Airship Ventures is now up and running with its German-built Zeppelin, offering sightseeing flights to the general public in an airship, the first time such flights have been available in the U.S. in about seven decades.
The company started media flights this week from Moffett Field, just south of San Francisco, and will start passenger operations on Friday. The ship will also fly from Oakland International Airport and from Charles Schulz Airport in the Sonoma Valley.
The Zeppelin is almost 250 feet long. Large windows offer a 360-degree view, and the cabin seats up to 12 passengers, who are free to move around during the flight. The airship flies low and slow, topping out at about 1,200 feet AGL and 35 to 40 mph. Hour-long tours run about $500 per seat. The ship can also be chartered by the hour.
The company may fly the ship to EAA AirVenture or the Albuquerque balloon festival next year, if a sponsor steps up with funding. Airship Ventures' future business plans include the addition of a second Zeppelin airship, to be based on the U.S. east coast, followed by a third Zeppelin devoted to air shows, special events and scientific research missions. The company will also expand its facilities at Moffett Field, offering facilities for catered corporate and special events.
STARTUP STRUGGLES AS ECONOMY SINKS
The folks who launched the first tour-by-zeppelin business in the U.S. couldn't have had much worse luck with timing -- Airship Ventures launched last October, after two years of planning, just in time for the depths of economic doldrums.
With seats selling for $500 each for an hour flight, business has been slow. Toss in the rain and wind of winter in the San Francisco Bay area, and it's even tougher. But Brian Hall, who runs the company with wife Alex, is not discouraged. "It comes with its stresses, there's no big pot of cash, and we're working seven days a week," he told CNN recently. "But if you can ride this out, you can last through anything." He added that he hopes to find sponsors who will pay to paint their logos on the zeppelin, and he may add winery tour weekends, or move to sunny southern California for the winters.
The CNN/Money reporter who took a demo flight found the business plan dubious but the view mesmerizing: "We fly over the Golden Gate Bridge just as the sun dips below the horizon. A massive container ship has run aground on the rocks just west of the bridge, and we watch in awe as a Coast Guard boat tows it out to the Pacific," he wrote. "Then we turn and drift back over the Bay as the city lights up and the bright sliver of a new moon rises above it." But will the project prove to be economically viable? More...