[From March Issue 2010]
Airships were first used for advertising in Japan in the late 1960’s when the Japanese economy was strong. It’s a time that WATANABE Hiroyuki, Representative Director of the Nippon Airship Corporation, fondly remembers. “I was in fifth grade living in Sakai City, Osaka. One day in December 1968, the school principal gathered all the students in the schoolyard during class time. Then a huge airship flew by, hovering twice above us, as the pilot waved to the students. It was very exciting.”
After graduating from university, Watanabe found work at a merchant ship company. He got involved in a new venture, an airship company, and was promoted to department manager. However, in the mid-1990’s, his company and its competitors were forced to stop high-cost airship operation, due to the poor economy.
However, airships finally made a comeback at the eco-themed 2005 World Exposition, Aichi, Japan. With public interest growing for airships as a viable, environmentally-friendly mode of transportation, industry experts soon established the Nippon Airship Corporation. After three years of preparation, official commercial flights then started in November of 2007.
The NAC’s German-made Zeppelin NT airship is one of only three in the world. Measuring 75 meters in length, it is five meters longer than a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet. It uses non-flammable helium gas, which has zero impact on people or the environment. And while the other two airships operate in Germany and the USA, the Nippon Airship Corporation’s Zeppelin NT is the only one that flies over urban areas.
To date 2,000 people have flown with the Nippon Airship Corporation. The roomy cabin (referred to as a gondola) can hold two pilots, one crew member and ten passengers. They can see high-rise buildings up close while cars and trains down below resemble miniature models. Passengers can also walk around inside the cabin and take pictures, after the seatbelt sign is turned off.
The company offers several tour packages, including one over Saitama Prefecture (50,000 yen/30 min.), where the landing field is located. Another popular sightseeing tour is over downtown Tokyo (starting from 126,000 yen/90 min.) with several seasonal tours over Yokohama City, Kamakura City, and both Kyoto and Nara Prefectures. Sightseeing tours over both Kagoshima and Osaka Prefectures, as well as special flights from Osaka to Tokyo, are also planned for this coming March. Nippon Airship Corporation is looking for more landing fields in Tokyo in the hopes of making their tours more affordable for the general public.
Nippon Airship Corporation also offers their Zeppelin NT as an advertising medium, displaying company names and logos on the airship’s sides. SATO Yuji, section manager of NAC’s sales department says, “Showing the names of companies and products seems to be effective advertising but it also makes employees feel proud and motivated.” SATO’s colleague, NAKA Yusuke, further added that the airship once assisted the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology with an illegal radio wave investigation. And, the airship also provided free air-support during relief efforts to those who were affected by the Noto Peninsula earthquakes that hit three years ago.
“I think the teachers who gave students the opportunity to see the airship back when I was in school were more relaxed. I believe that airships which do not destroy nature but let people dream are needed now more than ever. These airships will become a new symbol of a civilized society,” affirms Watanabe.