Product-shaped blimps on the horizon

The sight of a huge beer bottle floating high above a sports stadium does not mean anyone who sees it should go home and sign the pledge.In fact, what could be hovering up in the sky soon is the latest manifestation...

The sight of a huge beer bottle floating high above a sports stadium does not mean anyone who sees it should go home and sign the pledge.

In fact, what could be hovering up in the sky soon is the latest manifestation of a highly successful advertising medium – and a technology that traces its roots back to 19th-century hot air ballooning.

Hokan Colting, pilot and chief executive officer at Newmarket, Ont.-based 21st Century Airships, hopes to have his product-shaped blimps floating above cityscapes next summer.

Colting says beer bottles, soft drink cans, baseball bats and film cartridges are just some of the airship shapes his firm can supply to advertisers.

At present, hot air balloon advertising consists of the familiar cigar-shaped blimp bedecked with the advertiser’s logo.

Colting, who claims he has two companies signed up but will not divulge their names, says the patent-pending technology 21st Century Airships developed eliminates the need for an airship’s fins – its traditional method of altitude control and steering.


He says his airships can remain in the sky at night, fully illuminated with an internal lighting system.

A hot air balloonist for years, Colting has also owned balloon manufacturing plants in Ireland and England.

He says his third prototype has passed all its Transport Canada tests and he is just beginning to market his idea to advertisers.

Deep pockets

Whoever does sign with 21st Century Airships will likely have deep pockets since Colting’s blimps do not come cheap.

He says a 24-month airship lease – the minimum period – costs $100,000 a month and comes with pilot and one or two crew members.

By way of comparison, Colting cites some figures for the Fuji airship and the Foster’s lager blimp, perhaps two of the best-known advertising craft to have gone aloft.

He says Fuji Film has shelled out as much as US$335,000 a month for its airship and crew and Foster’s paid $1.7 million for a three-month airship lease.

Peter Gallop, president of Gallop and Gallop Advertising in Toronto, the outdoor firm, is not enthusiastic about airship advertising.

Gallop says Fuji and Goodyear – the latter the operator of the best-known advertising airship – use dirigibles for the pick-up they get from tv. But apart from that, their cost-effectiveness is questionable, he says

A Goodyear Blimp is a regular feature at many televised sports events.

A spokesman for Goodyear Canada says there are three Goodyear Blimps.

Goodyear has flown advertising blimps since the 1930s, says the spokesman.

Jim Thomson, vice-president of Dynamic Displays in Windsor, Ont. does not believe Colting’s airships will ever get aloft for enough days to make any money, causing advertisers to shy away.

Thomson, who has been in the balloon and airship business for 30 years and whose firm has worked for United Airlines, cbs, Honda Canada, Scott Towels and others, says even the slightest wind will keep Colting’s shaped airships on the ground because of their non-aerodynamic shape.

Eddie Carolan, a fixed-wing pilot and the owner of Soft Signs Inflatable Advertising in Brampton, Ont., says he would like to know how Colting’s airships passed their Transport Canada tests.

300 days

Colting says his shaped airships could be airborne 300 days a year in Toronto-type weather.

He says they cannot fly in fog, but can fly from place to place at between 40 kilometres and 50 kilometres an hour, adding cigar-shaped airships can fly at speeds up to 110 kilometres an hour.

Airships are filled with helium, a lighter-than-air gas that will not burn or explode.