Great Aviation Creation has many Regulatory Roadblocks before it Changes the Logistics Game

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ARTICLE: World’s largest aircraft unveiled and hailed ‘game changer’


Aviation has seen how innovative uses of its ability to move things have revolutionized logistics. FedEx’s founder had a vision of how overnight distribution of boxes might be transformed by the operation of its initial fleet of Falcons. Now FedEx’s B-777 and UPS’ B-747 & MD-11 show how inventory control can be optimized with large aircraft.

Recent focus has been on the use of small UAS vehicles for Amazon and even beer stores . The micro aviation revolution inspires dreams for the operators and migraines for the regulators.

The other end of the logistics spectrum is a very difficult assignment of the movement of very large loads. This class of shipments require loads that are frequently too heavy for carriage by air and bulks which frequently create major passages challenges for rail/truck. The loads are so wide that, for example, the telephone poles have to be moved. The manufacturer may be forced to disassemble a large piece of equipment, like a turbine, and then reassemble it to be transported. This option is both costly and sometimes deteriorating of its performance by this dismemberment of the original manufacture.

Somewhat like the expansion of logistic solutions which FedEx and UPS stimulated, this upward boundary on the transportation blocks the vision of logisticians. For example, if a carrier could move a 50 ton hospital in a single piece to a remote place with a need for health care. The dreams are blocked by these realities.

The Daily Telegraph reports, in the linked article, a proposal to develop a Hybrid Air Vehicle , an Airlander, which if successfully launched would create such an explosion in the distribution world. Its payload would be larger than a C-17. Its design includes tremendously innovative use of both hydrostatic and aerodynamic lift to increase its capacity and maintain the range of fixed wing aircraft.

Its proposal to use air cushioning for landings , instead of the cumbersome use of ropes to guide old airships to the ground, will transform this uplift/downlift process. There is no mention whether the Airlander will use blast to control lift. These two elements of the dirigible operations limited that aircraft type’s operations. The 300’ vehicle will be infinitely more flexible and thus further explode the spectrum of possible uses.

This story is reminiscent of the CargoLifter CL 160 a German innovation harkening on that country’s love with the Zeppelins . The company was incredibly successful in raising funds (300 million s), building a hangar, doing several iterations of its design, but failed (it has subsequently reformed using the same uplift physics on a smaller scale).

The ballast issue was one of the practical problems which defeated the potential benefits of the CL 160. When the airship travels to the point of embarkation of the shipment, it had to offload the weight (usually water) needed to limit the helium lift on the flight to the point of origin. When the process was reversed at the other end of the transport required the availability of tons of weight to be included in the airship.

Another daunting problem with the CL 160 was its impact on the Air Traffic Control system. Such a large “opaque” object blocked the radar and created a blind sector for an area beyond the sweep of the radar. The notification of the controllers, and particularly GA pilots, of the existence of the CL 160’s path and the blind sector might minimize the problem.

A major challenge was posed by flight and duty time requirements for the pilots and the crew. What regulatory standards would apply to an aircraft which could operate literally for weeks if not months?

Certification standards were another undefined, yet potentially daunting hurdle. The normal airship design criteria would require massive revisions to meet a vehicle of such greater size with new materials. The Airlander’s unique hybrid lift systems and landing system will test the regulators’ concept of airworthiness tests and proving runs. The HAV will likely be certificated by the UK’s CAA but will expect to operate within other countries domestic airspace and those other civil aviation authorities are likely to reexamine the certification basis and to set their own operation rules before putting an Airlander on that second country’s registry/OpSpecs.

This is a brilliant idea with many roadblocks between the inspiration and implementation.

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