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The Associated Press May 3, 2011, 5:10PM ET

Goodyear plans replacements for its 3-blimp fleet

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. will team up with another name rich in blimp history to replace its three U.S. airships with bigger, faster ones.

The Akron-based company said Tuesday that it would work with German manufacturer ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik to build three new blimps beginning in 2013.

The airships will be built by Zeppelin and Goodyear teams at Goodyear's airship hangar near Akron. The first new blimp will go into operation in 2014.

The blimps are based in Akron, Pompano Beach, Fla., and Carson, Calif. Goodyear also has leased blimp operations in Europe and China.

Each new airship will cost about $21 million, including technical support, the company said. The replacements will be longer (246 feet versus 192 feet), will fly faster (73 mph versus 54 mph) and have more gondola seats (13 versus seven, including pilot). They also will have state-of-the-art avionics and flight-control systems.

Goodyear has been making airships since 1919 and Zeppelin since 1900.

"An event isn't considered truly special unless the Goodyear blimp is there to provide aerial coverage," said Richard J. Kramer, Goodyear chairman, CEO and president. "I am pleased this investment will ensure that future generations will have the opportunity to experience the joy of seeing the Goodyear blimp grace the skies."

Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, who participated in last month's groundbreaking for a new Goodyear headquarters building, said the city was thrilled by the announcement.

"No matter where they are stationed or where they travel, blimps will always be connected to our city, thanks to Goodyear," he said.

Rakesh Niraj, assistant professor of marketing and policy studies at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said the high-tech upgrades to the familiar blimps would help the company present an updated image.



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