Durban man’s vision to revolutionise air freight is rapidly taking off and is expected to be an innovation that will protect the environment as well as benefit the economy.
In March this year, Harry Etheridge began to investigate airships and established Airships Africa, which recently acquired the licence to develop the Dynalifter, a hybrid airship that is set to change air carriage forever.
Etheridge told Weekend Witness that Dynalifter, which was invented in the United States, could save southern Africa billions while helping to save the environment.
While other companies worldwide are looking at using airships for passenger transport, Airships Africa’s initial project would be freight.
Etheridge said companies spend millions a year to transport cargo such as vehicles and other large containers via roads and railway. The Dynalifter could replace these systems at a fraction of the cost and time.
“With railway and roads it takes days, whereas with an airship it could be at its destinations within hours and when it comes to business, time is money,” he said.
The Dynalifter can transport heavy loads of up to 250 tons within a range of 6 500 km at a speed of 250 km/h.
“The most remarkable thing about this innovation is that it would also be protecting our environment. Every year millions of containers are transported on southern African roads and with the expansion of the port [at Durban] this will increase.
“When one looks at road systems, it is evident that they are devastating to the environment and can kill micro-organisms to big animals. Africa’s environment is rich with bio-diversity, therefore this airship will allow Africa to trade while maintaining its environment,” Etheridge said.
“Current technologies with a high environmental impact such as road and rail are going to come under increasing pressure to become more efficient as new technologies offer alternatives.
“Efficiencies will be demanded not only from the vehicles but also from the environmental impact that their billion-dollar infrastructure requires,” Etheridge said.
He said the Dynalifter requires very little infrastructure and a one square kilometre piece of land with a dirt runway will suffice to service the largest Dynalifter, which is 300 metres long.
The Dynalifter is expected to be ready in South Africa in 2009 and will cost about R1 billion to manufacture.
“The Dynalifter will enable the world to trade with Africa in a relatively short space of time, compared with the 20th century thinking of road and rail infrastructure. Just as the cellphone enabled Africa to leapfrog … cable networks, the Dynalifter will enable Africa to leapfrog the enormous, multi-billion, environmentally damaging, road and rail infrastructure that used to be necessary to build a nation’s economy,” Etheridge added.