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German Zeppelin Begins Passenger Flights - 2001-08-16

More than 64 years after the last great Zeppelin airship, the Hindenburg, went down in flames over Lakehurst New Jersey, a new Zeppelin has begun passenger flights in Germany.

The Hindenburg disaster burned a scar on the consciousness of the air-travel industry and for many decades the idea of running a commercial passenger air service using airships was taboo.

But now advertising blimps are a common sight in European skies as airship makers have found a new market for their machines.

And a German firm called Cargolifter has taken a lead in developing a huge freight carrying airship. It hopes the airship will be used in a few years to carry over-sized loads instead of transporting them on crowded roads.

But the pride of the new airship movement is the machine operated by the Zeppelin company itself. The Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei is the successor to the business set up at the turn of the last century by the airship's inventor, the German aristocrat Ferdinand Graf Zeppelin.

For the first time since 1937 when the Hindenburg went down after a transatlantic crossing with the loss of 36 lives, the company is operating a commercial passenger service again.

A first guests-only flight with survivors of the Hindenburg aboard took off last week. The company has begun regular one-hour cruises from its base on Lake Constance, on the border between Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.

The flights are not cheap, with prices starting from $275 a trip. And at just 75 meters in length, the airship is less than a third the size of its famous ancestor.

But what passengers get today is safety. Like all modern airships, the new Zeppelin NT is filled with the inert gas helium, instead of the highly flammable hydrogen gas that doomed the Hindenburg.

With its three propellers, it can fly at about 100 kilometers an hour with a good tailwind - and at a height of about 2,000 meters.

This could be the start of a new era in airship travel. Eventually, the Zeppelin Company hopes to build bigger ships and start travel between cities.