A Swedish firm plans to use airships to transport people to the North Pole. If all goes according to schedule, OceanSky Cruises will offer weekly tours to the North Pole for up to 16 passengers, starting in 2023 or 2024.
Travel aboard lighter-than-air craft to the North Pole has had — pardon the expression — its highs and lows. The first such attempt, in 1897, ended in disaster when the hot-air balloon that was to take a three-man Swedish crew to the North Pole crash-landed. They survived the impact only to die several months later on an uninhabited Arctic island.
More successful was the 1926 flight of the Zeppelin Norge. Three days after it left Svalbard, it passed over the North Pole, making its passengers, including Roald Amundsen, the first people to do so in recorded history.
The Norge, like other airships of the day, required a mast to be able to land and take off, and, instead of flying back to Svalbard, continued onward to Alaska. In a twist of irony, Amundsen died two years later when the airplane he was flying in crashed into the ocean near Tromsø, Norway.
The notion of using lighter-than-air craft has had something of a revival in recent years, thanks to advances on a number of technological fronts, including propulsion, materials and clean fuels. This last, backers say, results in minimal carbon pollution even during heavy-lift operations.
[Quebec has invested in the next generation of airships to help serve the North]
Unlike their predecessors, modern airships have the lifting capacity of a cargo plane and require little to no infrastructure for taking off and landing. In the North, this would make them ideal for transporting cargo to roadless areas or remote mines.
Tourism operators are also eying airships. The plan put forward by OceanSky Cruises would start with limited numbers of passengers — and only the extremely well-heeled. The first ten voyages OceanSky Cruises plans to fly are by invitation-only, but, after that, a cabin for two on the 36-hour trip will set you back 2 million kronor ($226,000).
For that price tag, as many as 16 passengers could expect a “yacht-like” experience complete with an onboard chef as part of a package that evokes, but goes beyond, the elegance of traveling aboard the Zeppelins of the 1920s, according to OceanSky Cruises.
Flights are expected to be made using the Airlander 10. It was originally developed for the U.S. military but is now promoted for civilian use, and, according to OpenSky Cruises, tailor-made for the luxury travel market.
“Cabin design with lighter-than-air technology allows space and luxury unparalleled in jet aviation,” the company says on its website. “Airlander’s capacity opens new possibilities to something unique, something that amounts to more than a flying five-star hotel and more than a superyacht of the sky.”
In addition to being pampered to an extent unimaginable to polar explorers of yesteryear, OceanSky Cruises passengers would get to experience something Amundsen never did: setting foot on the North Pole.
Where the Norge and its passengers had to settle for a flyover, modern airships can land and remain on the ground without needing to be tethered to a mast, and then to take off again, though OceanSky Cruises says it may take along a lightweight mast or anchors to keep its ship in place during the stop.
Once on the ship is on the ground, passengers will be able to alight and remain on the ground for a planned six hours.
Initially, OceanSky Cruises will operate with a single airship, but, within 10 years, it hopes to have 100, and to use its North Pole expeditions as a stepping stone into other passenger and cargo transport ventures.
“We hope to make a real dent in how people travel in the future and we see a great potential in [ligher-than-air travel] as an affordable option for comfortable, elegant and clean travel for conscious passengers,” Carl-Oscar Lawaczeck, OceanSky Cruises’ managing director, told CNN. “For that, we need thousands of airships.”
A video, produced by Lockheed Martin, explains how its airship functions and the benefits of the airframe.