China is looks at new methods to transport cargo to remote corners of its fast-developing rural provinces. Namely, massive, helium-filled airships.
Cooperating with French airship producer Flying Whales, the stated-owned China Aviation Industry General Aircraft company recently announced their plan to build a large airship assembly line in the central Chinese city of Jingmen. Will production at this assembly line, which is expected to begin as soon as 2022, accomplish Flying Whales’ mission of “connecting the land-locked world to the global economy”?
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The topic of lighter-than-air travel is clouded by the history of the 1937 Hindenburg disaster, when a rigid, hydrogen-filled airship suddenly burst into flames, claiming the lives of 35 passengers on board. But China’s airships will have negligible impact on modern passenger aviation — manned by only 3 people, these helium-filled airships may simply provide a new, low-carbon alternative to traditional cargo delivery methods.
As China continues to advance its Belt and Road Initiative (with international trade deals, and rap-rock tunes, among other methods), airships could open up a more cost-effective means of transporting goods to remote locations that don’t have infrastructure to support planes or trucks. In an ideal future, this could mean effective delivery routes for heavy green energy infrastructure like wind turbine blades, solar panels, and batteries.
With airships designed to accommodate 60 tons of cargo, necessary resources could be delivered to areas that lack infrastructure like airstrips or highways — but it remains to be seen if the high-flying dream will achieve its lofty mission.
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