One of the largest aerospace companies in the world is making a big push towards helium airships, and they have their sights set on the Arctic as a potential market.
On Wednesday, Hybrid Enterprises – an airship re-seller of U.S.-based aerospace giant Lockheed Martin – presented the company's concept of hybrid airships at the Nunavut Mining Symposium in Iqaluit. And while the discussions centred on the applicability to the mining industry, the company envisions many more uses for a fleet of airships, including cargo shipping as a way to lower the cost of food in the North.
"That's the actual business reason that pushed us into believing this is a very viable project," said Grant Cool, Hybrid Enterprises' chief operating officer, on shipping food and other consumer products.
Though he couldn't give specific numbers, Cool says the savings would be "substantial."
"What we absolutely know for sure, is that in comparison to the cost of helicopters and fixed-wing airplanes, so the way we move our most consumable products today, it is much less expensive. It's an absolute truth. So just because it's less expensive, that will translate into lower costs."
The 100 metre airships could carry 21,000 kilograms of cargo with up to 19 passengers. At a cruising speed of about 115 km/h, Cool says it can stay airborne for 30 hours, and even up to 20 days at speeds of just less than 50 km/h.
This time, it's different
This isn't the first time Northerners have heard about cargo blimps coming North, only to see those projects fall through.
But Cool says this time, it's different. Backed by Lockheed Martin's deep pockets and more than a century of building aircraft, he says they plan to have the first ship airborne by next year and have Transport Canada and Federal Aviation Administration certification by 2018.
"Beginning of 2019, that's when you will see real [commercial] service initiatives in places and having your groceries or project material moved," Cool said.
Last week, Lockheed Martin got a boost to the project, after United Kingdom-based Straightline Aviation signed a letter of intent to buy 12 airships in a deal worth about $480 million.
Cool says they're 70 per cent of the way through the certification process. All that's left is to build the airship and fly it – but the company says it tested a 2006 prototype and have proven the technology works.