Last week I also met with Alex Hall, former CEO of the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, and Brian Hall, CEO of Mark/Space, a software company (not a space company, despite half the name!). They have started a company called Airship Ventures to operate a Zeppelin NT (new technology), most likely based in the San Francisco Bay Area..
Unlike a lot of business plans I run into, this one can point to a model: the Zeppelin company itself is currently successfully operating such a business, flying a Zeppelin NT around southern Germany, where (let’s be real) the attractions aren’t quite as varied nor the available market of tourists as large as in San Francisco. Zeppelin offers 30- to 60-minute sight-seeing tours, flying at heights between 500 and 1000 feet. It charges teh equivalent of a few hundred dollars per person, with a capacity of 12 passengers. Bringing something like this to the USA and operating it somewhere scenic sounds like an absolutely fantastic idea, both in the positive sense and as in “pure fantasy.”
Airship Ventures faces the usual challenges of the air-space start-up check list: finding some kind of debt or equity financing for the airship (not quite the same established market as for a Gulfstream), securing further equity finance for the company itself and dealing with regulatory issues – potentially the biggest challenge, though Alex Hall points out that the FAA is currently certifying the Zeppelin NT and the operational requirements are under discussion.
This is a cool and unique idea… And of course it could also generate large advertising revenues – starting with its journey to the USA from Germany, which could be as early as the summer of 2008.
Imagine the visibility: It would fly lower and is longer - at 246ft vs 192ft- than the Goodyear blimp, which you can’t buy a ticket on. Its arrival in the Bay Area would be in time for Zeppelin’s 100th birthday, and also just 75 years since the commissioning of the major airship base in the area, Moffett Field (now operated by NASA Ames). And last of all, it would be NASA’s 50th birthday. Undeniably auspicious timing.
Sign me up, please!
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