- Airship takes to skies around Paris for first time in 30 years
- Latest zeppelin is size of jumbo jet -- but a lot lighter and slower
- Tickets a little more expensive than most Paris tours ... make that a lot
- Non-flammable gas makes craft "safest way to fly"
The sights of Paris are among the most familiar on the planet, but now tourists have a "new" way to see them -- by helium-filled airship.
Airship Paris's zeppelin -- 75 meters long, five stories high and as wide as a four-lane motorway -- made its inaugural commercial flight over a region of villages and woodland northwest of Paris on Sunday.
On clear days, the company says, the Eiffel Tower would be visible in the distance.
The Chateau de Versailles and Seine River are other sights to be seen on the airship's itineraries.
The German-made craft, the first commercial dirigible to fly over the Paris region in 30 years, according to Airship Paris, may have similar dimensions to an A380 superjumbo jet, but it's a little slower at maximum speed: 90 kilometers an hour, at a 900-meter altitude.
Tickets on the dirigible will be somewhat more expensive than other Paris tours, such as a seat on an open-top tour bus: prices start at just more than €200 ($265) for a half-hour flight.
The shadow of the Hindenburg disaster still hangs over airships, even though the hydrogen-fueled craft -- caught forever on spectacular newsreel footage -- exploded over a New Jersey airfield more than 75 years ago, in 1937.
Airship Paris is quick to emphasize the safety of its new zeppelin.
"This is probably the most safe aircraft [flying] because the gas inside is helium [which is] completely non-flammable," airship pilot Catherine Board, who is half-British and half-Belgian, told the Telegraph.
"If the engines fail, unlike an aircraft, which has to come down, [the airship] can float ... until we find a safe place to land."
Airship Paris hoped its zeppelin would become a familiar sight in the skies above France, not only for carrying downward-peering tourists, but for transporting cargo or for scientific missions.
However, one barrier to realizing those plans is simply the lack of existing infrastructure on the ground to cope with such a large aircraft.