for itself anyway, considering fuel was one of their largest costs all along.

Among the cost cutting measures are more efficient engines, lighter building materials, more seats (while somehow getting more comfort, too?), alternative fuels, and of course the old fallback of simply charging more and giving less to the customer.

However, the business climate is ideal for innovative startups..as in nature, pressures lead to a survival-of-the-fittest race between the big players and a host of openings for odd new solutions. One such solution is the much planned and greatly looked-forward-to “Aeroscraft”, a heavier-than-air blimp/plane hybrid that can carry around 500 tons of cargo, or hundreds of passengers, using only electric motors.

The Aeroscraft works by subsidising 60% of its weight with helium, and using a dynamic ballast system that basically creates weighty ballast from nothing by compressing air in ballast tanks. This means the only input the Aeroscraft requires is the electric charge or clean fuel it’s planned to use. It uses fibre-optics to control all of its systems rather than electrical wires, making it just as resistant to lightning as a plane while saving on weight. It can take off or land vertically, so it doesn’t require expensive airfields or hangars.

At a cruising speed of well over twice the old airships, it’s far removed from its cumbersome cousins, while remaining far slower than a transatlantic plane. However, the attraction of flying long distance in what amounts to a yacht at a fraction of the cost of a plane is actually pretty compelling. In fact, the operating costs are so low that the designers expect they could use these huge vessels as ponderous commuter craft.

I want one already for my offshore eco-rig nation I have planned. In fact, at two acres an airship like this is probably about as spacious as my eco-rig.. I should just install photovoltaics on one of these and declare it a footloose nation.