What's the float?
August 18, 2006 11:10 AM   Subscribe

What is the annualized cost to operate a Zeppelin NT?

Please take crew,maintenance, facilities leasing, fuel, and insurance into account. Do not include the cost of the ship itself. Assume the ship will be used as a passenger vessel, as is the case today in Germany and Switzerland.
posted by mwhybark to Travel & Transportation (2 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The answers to your questions will be heavily dependent on basing and operation locale, number of hours operated annually, and maintenance recommendations which are probably still developing as the first few ships are building hours. So, I doubt any one unconnected with the Zeppelin company could even spitball comprehensive answers to all your questions within even an order of magnitude of accuracy. If you're really interested, contact Zeppelin sales for pro forma figures, which they probably have as part of a standard quotation package.

In the U.S., use of an aircraft for commercial passenger flight subjects the aircraft to higher maintenance and inspection requirements than if were used in just private or general aviation roles. The Lycoming IO-360 engines used are common general aviation 4 cylinder engines, and in the U.S., for commercial passenger use, will typically be required to have 100 hour and annual inspections, if not equipped with complex props. In normal use, depending on the exact engine model and equipment, these engines are recommended for overhaul at intervals of from 1200 to 2000 hours, so if the aircraft is used 2000 flight hours per year, you are going to do at least 5 IO-360 overhauls a year, at about $20,000 average, each, if you go with factory overhaul services, and get good hourly rates on removal/packing/installation. If your ship requires complex propellers, or gear reduction drives, the overhaul intervals are shorter, and the costs significantly higher. In commercial service, you'd probably maintain full service engine spares as well, say a couple of IO-360's at $34,000 each, to provide spare engines for substitution during your maintenance activities.

Fuel is something else you could estimate reasonably, based on running five IO-360 engines at 75% power (cruise) using 40 liters (10 U.S. gallons) per hour each. So, you'll use something like 50 gallons of 100LL aviation gas per hour of flight, which sells currently at most U.S. FBO's for around $5.50 a gallon (you might be able to do better on a bulk contract, but this is a typical full service line price), so about $275/hour fuel cost.

One unique flight consumable that I'd have no clue about, but would imagine is going to be an expensive pain, depending on basing decisions, is helium gas in the quantities you'll need to fly. The only large volume commercial sources of helium remain deep wells in Texas, so that obtaining large quantities of helium gas in distant lands remains a fairly expensive business. Helium is also very hard to contain, which is another reason, besides its lower lifting capacity compared to hydrogen, that the zeppelins of old were designed to fly on hydrogen.

Insurance costs are another wild card, that are going to depend greatly on your conditions of contract with your passengers, and whether your passenger service falls under the Warsaw or Montreal conventions on terms. If you operate under these limits, and can get your ship type accepted in its country of operation as a heavier than air machine (which it technically is, unlike the classic zeppelins of old), you might arrange reasonable insurance costs. Failing any of that, your guess is as good as mine, and highly dependent on your story to underwriters, I suspect. Considering the disastrous history of zeppelins in low altitude accidents due to ground boundary layer turbulence, and handling during landing and take off, I'd be somewhat surprised if you can arrange standard terms as favorable as turbojet operators, but maybe if you can disclaim all liability to passengers as a condition of carriage, you could get something.

Crew costs, ground costs, and facilities are largely or entirely dependent on locale, and whether you need to be able to hangar routinely in the inflated state.
posted by paulsc at 3:17 AM on August 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

That's the stuff!
posted by mwhybark at 9:10 AM on August 19, 2006

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