I'm really glad I read this instead of just turning it back in to the library. Often books sit on my shelf and I renew them until I exceed the limit and have to turn them back in. But I discovered I had ONE more renewal to eke out. And once I started reading, I finished it in one sitting.
The technology of the airship was fascinating and in-depth enough that I had to go Google to confirm that hydrium was a fictional invention. The book proceeds at a breathtaking pace, leaping from disaster to brilliant solution to new disaster, in a way that invoked the legacy of "swashbuckling adventure" stories that inspired Mr. Oppel.
The atmosphere of naval discipline was also a lovely change of pace from stories about thieves and renegades. Not that there's anything wrong with thieves and renegades, but it's great to immerse oneself in the formalism and purpose of an order that still works as it should (as opposed to systems where justice and law has been perverted to the extent that heroes have to either "sell out" to the system or defy it). And I now want to go around calling people "Mr" and "Ms" -- if I were a teacher I would totally address my students that way. I think it has a great element of respect, both respecting each other and promoting self-respect. The Captain Walken of Airborn is a great role model for an authority figure.
While I haven't read the boys' adventure stories that created the swashbuckling adventure model, given the history of female characters in such literature, I'm pretty sure that Kate de Vries is a definite improvement on the model. Her relationship with Matt is equal parts poignant and hilarious, especially when they start bickering.
Will definitely search out the sequels Skybreaker and Starclimber to see more of this world, but Airborn also works as a great stand-alone novel.