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I dont know what the net load is for a blimp, but if they could somehow carry 100-400 people, why coudln't they be used like ferries in metro cities like SFO and NYC? Even if they could only scoot at 60-100mph, they can cut clean across waterways and save a ton of time for commuters while (seemingly) being more efficient than fixed-wing aircraft as well as safer (engine failure? gently float down and call for help).

A bonus would be if they could convert their balloon into a flying wing shape in flight via compressing the gas, reducing volume, and having it fold into a wing-shape allowing them to increase speed. If they could get near 200mph, that could open up decent commuter service between LAX <-> San Diego. But even 60mph could connect the greater Los Angeles area. If the weather were bad, a cable-tethering system could be used to guarantee smooth landings (fly into the tether, grab it, command the cable to retract, thus pulling the blimp into the station).

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  • $\begingroup$ Note that, just because something may be economical in the long run, a large investment up-front may deter potential investors, especially if they can invest in existing profitable alternatives. So just because they don't exist doesn't mean they can't be economical. $\endgroup$ – Sanchises Jan 9 at 6:52
  • $\begingroup$ Pondlife's link covers it pretty well. A commercial product has to be able to fly whenever it's needed, whether scheduled or charter. A blimp/airship transportation service that is grounded then the winds are above x knots (the x being not particularly high) would be like a bus service that can only run, say, when the roads are dry. Just too unreliable as a transportation method. $\endgroup$ – John K Jan 9 at 13:21
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I'm guessing that it would absolutely be possible to make blimps economical. The question is whether it would be better than alternatives.

For public transportation, there are a number of common alternatives:

  • Buses. Low-to-medium throughput, relatively low speed, short distance, very high flexibility.
  • Trams. High throughput, relatively low speed, short distance, high flexibility.
  • Metros. Very high throughput, medium speed, medium distance, medium flexibility.
  • Planes. Medium throughput, high speed, long distance, medium-to-low flexibility.
  • Ferries. Medium throughput, relatively low speed, situational (i.e. water connections).

(There's also regional coaches and trains, which are the big brothers of buses and metros. Omitted mostly for brevity.)

The challenge for blimps would be to out-compete any of these other forms of transportation. It would be impossible for a blimp to cover the very high throughput offered by metros or trains, or the flexibility of buses. For larger distances, planes are much faster and are not nearly as affected by weather. They also have the benefit of trained personnel/drivers (mostly) readily available, more infrastructure, production and we know that they work. Plus you don't have to change people's habits, which is hard.

In short, there is nothing a blimp could offer that isn't already covered by better alternatives. Except maybe a nice view on a sunny day.

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