Well, it is not exactly a blimp but one might be hard-pressed to distinguish it from a blimp in mid-flight; actually the structure of this particular airfreight transport vehicle is referred to as a ‘dirigible.’ It has Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) capabilities (SupplyChainBrain, 2012) and as such has point-to-point delivery ability similar to trucking companies but without the delays caused by weather conditions and traffic.
Montebello, California based Worldwide Aeros has completed the prototype of the vehicle aptly named the Aeroscraft. Though the prototype is a smaller scale version of the airship and was not designed with the ability to hold a payload, the final version will have a 66 ton cargo capacity. The Department of Defense has had a crucial role in the development of such technology and largely funded the construction of the prototype for a similar craft to be used in defense applications (SupplyChainBrain, 2012).
Along with the obvious benefits of an airfreight vehicle with the ability to deliver point-to-point, the Aeroscraft boasts the requirement of only one pilot, vastly improved fuel efficiency, the ability to hover when facilities are not set to receive (which, if you are in the freight business you know happens all too often), and minimum ground handling for offloading freight (Getler, 2012).
A number of updates to the infrastructure of DC’s and Warehouses must be made to accommodate such technology which would likely take years to implement, but the implications on the industry would be extensive. If the market is accepting and all of the benefits of this technology seem to withstand the test of the volatility of the freight industry, how will this affect the OTR business? Will the expense of these vehicles leave the power of such crucial innovations in the hands of a few large, immensely funded companies? How will it affect trucking companies that now must compete against a form of transportation that negates all of its benefits and capitalizes on its drawbacks?
Only time will tell if the Aeroscraft turns out to be an innovation of immense benefit or if this company is simply…(yes, the pun is coming)…full of hot air. Let us know what you think!
Author Unknown. (2012). Executive Briefings. Supply Chain Brain, 40, November/December 2012.