Operation 2002 – 2010

With the conclusion of an advertising contract with Interdiscount in December 2001 for the Swiss national exhibition “expo02” taking place from May 2002, Skyship Cruise AG put itself under enormous pressure. Shortly before the end of 2001, the purchase contract for the Skyship 600 was signed. The manufacturer now had the task of building the airship within three months. This took place in Cardington (UK), in one of the two time-honored hangars from the First World War era.

The ship then had to be flown across the English Channel and France to Neuchâtel for the expo02. The airfield and the municipality of Colombier generously granted the company hospitality for the duration of the national exhibition in during the summer of 2002 and SCL was extremely challenged with setting up the operational capability. Nevertheless, the ship was transferred from England on time, exactly on the opening day of expo02, and the passenger service was launched.

For the company management, the question quickly arose as to how and where things could continue in 2003. While the Skyship was flown over to the huge Cargolifter hangar in Brand for annual maintenance and wintering, the administration was looking for a permanent base for sightseeing flight operations in Switzerland. The plan was that this would enable SCL to register the Skyship in Switzerland. Until then, it had been operating under US registration.

The search over the fall and winter for a location for the coming 2003 was challenging. Only Dübendorf still had sufficient space and would have been ideally suited. However, Zurich’s historic airfield had only been a military base since the late 1940s, and the neighboring communities of Dübendorf, Wangen-Brüttisellen and Volketswil refused to allow any civilian use for political and precedent reasons. The refusal was justified on environmental and noise protection grounds.

There were now two options left: Interlaken and Buochs, both former military airfields.

Interlaken reacted negatively, saying that the space was reserved for other plans, namely for the “Mystery Park”. It would actually have been possible for the two sites to coexist, but it was expected that the great future of the park would not allow this.

SCL finally found what it was looking for at Buochs airfield. A base near Ennetbürgen could be set up thanks to the goodwill of the cooperative farmers corporation, the local council and the support of the Cantonal Government and the Department of Economic Affairs of the Canton of Nidwalden.

SCL had thus found a base for airship operations – albeit again only temporarily as a trial operation. This site, on the territory of the corporation of Ennetbürgen, was ideal for a round trip operation in many respects: without long journeys, at the foot of the Alps in the middle of the most attractive landscapes in Switzerland, the site was a real tourist magnet, which was reflected in enthusiastic comments in the guest books.

The summer was successful and passed far too quickly, as the airship trips could only be carried out until October at the latest, depending on the contract and weather conditions.

The ship N-605SK spent a second winter in Berlin together with its sister ship N-601SK, which SCL had bought from Cargolifter AG in the meantime.


As in the previous year, it was to be expected that the FOCA (Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation) would only grant the operating license at the last moment towards the end of May 2004. This was a problem for a commercial operation in that, on the one hand, no advance sales could take place for legal reasons (e.g. Christmas business) and, on the other hand, the season was far too short.

In order to improve the financial situation, SCL decided to acquire orders for the Olympics in Athens with both ships, as this meant that both ships could be deployed in one place at the same time, the first ship for the security forces and the second for the broadcaster NBC as a TV platform.

At the same time, SCL hoped that this would raise its profile. In retrospect, it must be said that the decision was politically wrong and that it would have been better to concentrate on the continuous development of the Ennetbürgen site.

The crossing to Athens was a logistical and operational challenge for SCL with its limited resources. Among other things, it was the first time that an airship had crossed the Gotthard Pass.

But, because nobody knew in advance whether the Alpine crossing mission would be a success,SCL kept everything on a low boil regarding media. Only the US magazine “Flying” got wind of the matter and was involved. It documented the trip in the Dec. 24, 2004 issue, albeit with many exaggerations:

The operation at the Olympics in Athens was a great success and attracted a lot of international interest, even as far away as China, with a view to the next Olympics in Beijing. But the response in Switzerland remained rather modest.

After the Games, for cost reasons, the opportunity was taken to leave ship 605 and its crew in Greece for the winter of 2004 and to carry out the annual maintenance there. Ship 601, on the other hand, was dismantled and stored in a hangar of the Greek Air Force, as it was not permitted to station a second ship in Buochs in order to make the operation more profitable and to further develop the company.

In spring, 605 returned via Italy and the Gotthard, this time crossing the pass in a northerly direction, to resume passenger operations at Buochs airfield in May. This was only towards the end of May because it had been agreed with the farmers that they could bring in the first (and apparently also the best!) hay before the skyship operation.

As a commitment to Switzerland, the ship was registered on 2 May 2005 as HB-QIZ under the Swiss flag. Skycruise Switzerland also received a sponsorship contribution from the renowned Swiss office furniture manufacturer “Girsberger” in return for branding the ship with the company’s red lettering.

Girsberger in Ennetbürgen

Once again, the flights were very well received, but – as in previous years – also prompted criticism and complaints from a wide range of circles.

The biggest surprise, however, came from the FOCA in 2005: in addition to the operating license, a maintenance operation in accordance with JAR-145 was now required for a sightseeing flight operation. Although this was formally and legally in line with the overdone European regulations in force at the time, it was completely inadequate: the relevant regulations had been issued for “complex aircraft” weighing over 5.8 tons. Although the airship was as big as a jumbo jet and weighed 7.2 tons, its maximum speed was 99 km/h and it could carry 12 passengers. The complexity is equivalent to a much lighter twin-engine piston plane, while the passenger jet weighs over 300 tons, flies at almost 1000 km/h at an altitude of over 10,000 m and carries up to 660 passengers.

It must be assumed that airships were actually forgotten when these rules were drawn up, as they no longer existed for a long time and therefore had no lobby. An analogy would be to require the buyer of a cab to to set up their own car repair workshop.

This and the expiry of the provisional permit for the base in Ennetbürgen at Buochs airfield at the end of 2006, with no prospect of a permanent one, left no other choice but to transfer HB-QIZ back to the US register over the winter. As a result of all this, the financial cushion was increasingly strained, despite the successful passenger operations.

In order to survive, it was now urgent to find alternative sources of income. Via the renowned advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi in London, a contract was signed for an advertising assignment for “Globacom”, an African telecommunications company. Time was of the essence in order to be on site in Nigeria with an appropriately branded ship in the first half of 2006. Thanks to a large down payment requested from Globacom, everything was already in motion to ensure the fulfillment of the contract.

The run of bad luck continued in 2006. In March 06, Globacom decided to terminate the contract. Although the loss was reasonably limited due to the advance payment, “Skyship” now had no income. Fortunately, a replacement contract with “Škoda” for a European tour could be concluded at short notice. This was to last from July to October.

In agreement with the FOCA, May and June were used to fly off as many outstanding tickets and vouchers as possible in Ennetbürgen and 605 was transferred back to Friedrichshafen in June to rebrand the ship. Despite all the adversities, the advertising campaign was once again successfully launched in Prague to the day.

And again, luck and bad luck at the same time: we managed to conclude a follow-up contract for the winter. The skyship was due to cruise to Dubai for the inauguration of “Palm Island”.

Departing from London, 605 was scheduled to reach Dubai in spring 2007 via Paris, Rome, Greece and Egypt.

The crossing of the Skyship took place as planned to Heraklion on Crete.

There, the journey had to be interrupted because Egypt refused to authorise the overflight.

The Egyptian military suspected the ship of being an American espionage vehicle, which was in no way true.

The unspoken actual reason is more likely to be found in the political differences within Arabia at the time.

The airship was thus blocked in Crete, as a return to Central Europe was no longer possible due to the winter weather. Heraklion airfield generously tolerated the ship and its crew remaining there over the winter, despite its considerable dimensions.

It was painful for SCL that the contract payments were suspended, even though the partner had confirmed that all overflight permits had been obtained when the contract was signed.

At the beginning of the year, SCL managed to use the Skyship for one last contract. This time for a period of four months for “Allegro” in Poland (an online seller similar to “ebay” and “Ricardo”).

As soon as spring permitted, the ship returned from Crete via Italy and the Gotthard.

(on the picture right just north of the pass summit)

And because all Swiss customs airfields north of the Alps refused to allow a landing, the Federal Customs Administration permitted a landing in an open farmers field near “Rufi”:

In April 2007, the ship left to Germany for the refit in Friedrichshafen and after that 605 flew northbound from the Zeppelin capital to Poland.

The Allegro mission was not always easy for the crew, if only because of the language, but it was a very interesting undertaking and a successful campaign for Allegro.

This time Cardington was chosen as the winter quarters after this mission. The hangar had changed hands and there was speculation that it would be demolished, which made it possible to find cheap accommodation for 605. Unfortunately, the company was unable to find another advertising partner from this point on. Budgets were cut everywhere as a result of the sluggish economy worldwide.

So, 2008 began with no advertising contract and no income. It was only a matter of time before the financial reserves were exhausted. In order to prevent the ship from being confiscated due to inability to pay for the hangar space, the decision was made to fly out to Friedrichshafen and dismantle the ship there. With the last financial means and private contributions, the Skyship reached Lindau in Switzerland, the administrative headquarters of the SCL company, from England in August. Here, a neighbouring farmer allowed the ship to be provisionally stationed at the mast in his field at the entrance to the village. The workforce now had to be reduced to a minimum and mainly laid off. Some employees felt so attached to the company and the ship that they kept watch on the ship around the clock without pay, both technically and in terms of safety.

The balance sheet was deposited on September 24, 2008. Under Swiss law, 50% of the share capital of an AG must be able to be shown as an asset at all times. The auditor set the value of the ship at CHF 1.- (liquidation value instead of going concern value, as it could not be sold immediately), which finally broke Skyship Cruise AG’s back, especially as the house bank – which itself was rescued from collapse by the state a short time later “because it was systemically important” – refused to grant any bridging loan.

On Oct. 27, 2008, the always reliable Skyship made its last flight to Friedrichshafen, where it was later dismantled and stored thanks to the kind support of ZLT. This marked the end of six years of accident-free Skyship-operation.

On March 31. 2009, bankruptcy proceedings were opened. Since then, the company has been in liquidation.