| PARIS, June 16
PARIS, June 16 Lockheed Martin Corp on
Tuesday named a private firm, Hybrid Enterprises LLC, as the
exclusive sales agent for its Hybrid Airships, a new type of
aircraft that company officials say could revolutionize the way
oil and mining companies haul equipment to the Arctic and other
remote areas without roads.
Rob Binns, chief executive officer of Hybrid Enterprises,
told Reuters in an interview that the new aircraft should be
certified by the Federal Aviation Administration by late 2017,
paving the way for initial deliveries in 2018.
Binns said there was strong interest in the new aircraft,
which are far quieter and produce far less carbon dioxide than
fixed-wing aircraft, but he declined to predict when the
companies would be able to announce a launch customer.
"We're going to be able to reduce the cost of transportation
to remote projects around the world and open up projects that
were previously thought inaccessible," Binns said.
Binns declined to estimate the size of the market, but said
Lockheed typically did not get involved in ventures with markets
that were not in the billion-dollar range.
Lockheed and Hybrid Enterprises unveiled their partnership
at a joint news conference entitled "The Road not Needed," at
the Paris air show, noting that more than two-thirds of the
world's land area and more than half the world's population have
no direct access to paved roads.
The aircraft was developed over the past 20 years by
Lockheed's Skunk Works R&D house.
Binns said a sharp drop in the oil price could work in the
venture's favor, since the new technology was cheaper for
companies to buy and operate than more traditional helicopters.
The initial version of the airship, filled mostly with
helium, would carry 20 tons of cargo, but could easily be scaled
to roughly the size of a football field with 500 tons of
capacity, said Lockheed's Robert Boyd, who began working on
airships in 1991.
Lockheed is the Pentagon's No. 1 supplier, but it decided to
team with a commercial reseller to find customers for the
slow-moving airships that have four hovercraft-like landing pads
and can set down on nearly any flat surface, including sand,
snow and even water.
Binns said potential buyers could include small airlines or
other firms that ship cargo to remote areas for oil, gas or
mining companies, or those companies themselves.
He said demand could come from North America, South America,
Africa and Southeast Asia.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Potter)