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Hybrid cargo airships: a humanitarian logistic game changer?

Peter Tatham (Department of International Business and Asian Studies, Griffith Business School, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia)
Craig Neal (School of Aviation, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)
Yong Wu (Department of International Business and Asian Studies, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia)

Journal of Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Management

ISSN: 2042-6747

Article publication date: 7 August 2017




Recent advances in aviation technology have seen the development of helium-filled “hybrid cargo airships” (HCAs) which have the potential to convey large payloads over significant distances at relatively low cost and with a small carbon footprint. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how such HCAs could be used to improve the logistic response to a rapid onset disaster.


Through consideration of three recent natural disasters (Typhoon Haiyan – The Philippines – 2013; The Nepal Earthquake – 2015; Cyclone Winston – Fiji – 2016), and drawing on both academic and practitioner literature, this paper provides an overview of how HCAs could potentially provide logistic support to those affected by similar disasters. The paper considers two scenarios: one in which the HCA replaces local truck or sea-based transport from an international airport to the disaster area, and the other in which it operates directly from a United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot to the disaster area.


The paper demonstrates that, when compared with the actual response to these three exemplar disasters, in the first scenario the use of HCAs provides a significantly faster but more expensive response; whereas in the second scenario, the timeline to supply is longer, but the costs are considerably less.

Research limitations/implications

This paper is conceptual in nature, but has been developed through an analysis of the literature related to both HCAs and humanitarian logistics. Given that the emerging generation of HCAs has yet to become fully operational, it will be important to continue to monitor their development and analyse the emerging speed/time/cost parameters in order to ascertain how HCAs might be optimally integrated into the logistic response to a disaster.

Practical implications

The significant cargo carrying capacity of an HCA together with its ability to operate from and into ad hoc locations (including those on water) would enable direct delivery from an international airhead or humanitarian response depot to an affected area. This has clear potential to enhance the efficiency, effectiveness and flexibility of post-disaster logistic operations.


Whilst there is some emerging discussion of the humanitarian-related use of HCAs in the literature, this generally reflects the technical aspects such as flight control systems and the actual operation of the airships. This paper is the first to offer a practical analysis of how HCAs might be used to support the work of the humanitarian logistician.



Tatham, P., Neal, C. and Wu, Y. (2017), "Hybrid cargo airships: a humanitarian logistic game changer?", Journal of Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Management, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 102-125.



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