There have been many uses proposed for LTA vehicles, some eminently practical, and some which are the stuff of fantasy. While the advances of technologies, techniques and materials may continue to expand the capabilities of LTAV, they will remain a marginal technology until the key decision makers in government and industry can see the clear benefits of LTA vehicles over any other form of transport, in a given role. The politics of economics also plays a major part in the broad acceptance of LTA vehicles. While the design and construction of conventional aircraft can support tens of thousands of jobs across the economy, the comparative simplicity and small range of roles that LTA vehicles can currently undertake, will probably only support a small industry.
In the opinion of the Airship Association, the following roles can be best fulfilled by LTAV which are currently in production, or are in the design phase from reputable/proven manufacturers or engineering houses.
Surveillance related tasks, using manned, optionally manned or unmanned vehicles, include:
Persistent Surveillance: Conventional Airships have proven cost effective in this role particularly in the maritime environment, although it was also used with some success in Northern Ireland in the mid 1990's. This past success has been due to a number of factors: the long endurance of LTAV when compared to other aerial platforms; the low vibration environment; fuel economy. Use of tethered Aerostats in Iraq, Afghanistan and along the southern border of the USA has also raised the comparative economy of LTA platforms as an airborne platform for area surveillance
- Security Surveillance (event security such as the Olympics)
Maritime Surveillance: although there are no LTAV currently flying that can match the multi-day endurance of the US Navy Airships of the 1959's and 1960's, the concept of increasing the horizon of a naval task force that has no access to carrier or land-borne aircraft, with a low-cost force-multiplier should be fairly attractive in certain areas. For example, the radar of a frigate at 30m above sea level can cover some 21.6 KM to its horizon, giving it a coverage of @ 1,464 sq km. A radar at 1660m above sea level, would have a horizon at 148km and a coverage of some 68841sq km.
Point to Point Heavy Lift Transport. The current crop of Hybrid designs seems to hold a great deal of promise to overcome many of the weaknesses of earlier generations of LTAV. In particular some of the ground-handling and load-exchange problems that have dogged LTA designs over the decades have been addressed. Some of the hybrid designs are claimed to be capable of transporting up to 200 tons over a range of 3200 miles, with a trade-off between increasing range and reducing the disposable payload.
In addition to these tasks, there are the niche roles that LTA has carved out for itself over the last 30 years, based strongly upon the long endurance and low fuel consumption of a LTAV while loitering over a specified area.
Finally, there are the fantastical roles that can be considered for LTAVs, such as flying hotels, private yachts etc. It is possible that it is such a role will be undertaken by LTAV, should the more practical and less glamorous roles permit the construction and certification of a class of LTAVs that is of a suitable size for such a venture. In the meantime, some beautiful Airship hotel concepts have been released to the press by futuristic designers, which would present the aviation engineers and certification authorities with some interesting challenges.