Russia is planning to use airships as part of a $240bn transport project

Nice idea ... in theory

Russia is reportedly spending up to $240bn developing transport links to Siberia, the country's far eastern provinces and the Arctic – and is actively looking at using cheaper-than-plane airships as part of those transport links.

According to a report (in Russian) in daily newspaper Kommersant, plans for the United Eurasia initiative include the development of two 9,500km transport corridors, including a high speed railway line and increased shipping links.

Of greatest interest, however, is the plan to deploy a fleet of heavy-lift airships as part of these transport corridors.

The Atlant airships are said to have a payload of up to 16 tons and a flight range of between 2,000km and 5,000km. Typical airships reach cruising speed at around 60 knots, as opposed to 130 knots for the average medium-lift helicopter.

“Authors of the project believe that the economic effect of the use of airships should increase the attractiveness of the strategic transport corridor,” wrote Kommersant's Elizaveta Kuznetsova and Denis Skorobogatko. “The cost of mass production will not exceed $30m, and one such aircraft will replace five Mi-8 helicopters, which are now used in the Far North.”

The Atlant airship is not a new product. A Daily Mail feature about them last year reckoned they would be capable of carrying 200 soldiers or even up to 60 tonnes of cargo, but the latest news about their use for civilian commerce is a little more realistic.

Familiar in the US for carrying advertising over sports stadiums, light airships – or blimps – are used mainly for pleasure flights and low-speed observation. They are not a common sight in the UK, and the last large-scale attempt to make use of them in a civilian setting ended in 1930 when the government-backed R101 crashed in flames in France, killing 48 passengers and crew.

Since then airships have been a novelty at best, while numerous ultimately unsuccessful attempts have been made to use them to replace long-established rail and sea transport links. ®

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