Is This $15 Million Zeppelin the Future of Air Tourism? [HANDS ON]
23/05/2012 by Chris Taylor On Mashable
The casual observer may confuse the Eureka with a blimp. But you don’t have to be an expert to realize it isn’t. Blimps are pudgier, smaller, harder-to-maneuver balloons mostly used for sports coverage. The Eureka is long, thin and can turn on a dime, like a sleek sky shark. And it has only one purpose: air tourism.
Run by a company called Airship Ventures, the Eureka is one of only three functioning Zeppelins in the world — or, to be more precise, a $15 million Zeppelin NT (for New Technology). At 246 feet long, it is also the world’s largest airship, and slightly longer than a Boeing 747.
When I first hopped on the Eureka, in 2009, Airship Ventures was a struggling two month-old startup. After 2008, it seemed an odd moment to launch a helium-based tourism company — who in that economy could afford $950 for a two-hour sunset cruise in the twelve-berth cabin, or even the $199 for half an hour?
But that champagne-sipping, cheese-nibbling sunset cruise over the Golden Gate kept passengers coming from the Bay Area and beyond. Airship Ventures thrived, particularly with sponsorship from companies such as Farmer’s Insurance and Pixar (which used the Zeppelin to promote ‘Up’).
Initially based in NASA’s Moffet Field, near the Googleplex (and with a great view of it), Airship Ventures now also runs the Eureka out of the Oakland Airport. It takes regular flights, chartered and otherwise, down the coast to LA, the OC and San Diego. It has shown up on the Colbert Report. The company is mulling the purchase of another Zeppelin.
And perhaps the biggest compliment of all: Goodyear is retiring its famous blimp and ordering a fleet of three Zeppelins — doubling the world’s fleet. The Goodyear Zeppelins will also do air tours around America starting in January 2014.
So is this a flourishing business model? Airship Ventures is the first to admit that Zeppelin travel is not going to replace the airline industry in getting people from Point A to Point B as fast as possible. Quite the opposite. It’s about being unhurried, and floating above a beautiful city, chatting with the pilots and flying close enough to take fantastic snaps. Who wouldn’t want to do that?
Check out our gallery, and let us know in the comments: would you pay to fly in a Zeppelin?
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