Airship technology dates back to at least the start of the 20th century, yet there has never been one flown in the Gulf region. Next year, though, not one but two are due to fly in the UAE. Two pioneering companies are bringing airships to Dubai, and both have longer-term plans that will follow on from their initial concept-proving flights in 2018.

At the Airshow yesterday, Airships Arabia announced three contracts. One will see the firm bring a Skyship 600 to the UAE by the end of the first quarter of 2018. The firm will partner with Aircraft Support Industries to design and build a 270x150x38 m hangar at a site still to be determined in the UAE.

Underpinning those projects, the company has closed its seed funding round: Saeed Al Ghaith, vice chairman of the Arsa Group, is investing an undisclosed sum as part of a long-term partnership.

"This is a deep partnership that will start with baby steps and grow over time," says Geoffrey Gottlieb, Airships Arabia's managing director. "The aim is to grow quite big, but to take our time doing it. The first step is to bring the Skyship 600 to the UAE as soon as we are able to."

Al Ghaith is particularly well-connected. His uncle is Ghaith Al Ghaith, the CEO of FlyDubai, and his wife is the granddaughter of Obaid Khaleefa Jaber Al Murri, chairman of the Al Jaber Group, the Abu Dhabi-based diversified construction firm.

"I'm a very visionary person," Al Ghaith tells ShowNews. "My aim is not just to create revenue - my aim is to change the world."

The initial tasks possible with the Skyship 600 will be limited: Gottlieb says the year-round operations will focus on advertising opportunities, passenger carriage and some surveillance. But he and Al Ghaith are looking further into the future, to the advent of hybrid airship technologies, and the greater capabilities they will bring.

"Contracting company trucks create accidents, create dust," Al Ghaith says. "It can cost millions of dollars just to build the road to get to a project site. Imagine moving construction materials with hybrids: it will be safer and faster."

Humanitarian aid missions are also on the agenda, with the payload capacity of a large hybrid airship offering options to ensure food aid reaches the places where it is needed, not just the nearest airport. Al Ghaith also runs a horse-racing team in the UK and is excited by the potential application of hybrid airships to the Sport of Kings. The large, unpressurised, low-noise cabin offers distinct advantages over road transport.

"It's very calm," he says. "You can move horses from Newbury to Newmarket with this."

The Skyship 600 will be operated in the UAE by Skyship Services Inc, the manufacturer of the aircraft. Airships Arabia says that discussions with both the UAE's and Dubai's airspace regulators are ongoing, but the company says the FAA- and EASA-certified aircraft can be operated within the GCC while regulations are developed that would allow AA to apply for its own Air Operators Certificate. At present, there is no locally available AOC for airships.

Meanwhile, Spirit of the Emirates, a company founded by Khalid Al Ansari in 2015, plans to bring a Zeppelin NT to the emirate next year, for the first of three annual 100-day flying seasons. These will pave the way towards the long-term goal of headquartering the aircraft in the city-state for tourist-oriented pleasure flights. Al Ansari has also established Spirit of the Emirates as the exclusive distributor and sales outlet for Zeppelins in the GCC.

"We launched this in 2015 as an idea," says Al Ansari. "We are delighted today to say to people that in 2018, we are bringing the real thing. It will be a very luxurious trip. You can open the window and touch the clouds; you can celebrate your anniversary, meet with friends or your company, launch news, broadcast with radio."

Concerns over temperature limits for the Zeppelin NT are overblown, he argues.

"There are three Goodyear Zeppelins in Florida," he says. "It's hot. They fly."

Al Ansari says he intends the Zeppelin, which will carry up to 12 passengers, will fly 18 times per day, for flights of 20, 30 and 45 minutes duration. Booking has not yet opened, and pricing as yet to be confirmed: but he says it will be "definitely cheaper than a room at the Burj Al Arab, but not like flying with a low-cost airline."