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Zeppelins poised to make a comeback in Siberia

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30 November 2013


'Anything that allows to move heavy weights over difficult terrain without spending a lot of money on the infrastructure is attractive'. Picture:

It is 76 years since the Hindenburg tragedy in the US yet a new generation of zeppelins, filled with a gas that cannot ignite, are seen as perfect for supplying remote mining industry sites. Two projects in Siberia and the Russian Far East are seen as ideal for modern versions of the flying machine, according to a new report by Bloomberg. 

In both cases, the revolutionary air transport by zeppelin of heavy loads vital for mining start-ups could go ahead without building expensive roads and bridges into inaccessible areas. The Bloomberg report cited Robin Young, chief executive of Amur Minerals, and his company's plan to dig for nickel and copper in Siberia 'where forbidding winters and poor roads make it tough to haul in equipment. His best option: fly it in with zeppelins.'

This could avoid a $150 cost of 'building a 350km road to truck in heavy construction gear'.

Meanwhile, Peter Hambro, the British executive chairman of gold producer Petropavlovsk, has 'invested in a maker of the airships and foresaw the mining industry adopting them', said the report. 'To build a bridge to take a Toyota Land Cruiser isn't horrifically expensive. To build a bridge that will take Caterpillar 777 is very, very expensive,' said Hambro.

'With better designs and a buoyant gas that cannot ignite, makers such as Worldwide Aeros and Hybrid Air Vehicles of the UK say they are negotiating their first sales to the $960bn mining sector to complement truck and rail transport,' added the report.

It is not the first time zeppelins have been seen as having a role in Siberia. Norilsk Nickel rejected the idea in favour of planes and later built a fleet of icebreaker vessels to ship its nickel out through the Yenisei River. A spokesman for Polyus Gold International said zeppelins were considered for its Natalka project in the Far East but 'at the time we couldn't find a suitable offer on the market'.

Several makers such as Worldwide Aeros and Hybrid Air Vehicles of the UK are developing airships capable of servicing the needs of mining companies.

Hybrid Air has reportedly developed and tested a craft 'capable of performing in storm winds and conditions typical of Siberia', and is aiming at a craft capable of lifting 50-ton cargoes, being able to land them in remote locations. The company is looking for certification for its airship in two to three years. 

John Meyer, an analyst at SP Angel Corporate Finance in London, was quoted saying: 'Amur's project has huge value, but the upfront funding and the fact it's in Russia means it's difficult to finance. The ability to use an airship will transform the value of the company. They can start producing before spending all that extra money.'

Worldwide Aeros has plans for two dozen zeppelins almost 50 metres in length, and a carrying capacity of up to 250 tons at speeds of more than 160km and hour, chief executive Igor Pasternak was quoted as saying.

'Anything that allows us to move heavy weights over difficult terrain without spending a lot of money on the infrastructure is attractive,' said Hambro.

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