Gregory Gottlieb, Founder and Managing Director, Airships Arabia, opens up about his disruptive concept and the profound implications it will have on the industry, businesses and consumers…
As soon as you hear about Gregory’s business concept, it’s hard not to be amused. “Airship Arabia is a company that is currently offering aviation logistics and management consulting services, but with a focus on bringing hybrid airships to the Middle East,” says a wide-eyed Gregory. Hybrid airships? He smiles as he goes on to explain: “This will be the first airships to have ever been in the Middle East and will provide both logistics & cargo services as well as passenger services starting in the next few years. Hybrid, in this context, means airships that derive their ability to fly from a combination of helium gas carried in the airship, aerodynamic lift based on the shape of the aircraft and engine thrust pointed down towards the ground. This is a new class of aircraft that is in its flight test in the UK and in development in the US and elsewhere. We hope to become an operator of this aircraft once they become available after type certification by the relevant authorities. The benefits of these airships is that they are much more sustainable, cost-effective and environmental friendly.”
He continues: “Operating our own fleet of hybrid airships will eventually enable us to provide freight services at competitive prices to customers across the region. With initial payload capacity of 10 tonnes per load growing to more than 50 tonnes per load in due course, with an unrefuelled range of more than 3,500 km, we will provide an unmatched capability for direct, point to point transportation. It is anticipated that this service will commence from 2018.”
Gregory’s experience in the field can traced back to 1990. Yet, his excitement and enthusiasm for the industry remains. “I was in the British Army and I was responsible for airship programmes from 1990-98. Following my time at the Army, I joined an airship development company called CargoLifter. It was during that job that I got exposed to the world of airships and gained a lot of knowledge. I then went on to undertake several airships and aerostats projects for private companies as well as government entities. Soon after, the idea of Airships Arabia was born. At the moment we are operating as consultants and supporting the logistics industry, but we have a larger vision for the company,” he explains.
Charting the wind
Airships Arabia currently offers aviation, logistics and management consulting with a specific focus on matters relating to airships, hybrids and aerostats to government and commercial clients. In the medium-term, however, it aims to become an airship operations, maintenance, repair, overhaul, and crew training enterprise in its own right, with a focus on hybrid airships, as they become available from manufacturers, following type certification.
Gregory has an ambitious goal set for his company, but there are hurdles he needs to overcome before he races to the finish line. “We are still at an early stage of our business. Given the nature of our company, we have to rely on the successful creation of somebody else’s product. In fact, once the product has been built, it has to also be certified and tested,” he admits.
Another challenge he faces is the lack of an established regulatory framework. “There has never been an airship of any type in the Middle East, so there are no regulations that allow them to operate. We will need to address this over the upcoming months, working closely with the relevant authorities in the UAE.” But, this isn’t the first time that Gregory and his team have faced this problem. Having worked with European authorities to develop regulations in the past, his team is well equipped to take the necessary steps. He has also ensured that he has a phased plan to secure the growth of his business. “There is historic evidence that airships have worked successfully in the past. Essentially our business model entails a three-phase activity. The first phase, which is where we currently are, involves market development, talking to potential users of hybrid airships, interacting with beneficiaries of services to get them on board and to educate them on what will come in the future. In addition, we’re going to be offering our services to help them get ready for when hybrids come – whether we operate them or someone else does. The second phase is to bring small convention airships to the Middle East for the first time, which we aim to do in a realistic time frame. These will be providing advertising or branding services, in addition to carrying cameras and assisting the police for traffic control or sporting events or any other activity which would benefit from an airborne camera. We’re operating in a fundamentally different market space. What we offer is a technology that has been in development for more than 100 years, but has taken a huge leap in capability in the last 20 years and has not yet been addressed by anyone in this region.”
Sky is the limit
There is no doubt that Airship Arabia’s offering sets it apart from others and gives it a serious competitive edge. The company has tremendous potential, but its success and uptake in this part of the region remains to be seen. “Our objective for the next year is to bring small airships to the Middle East. That will enable us to break ground in terms of the operation of airships in this environment. It is our firm intention to have more than one airship and at least one hybrid operating here in time for Expo 2020. We’re already in discussion with potential partners across the region to establish a model that allows Airships Arabia to set aviation standards, conduct training and undertake maintenance,” Gregory concludes.