Airships can and do fly in every form of weather that their heavier-than-air (HTA) aircraft counterparts do. In fact airships are inherently more stable than HTA aircraft, as history proved during the many transatlantic commercial crossings by past airships. Of course, all aircraft are affected by storms. However, airships underway, because they are slow and typically cruise in the lower atmosphere (where storms generally are less severe) fair better than their counterparts when traversing squall lines.
It should be noted that the best pilots for airships are people with sailing experience who understand natural ways to manage storm situations. Dr Hugo Eckner was such a man, who also took advantage of storm patterns for conveyance instead of just stupidly battling through them on a direct course from A to B. Knowing when to use power and when to cut it and sail like a raft thus is a thing for airship skippers to learn rather than for airship designers to somehow make them more like HTA aircraft.
This can be done by learning to fly balloons before becoming an airship skipper, which was common practice for US Navy airship crew. Airship designers therefore instead should provide facilities and ways for skippers to use for navigation with and without power. Airship operators also should introduce ways to better manage people’s expectations with regard to regular scheduled services.
Icing conditions generally have had very little effect on traditional non-rigid types, which tend to slough any snow or ice off during flight – so not a serious problem. When grounded, heavy snow fall can be a problem. However, methods and arrangements have been developed that can be adopted to minimise the consequences of snow build-up.
On the other hand, lightning is an area of concern, which history suggests is more perceived than real. It appears there’s never been a catastrophic incident for a helium filled airship due to lightning strike. Even so, new designs should include steps to reduce the potential for strikes. Engineering methods, learned from flying tethered aerostats in severe lightning conditions, provide ways to ensure safe flight even if strikes occur.
Weather effects on airship ground operations are more of a challenge. The large sail area of unidirectional airships also causes difficulties for launch, capture and when traversing gusts/drafts at max airspeed. Vectored thrust and automated predictive flight control systems have greatly improved their ground performance capability. However, ground handling remains an issue for the industry to solve, needing better ways due to the number of incidents still occurring. Luffships provide the solutions needed!
The development of low speed airship control technology and ground handling methods (particularly for traditional types) needs a continuous R&D process to mitigate risks. The safest place for airships to be is in the air; the very place where their long endurance capability gives them greatest value.