Blimps and Balloons: a new era of silent aviation

Blimps and Balloons: a new era of silent aviation

By Jenny Southan, Editor, Founder and CEO, Globetrender

There has been a lot of talk in the press recently about UFOs and Chinese spy balloons, but in the coming years, it will become much more common to see sci-fi blimps and capsules attached to silvery balloons flying peacefully through our skies. Rather than them being a threat to national security, they will be taking everyday aviators on carbon-neutral cruises.

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For many people, the prospect of being propelled into space on a rocket is terrifying, but extra-terrestrial tourism will take many forms. More serene and far less damaging for the planet will be trips to the stratosphere (about 31 miles up) in hydrogen-powered balloons. They might not go as high as Blue Origin (about 62 miles up) but passengers will still be able to see the curvature of the Earth and the blackness of space.

Leading the way is Space Perspective, which recently unveiled MS Voyager – the world’s first marine spaceport for human spaceflight, and the first in a planned fleet of floating spaceports around the world. So far, Space Perspective has sold over 1,000 tickets that each cost US$125,000 and could be taking off as soon as 2024. In addition to floating up to see the stars while sipping champagne in a high-spec capsule, there will also be opportunities to see the Northern Lights from the air, observe over boot of Italy and marvel at the scale of the Nile Delta. Jane Poynter, Space Perspective’s founder and co-CEO, said in a statement: “Space Perspective will change your relationship with our planet by providing the quintessential astronaut experience of viewing Earth from the blackness of space.” Speaking about the roll-out of it oceanic spaceports, she added: “It’s imperative for us to think about our business with a global mindset. Removing geographic borders for launch and landing accelerates our mission of making this transformative experience more accessible to the world and international marketplace – safely, reliably and with minimal impact on our planet.”

Spaceship Neptune launches from the stern of MS Voyager. (Photo: Business Wire)

Meanwhile, helium-filled blimps will take explorers on low-altitude (20,000ft) aerial sightseeing voyages of the North Pole and the Seven Wonders of the World. In the UK, Hybrid Air Vehicles is building the Airlander 10 airship, which will be able to fly nonstop for five days and will be powered by electric motors making it entirely emission-free. Spanish regional airline Air Nostrum has placed an order for ten Airlanders, with operations set to begin in 2026 (in the future, airships could replace planes on certain domestic routes).

At the same time, Sweden’s “airline of airships” Oceansky Cruises will also be deploying the Airliner 10 – but in this instance, it will be configured with super yacht-style hotel cabins, a bar and a glass-bottomed observation lounge for aerial expeditions. In December 2022, elite adventure travel company Pelorus announced that it was partnering with Oceansky Cruises to take tourists on a 36-hour round-trip to Svalbard from 2024, to spot polar bears and icebergs. Tickets will cost about US$200,000 per person and there will additionally be the opportunity to touch down on the geographic North Pole for lunch (no runways are required for airships).

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Cookson Adventures is also developing Airliner 10 group trips for up to 16 people from 2025. In this case, they plan to use it to cruise slowly and silently over parts of Africa, for example, allowing passengers to follow migrating herds of animals. One of the first expeditions will be to Oman, where guests will cruise over desert sand dunes before checking into a luxury camp. When it comes to the future of aviation, “blue sky thinking” will pave the way for ever-more extraordinary journeys, with minimal impact on the environment.

Dutch hotel company CitizenM is also moving into the metaverse having bought a virtual space in a game called the Sandbox. Here, it will connect with players, explore marketing opportunities and even raise funds to build a real-world property.

The list of metaverse examples for travel and tourism is endless, with Barbados opening a new virtual embassy, South Korea launching a metaverse replica of its capital city, Seoul, and the island of Tuvalu in the South Pacific building a digital version of itself to preserve its history as it faces erasure due to climate change. “As our land disappears we have no choice but to become the world’s first digital nation,” Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister Simon Kofe told the COP27 climate summit last year. With the country’s land, ocean and culture its most precious assets, no matter what happens in the physical world, they will be protected in the cloud, he added.

From staff training to virtual guest experiences to digital twins, these, and many more examples of useful applications for the metaverse will be discussed at this year’s Arabian Travel Market, taking place at Dubai World Trade Centre from May 1 to 4.

Experts in this field will debate The Future of Travel and Tourism in the Metaverse, looking at how it can play a key role in advancing the industry and how stakeholders can be part of this new world. The session will be moderated by Karl Escritt, the CEO of Like Digital & Partners, an expert in delivering digital transformation projects for world-leading brands including Atlantis the Palm, One&Only, Vodafone, McLaren, British Airways, The Macallan and Majid Al Futtaim.

He will be joined by Emanual Erden, Web3 and Metaverse Consultant at exclusible, with expertise in creating metaverse products for luxury brands including Fortune 500 companies, as well as digital twins for destinations; Gauthier Guillaume, Founder and CEO at GG&Grace International and GraceVirtualReality (GVR), creator of virtual reality tools for the hospitality sector with a mission to “revolutionise the guest experience” through VR and AR innovations; and Joël Kremer, Partner, Moyosa Media, which builds 3D spaces, from showrooms to galleries for retail, the automotive industry and cultural attractions.

This panel session will discuss what the metaverse is, and what it isn’t; the pros, the cons, and the possibilities; and why some travel and tourism entities are reticent to jump on the bandwagon.

Whether you are on board or sitting on the fence, it’s worth noting that metaverse platforms grew by 15 million users year-over-year in Q3 2023 to 520 million monthly active users (MAUs), according to a report from the analyst firm Metaversed.

As Mckinsey & Company highlights in its Value Creation in the Metaverse report, “with its potential to generate up to $5 trillion in value by 2030, the metaverse is too big for companies to ignore”.

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