Forum to investigate use of blimps for Alaska's cargo needs

PHOTO Courtesy Aurora Gas LLC
Imagine a huge airship hovering overhead with a load of fish or mine tailings.

The possibility of such a new form of cargo transportation in Alaska will be the subject of a roundtable discussion by manufacturers and academics in Anchorage Nov. 10.

"I have followed the airship industry for three years, and we hope to discuss this out in the open with the leading manufacturers of airships," said Oliver Hedgepeth, associate professor and chair of the Logistics Department at the College of Business and Public Policy at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

"Arctic Airships for Alaska" will be the topic of the roundtable discussion, hosted by Dean Thomas Case at 9 a.m. in room 207A in the Rasmussen Hall on the UAA campus.

"We want to discuss the issues, what is going on with these in the world, assumptions, weather and technology," Hedgepeth said. "We also hope to discuss the implications to local businesses, costs, and the feasibility of using airships."

The lighter-than-air craft are now using gas buoyancy and traditional aerodynamics in flexible material, called envelopes, that can lift from 20 to 100 tons of cargo straight up. Airships can cruise from 70 to 100 mph, and can have a range of up to 2,000 miles.

Airship industry companies will get their chance to explain how technology has changed both the concept and the reality of the use of the crafts.

Igor Pasternak, chief executive officer of Worldwide Aeros, a California-based airship manufacturer, will participate in the discussion. Pasternak was named Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration for 2006

Also representing the airship industry will be Louis Foltzer III, president of the Hybrid Aircraft Corp., and George A.R. Spyrou, president of Airships Management Service.

Hedgepeth said that the emerging possibilities for a gas line and repairs to Prudhoe Bay pipelines could be augmented with the use of airships to deliver loads of pipe or work crews.

"The possibilities for heavy-lift cargo airships is a reality in places like Canada, Texas and Dubai, so why not in the Arctic," Hedgepeth said.

Worldwide Aeros spokesman Edward Pevzner thinks the discussion is worthy enough to come to Alaska.

"We are going to participate in this discussion because we know the future of these craft," he said.

Aeros just signed an agreement to take the first steps toward official certification to allow the airships in China for commercial use.

"Our Aeroscraft blimp can do for cargo what the Internet did for information, if the U.S. government will listen," Pasternak said.

Rob Stapleton can be reached at[email protected].

11/04/2006 - 8:00pm