Oh, the humanity!
Those were the timeless words uttered by radio reporter Herbert Morrison when the last hydrogen airship ever to float above American soil — the Hindenburg — crashed and burned in a field in New Jersey in 1937.
The Eureka, a modern-day Zeppelin that has run tours a thousand feet high above the Bay Area, isn’t capable of crashing and burning; it runs on inert helium rather than flammable hydrogen. But it is — thanks to the rising cost of helium — capable of running out of cash.
Airship Ventures, the company that bought the Eureka from the Zeppelin factory in Germany and began flying it in 2009, announced Wednesday that it had been forced to suspend operations and issue refunds to passengers who’d booked flights on the vessel.
It wasn’t certain whether Airship Ventures itself would be going out of business. CEO Brian Hall told SFGate there was a “two-week window” for a new corporate sponsorship deal to save the Zeppelin. (The Eureka has in the past been sponsored by Pixar, which used it to promote the movie “Up”, as well as by Farmers’ Insurance.)
The Eureka takes up to 12 passengers at a time for champagne cruises around the Bay Area from Moffett Field, near Google. It would often take longer trips up to wine country in Napa and Sonoma, or down to LA for the weekend. It has flown more than 20,000 passengers in 3 years. (We took a ride on it back in May.)
Despite that level of engagement — and having piloted his company through one of the worst recessions in American history — Hall had to face the fact that helium is 10 times more expensive now than when he began in 2009.
San Francisco would be sorry to see the Eureka vanish for good. The bullet-shaped Zeppelin — much sleeker than a blimp, longer even than a Boeing 747 — has become almost as much of an icon for residents as the Golden Gate bridge it flies over.
But Hall held out hope that a “white knight” would save the Zeppelin. It costs $5 million to sponsor the vessel for a year; peanuts to Bay Area tech giants such as Apple, Facebook, Oracle or Google.
— Airship Eureka (@AirshipEureka) November 15, 2012
As one commenter suggested, the Zeppelin might be a good candidate for a Kickstarter campaign. Oh, humanity?