Zeppelin Launched outside French Capital, as the Latest Tourist Attraction

By: The Associated Press
By: The Associated Press

A Zeppelin took to the skies above Paris on Sunday, launching a new way for visitors to view the French capital.

Flying slowly, and low, sightseers had the opportunity to view the countryside and castles outside Paris, as well as, in the distance, the city skyline and even the Eiffel Tower.

Pilot Catherine Board praised the new mode of sightseeing and drew attention to the safety features of the airship.

"This aircraft is probably the most safe aircraft because the gas inside is helium, and this is a completely non-flammable gas. The fuel tanks are actually inside that non-flammable gas, so helium cannot burn," said Board, an Australian engaged by Airship Paris, the company operating the Zeppelins in the Paris region.

"If the engines fail, unlike an aircraft which has to come down, it can glide, this (the airship) actually floats. Therefore we have ballast on board and we can continue to float until we find a safe place to land. So there is a very few things that can go wrong with it," she added.

For a price starting at 250 euros (330 US dollars) for half an hour, up to 12 tourists can fly at an altitude of 300 metres (984 feet), at the speed of 35 knots above the River Seine or Versailles.

The concept is already gaining popularity in Germany, where the airship is constructed by Zeppelin and where several thousands of tourists have already enjoyed similar flights.

But, according to Airship Paris CEO, Eric Lopez, the airship could be used also for other purposes.

"It could be surveillance or scientific missions, or weather and climate related missions, etc," said Lopez.

"Today we are working on an airship that could do the cargo transportation, a much more bigger airship equipped with electrical engines."

The company hopes that the airship will eventually be used as a regular mode of transportation in the region.

But there are some challenges before that dream is realised, including developing an infrastructure that can handle an airship as long as an Airbus A380 (75.1 metres or 246 feet), broad as a four-lane highway (19.5 metres or 64 feet), and high as a five-storey building.

There are also some regulations that are needed for this kind of aircraft, but its ecological impact, including planned electrical engines and comparative low noise (only 65db, about as noisy as a washing machine), could help in fast tracking the necessary political decisions.

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