Rigid, semi-rigid, blimp? Certainly determined!
Airship projects on the go in France. The English enterprise Varialift Airships has had to abandon its project, launched in France five years ago (see also ITJ Daily of 16 September 2022). Flying Whales and Voliris seem to be making progress, however. A look at two similar and yet different approaches.
Anyone seeking to revive airships and their commercial deployment needs a lot of know-how – helium or hydrogen? – staying power and money. A lack of funding and of skilled personnel recently forced the English company Varialift Airships to close its base in Châteaudun, 120 km southwest of Paris (France).
The company selected the former air force base under favourable conditions five years ago, but it was unable to prove to the local authorities that significant progress had been made before the concession expired. It remains to be seen whether the project will actually take off at all at home.
Whales on the Atlantic coast
The region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, in southwestern France, is home to Flying Whales. The company, founded ten years ago and headquartered in Suresnes, near Paris, is working on a 200 m airship there that will one day carry a cargo payload of approximately 60 t in a 96 x 8 x 7 m hold. Two years ago the region on the Atlantic coast was chosen as the location for the production of its LCA60T.
In mid-October the local authority signed a legal and financial framework agreement with Flying Whales and the municipality of Laruscade, a commune in the département Gironde, near Bordeaux. The factory will come up on a 50 ha site in Laruscade, and cost EUR 80 million. 200 – 300 skilled workers will work on manufacturing the airships there.
Ground and flight tests are to be carried out from 2024 onwards, with certification and the start of operations planned for around 2027.
To the desert and the jungle
The units are already hotly anticipated by two space industry players. France’s Centre national d’études spatiales (CNES), the national space agency, has confirmed its interest in using LCA60Ts to transport materials to French Guyana in future.
Latitude, a new firm from Reims, in northeastern France, has also signed an mou with Flying Whales, to fly the former’s Zéphyr unit, designed to launch small satellites, to the planned SaxaVord spaceport on the Shetland Islands, north of Scotland in the Atlantic Ocean.
Flying Whales is set to pursue its rigid airship concept. Voliris, in turn, banks on blimps. The company, which was founded in 1999 and has a hangar in Moulins, central France, has been a bit quiet of late.
In March it re-emerged to present its ‘Natac’ shuttle project to the public at the first Timimoun Oasis Summit, held 1,200 km south of Algiers. ‘Natac’ will be unmanned and carry standard containers weighing 30 t each on autopilot in a reserved aerial corridor.