The North Pole has captivated people for centuries. By every possible means, men and women have made the journey to the northernmost point on earth. To minimize the difficulties of pack ice, many have focused on air travel, including airships. What Amundsen, Nobile and Ellsworth were the first to achieve in 1926, a Swedish company now wants to do again for tourists. But unlike back then with more luxury, safer and above all more sustainable.
If the Swedes’ plans go ahead, the currently largest hybrid airship, the “Airlander 10” from Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd., will take a maximum of 16 guests to the North Pole from 2023 or 2024. Like Amundsen, Nobile and Ellsworth in 1926, they will start from Svalbard. But while the latter three pioneers had started from the northernmost settlement of Ny-Ålesund, Oceansky Cruises plans to depart from Longyearbyen. During two days, the aircraft will take guests to the North Pole, where time and activities will be available, and then fly back to Longyearbyen. The idea is not simply to fly, but to be able to observe the arctic landscape and the animal world. Oceansky Cruises estimates a total of one week for the entire expedition in order to be able to sit out bad weather if necessary. The company says it is currently working on corresponding offers before and after the trip.
The trip is designed to inspire adventure and a spirit of discovery. But you also want to travel in style. A team of seven crew members will ensure that everything on board runs smoothly. Four of the members are pilots who will steer the vehicle. According to Oceansky Cruises CEO Carl-Oscar Lawaczeck, himself a former pilot with SAS, one can think of the voyage as being aboard a yacht. The cabins and the equipment on board are very comfortable and seems luxurious. But they don’t want to offer 5-star luxury service, says Oceansky Cruises. And instead of breaking through the pack ice, you fly calmly and safely over it. He told CNN, “We usually fly around 1,800 meters above the surface, but we can go down to 90 meters or even 30 meters to give our guests a good view of the polar landscape.” But animals should neither be chased nor disturbed at any cost. Because the goal is to conduct the expedition in the most sustainable, safe and gentle way possible.
Sustainability and safety are enormously important to Carl-Oscar Lawaczeck and Oceansky Cruises on this expedition. For this reason, the company is relying on a completely new concept of airship, which combines the best of zeppelin, airplane and helicopter: the “Airlander 10”. This is a helium-filled hull with a cabin underneath (like a zeppelin), but which generates a “lift” due to its shape and is thus kept in the air (like an airplane). Motors on the side that can be turned will work like the propellers on a helicopter and give the necessary takeoff power, but this will be less than a conventional helicopter or airplane because the helium will make the whole craft much lighter. Thus, the airship will be much more efficient and quieter. The engines are currently still powered by biodiesel. But according to Carl-Oscar Lawaczeck, the Airlander’s manufacturing company is in the process of developing electric motors.
Unlike the earlier zeppelins, the “Airlander” will make do with a smaller ground infrastructure. Since the device can lift itself off the ground with the help of the motors, there is no need for a mast to hold it in place. Therefore, pilots can land on a suitable pad at or near the North Pole and let the guests disembark. Also in Longyearbyen less effort will be needed for the vehicle, explains Oceansky Cruises. Thanks to the low consumption and the use of the latest technologies and materials, the vehicle will be ready for the more extreme conditions. Its range is said to be 2,000 nautical miles and it should be able to stay aloft for around 3 days on fuel, depending on cruising speed. In addition to the four certified expert pilots on board, an expedition leader with all the necessary certifications and knowledge will also be responsible for safety and instruct the guests. Oceansky Cruises is proud to have won over the well-known British polar explorer and environmentalist Robert Swan for this purpose. The famous Arctic explorer was one of the first to reach both the North and South Poles on foot.
The whole idea is just the start to revolutionize the aviation industry with this kind of transport. That is the real goal of Oceansky Cruises. In the long term, the company wants to expand further and offer goods and passenger flights everywhere. To this end, the expedition is also to be regarded as groundbreaking. But the whole concept has its price: With almost € 195’000 (US$ 230’000) for a 2-person cabin you are part of the expedition. But CEO Carl-Oscar Lawaczeck is very proud of his concept and hopes that with the expedition and the new type of aircraft, he can get people to rethink “flying”, towards a more sustainable concept. In an interview with CNN, he explains, “We hope to make a real difference in how people will travel in the future and we see huge potential in our concept as an affordable option for comfortable, elegant and clean travel for conscious passengers. But we need thousands of such aircraft to make this happen.”
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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