News

Zeppelin grounded: Airship Ventures ends operations

After floating its Zeppelin over the Bay Area for four years, Airship Ventures announced Thursday that it has grounded the airship and is issuing refunds to passengers. A lack of corporate sponsorship and high helium prices are to blame, company officials said.

"It is frustrating because we were kind of hitting our stride," said Airship Ventures CEO Brian Hall. "We need a long term sponsor to make it all work."

Unless an investor steps forward with $5 million to $6 million, the Zeppelin Eureka will soon be dissembled and sent back to Friedrichshafen, Germany, where it was manufactured by Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik GmbH – an "inelegant end" to what has been a big journey, Hall said.

Hall says there is "a window of a week or two" in which a "white knight" CEO could come forth and take on a sponsorship of the airship for about the same cost as a super bowl commercial. In exchange the company could advertise on the side of the airship for a whole year.

Housed in Moffett Field's Hangar Two, the airship gave tours of the Bay Area, Wine Country and Southern California, able to hover in place for hours or cruise a bit slower than highway traffic. Passengers paid between $375 to $950 to sit in the 12-person gondola with panoramic views from wrap-around windows. Dubbed "Eureka" after its arrival, the Zeppelin NT saw 20,000 passengers over four years, even flying all the way across the country in 2011.

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"We launched it at the beginning of the recession," Hall said. "I've seen a recession before but boy, this one's just been lingering."

The ship is one of two like it in the world, the other being in Germany. A third that had been operating in Japan but faced similar challenges - and was based away from populated areas, Hall said. Hall wonders if Eureka might have fared better if based near San Francisco at Treasure Island, but that would have also been more expensive, and less convenient for the Silicon Valley companies that used the airship for employee retreats,

Hall said the company had a goal of eventually buying two more Zeppelins costing over $15 million each. "Our business goal was to be operating three of them," Hall said. "That's when the economics starts really tipping in your favor." He said more revenue could be raised with the efficiency of sharing staff and infrastructure among three ships. Hall recalls having to turn down sponsorship offers because "we only had one" airship and it's advertising space was already sold.

Another problem was that helium – the gas which keeps the airship aloft – at one point "increased tenfold" since operations began, due to a worldwide shortage. "Imagine if the price of gas went from

$5 to $50 a gallon," Hall said.

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Zeppelin Eureka first arrived at Moffett in October of 2008. The company says it was the first "large-scale" passenger airship operation in the U.S. since the golden era of airships in the 1930s ended with the 1937 crash of the Hindenburg in New Jersey. With non-flammable helium gas and sophisticated computer controls, Eureka boasted a "perfect" safety record, the company says.

On its maiden voyage, Eureka was shipped across the Atlantic and flown to Moffett from Texas, passing the Point Sur crash site of the U.S.S. Macon, the massive 1930s Navy airship that Moffett Field's Hangar One was built for. While not as large as the 784 foot Macon, the 246-foot Eureka is longer than a Boeing 747 jumbo jet and 50 feet longer than the balloon-like Goodyear blimp.

Much of the cost of the business is meeting the airship's unique needs. "Imagine you had the only car in the U.S. and now you want to bring it to L,A,," Hall said. "You have to bring all your spare parts with you. You can't pull into a gas station, there is no gas station." With the airship "we have to take all of our infrastructure with us." Though there are some efficiencies, like getting many times the fuel mileage of a helicopter.

Zeppelin Eureka had become a common sight in the region, floating overhead with advertisement for such companies as Farmers Insurance and 23 and Me. It was used to provide aerial coverage for large events, including the Mavericks Surf Contest and the Rose Bowl, and was even used as a platform for skydiving on a few occasions.

It also aided in a long list of scientific research projects, such as collecting data on gases in the atmosphere for NASA and helping SETI conduct research in the Bay's salt ponds on "extremophiles" - tiny organisms that live in extreme environments.

"We will demonstrate that the airship's flight characteristics not only make it a great way to see the world, but also to understand it better," said Airship Ventures co-owner Alexandra Hall in 2009.

The first female airship pilots trained with Eureka, including the first American female pilot.

There's a still chance the Zeppelin will fly again over the Bay Area.

"I think we're better than a cat, we've had more than nine lives," Hall said. "It's not over until its over, but its very close."

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Zeppelin grounded: Airship Ventures ends operations

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Fri, Nov 16, 2012, 1:40 pm

After floating its Zeppelin over the Bay Area for four years, Airship Ventures announced Thursday that it has grounded the airship and is issuing refunds to passengers. A lack of corporate sponsorship and high helium prices are to blame, company officials said.

"It is frustrating because we were kind of hitting our stride," said Airship Ventures CEO Brian Hall. "We need a long term sponsor to make it all work."

Unless an investor steps forward with $5 million to $6 million, the Zeppelin Eureka will soon be dissembled and sent back to Friedrichshafen, Germany, where it was manufactured by Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik GmbH – an "inelegant end" to what has been a big journey, Hall said.

Hall says there is "a window of a week or two" in which a "white knight" CEO could come forth and take on a sponsorship of the airship for about the same cost as a super bowl commercial. In exchange the company could advertise on the side of the airship for a whole year.

Housed in Moffett Field's Hangar Two, the airship gave tours of the Bay Area, Wine Country and Southern California, able to hover in place for hours or cruise a bit slower than highway traffic. Passengers paid between $375 to $950 to sit in the 12-person gondola with panoramic views from wrap-around windows. Dubbed "Eureka" after its arrival, the Zeppelin NT saw 20,000 passengers over four years, even flying all the way across the country in 2011.

"We launched it at the beginning of the recession," Hall said. "I've seen a recession before but boy, this one's just been lingering."

The ship is one of two like it in the world, the other being in Germany. A third that had been operating in Japan but faced similar challenges - and was based away from populated areas, Hall said. Hall wonders if Eureka might have fared better if based near San Francisco at Treasure Island, but that would have also been more expensive, and less convenient for the Silicon Valley companies that used the airship for employee retreats,

Hall said the company had a goal of eventually buying two more Zeppelins costing over $15 million each. "Our business goal was to be operating three of them," Hall said. "That's when the economics starts really tipping in your favor." He said more revenue could be raised with the efficiency of sharing staff and infrastructure among three ships. Hall recalls having to turn down sponsorship offers because "we only had one" airship and it's advertising space was already sold.

Another problem was that helium – the gas which keeps the airship aloft – at one point "increased tenfold" since operations began, due to a worldwide shortage. "Imagine if the price of gas went from

$5 to $50 a gallon," Hall said.

Zeppelin Eureka first arrived at Moffett in October of 2008. The company says it was the first "large-scale" passenger airship operation in the U.S. since the golden era of airships in the 1930s ended with the 1937 crash of the Hindenburg in New Jersey. With non-flammable helium gas and sophisticated computer controls, Eureka boasted a "perfect" safety record, the company says.

On its maiden voyage, Eureka was shipped across the Atlantic and flown to Moffett from Texas, passing the Point Sur crash site of the U.S.S. Macon, the massive 1930s Navy airship that Moffett Field's Hangar One was built for. While not as large as the 784 foot Macon, the 246-foot Eureka is longer than a Boeing 747 jumbo jet and 50 feet longer than the balloon-like Goodyear blimp.

Much of the cost of the business is meeting the airship's unique needs. "Imagine you had the only car in the U.S. and now you want to bring it to L,A,," Hall said. "You have to bring all your spare parts with you. You can't pull into a gas station, there is no gas station." With the airship "we have to take all of our infrastructure with us." Though there are some efficiencies, like getting many times the fuel mileage of a helicopter.

Zeppelin Eureka had become a common sight in the region, floating overhead with advertisement for such companies as Farmers Insurance and 23 and Me. It was used to provide aerial coverage for large events, including the Mavericks Surf Contest and the Rose Bowl, and was even used as a platform for skydiving on a few occasions.

It also aided in a long list of scientific research projects, such as collecting data on gases in the atmosphere for NASA and helping SETI conduct research in the Bay's salt ponds on "extremophiles" - tiny organisms that live in extreme environments.

"We will demonstrate that the airship's flight characteristics not only make it a great way to see the world, but also to understand it better," said Airship Ventures co-owner Alexandra Hall in 2009.

The first female airship pilots trained with Eureka, including the first American female pilot.

There's a still chance the Zeppelin will fly again over the Bay Area.

"I think we're better than a cat, we've had more than nine lives," Hall said. "It's not over until its over, but its very close."

Comments

Mr. Nice
Blossom Valley
on Nov 16, 2012 at 1:50 pm
Mr. Nice, Blossom Valley
on Nov 16, 2012 at 1:50 pm
3 people like this

So glad I went for a ride about 2 years ago, we flew over the mountain near Stanford to Half Moon Bay and down the coast and back to Moffett. I will never forget that trip. I wish Google would ante up the 6 mil and keep her afloat.


musical
another community
on Nov 16, 2012 at 2:15 pm
musical, another community
on Nov 16, 2012 at 2:15 pm
3 people like this

My pricy flights in the zeppelin are now literally priceless experiences.


Monta Loman
Monta Loma
on Nov 16, 2012 at 2:42 pm
Monta Loman, Monta Loma
on Nov 16, 2012 at 2:42 pm
3 people like this

I could never have afforded the ride, but it was cheering to see the zeppelin floating over the area -- especially from my office high atop the Hoover Tower at Stanford. I'll miss it.


Susan
Castro City
on Nov 16, 2012 at 2:54 pm
Susan, Castro City
on Nov 16, 2012 at 2:54 pm
3 people like this

What a shame! I heard that helium is in short supply and that we should be worried about not having enough to blow up balloons but the Zepplin is one heck of a big balloon! I hope they find a sponsor soon.


Kathy Hall
Sylvan Park
on Nov 16, 2012 at 3:25 pm
Kathy Hall, Sylvan Park
on Nov 16, 2012 at 3:25 pm
3 people like this

The rides were pricey but it would have been a spectacular experience. Maybe someone will step up and save the day, there is a lot of money in this valley.


diane
another community
on Nov 16, 2012 at 4:08 pm
diane, another community
on Nov 16, 2012 at 4:08 pm
3 people like this

Where is Larry Ellison??


sad
Cuesta Park
on Nov 16, 2012 at 5:17 pm
sad, Cuesta Park
on Nov 16, 2012 at 5:17 pm
3 people like this

:-( truly sad to hear this. I was saving up for a ride. I will miss seeing it flying over my house! I thought those ads on it would help it stay in business. It was the best billboard ever!


Good Riddance
Gemello
on Nov 16, 2012 at 7:32 pm
Good Riddance, Gemello
on Nov 16, 2012 at 7:32 pm
3 people like this

The zeppelin was novel and somewhat nice at first, but I become a lot less pleased when they turned it into a giant floating corporate billboard for Farmers Insurance and other companies. I see more than enough billboards on the ground--I don't need them polluting the sky too. If they had succeeded in buying three of these things, it would have been even worse. Hot air balloons provide a nicer ride for less money, and are more attractive for those of us on the ground too.


Egli
Castro City
on Nov 16, 2012 at 8:04 pm
Egli, Castro City
on Nov 16, 2012 at 8:04 pm
3 people like this

Doesnt anybody edi't this' s'tuff. "it's" for "its" in the first lyne. Journalistic standards ai'nt wot thems used to be. Sets a bad example for the kiddies.


Doug Pearson
Blossom Valley
on Nov 16, 2012 at 9:26 pm
Doug Pearson, Blossom Valley
on Nov 16, 2012 at 9:26 pm
3 people like this

I also was lucky enough to ride the Eureka and very glad I did. I only wish I could have done it again.


David M
Monta Loma
on Nov 17, 2012 at 6:39 pm
David M, Monta Loma
on Nov 17, 2012 at 6:39 pm
3 people like this

I'm pretty sure "dissembled" doesn't mean what you apparently think it does. You probably wanted "disassembled."


Max Hauser
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Nov 18, 2012 at 9:32 am
Max Hauser, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Nov 18, 2012 at 9:32 am
3 people like this

The company's quotations cite the 1937 Hindenburg fire and crash, which certainly ended international public interest in airship travel. However, constant mention of that one disaster obscures the main historical peril to airships. It had nothing to do with hydrogen vs. helium.

They're aerostats -- providing unpowered lift -- in other words, sophisticated balloons. As very low-density high-profile craft, airships are vulnerable to winds, and are reliably controllable only in limited weather conditions. In the 1920s and 30s, several nations built vast airships, most of which crashed, typically in winds or storms, often with great loss of life. Including all three of the large US-Navy airships (one of which of course was based at Moffett), despite using non-combustible helium for lift.


musical
another community
on Nov 19, 2012 at 3:19 am
musical, another community
on Nov 19, 2012 at 3:19 am
3 people like this

Admiral Moffett himself died when the USS Akron went down in a storm off New Jersey in 1933. Eureka was fair weather craft. We do have more fair weather here than many places.

Anyone disappointed in missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity might consider a similarly priced flight on the B-17 or B-24 next time they come through raising funds for their upkeep. Noisier than the zeppelin but you can still hang your head out the waistgunner windows. Those relics won't last forever.


Greg
Old Mountain View
on Nov 20, 2012 at 2:38 pm
Greg, Old Mountain View
on Nov 20, 2012 at 2:38 pm
3 people like this

Too bad, I enjoyed seeing this thing floating over MV. I never had plans to spend that much on the trip, but still a cool local fixture for a while.


sad
Cuesta Park
on Nov 22, 2012 at 12:02 pm
sad, Cuesta Park
on Nov 22, 2012 at 12:02 pm
3 people like this

There is a chance to save the Eureka. They need to sign with a new corporate sponsor by November 28. You can read about it on their website or Facebook page.


Mr. Worldallwrong
Blossom Valley
on Nov 26, 2012 at 10:11 am
Mr. Worldallwrong, Blossom Valley
on Nov 26, 2012 at 10:11 am
3 people like this

PLEASE GOOGLE, SAVE THIS ICON, USE IT FOR A GOOGLE BILLBOARD OR??? IT WOULD BE $$$$$ WELL SPENT.


Banbi
another community
on Nov 26, 2012 at 2:21 pm
Banbi, another community
on Nov 26, 2012 at 2:21 pm
3 people like this

Google should sponsor them! Call it The ZEP GOOGLE.


Auction HQ
Blossom Valley
on Jan 5, 2013 at 9:52 am
Auction HQ, Blossom Valley
on Jan 5, 2013 at 9:52 am
3 people like this

Airship Ventures Assets up for Auction Web Link


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