Fly the friendly skies - in a zeppelin

A new tour business offers rides aboard one of the world's three zeppelins.

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(Fortune Small Business) -- There's a new way to fly the friendly skies over San Francisco: the Airship Ventures Zeppelin NT.

"We had to call up the FAA and say, 'You probably need to regulate us, but you don't have any Zeppelin regulations on the books,' " says Alexandra Hall, the former CEO of the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland.

Hall was inspired to start a Zeppelin tour business after her husband, Brian, scored a ride on one of the airships in Germany. In March 2007 the couple reserved their own $15 million Zeppelin NT (they've raised $8 million from investors, including tech guru Esther Dyson) and arranged its transport from Germany.

The airship arrived in San Francisco last week, and this month it is scheduled to begin ferrying tourists and corporate junketeers between Silicon Valley and San Francisco, and around Napa Valley. The ride isn't cheap, however: Passengers pay $500 an hour to float on the 246-foot-long air boat, which can reach a speed of 78 mph.

"In Germany they've been flying tourists for seven years with no marketing, and they're closed from December to March. So we figured if they could be profitable, we could do pretty well," says Alexandra, who projects annual revenues of $9 million and is already planning expansions into two other markets.  To top of page

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