Thursday September 15, 2016

'We need a solution to the North': How airships could make life more affordable in Northern Canada

Are airships the transportation answer for Canada's north? 1:06

Listen 19:26

Read story transcript

A new report has confirmed what people in the North already know — it really is expensive to live in isolated northern communities.  

A study by Food Secure Canada says an average family living in Attawapiskat, in Northern Ontario, pay nearly $2,000 a month on groceries to meet basic nutrition standards compared to $847 dollars in Toronto.

Airships 1

The term "Airship" refers to both blimps and rigid airships like Zeppelins (aka dirigibles). (Barry Prentice )

Barry Prentice, president of Buoyant Aircraft Systems International, says airships can provide a lower-cost solution to transport cargo to remote areas, including Northern Canada. He hopes to fly airships to the North one day.

Prentice tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti why Canada needs to make the move to this mode of transportation system.

"We need a solution to the North. Simply put."

"Something like 70 per cent of our entire landmass has no roads. And if we're going to have access to that area ... we need a means to get there. And the airship offers that solution," says Prentice.

Airships - Barry Prentice

Barry Prentice believes airships are a solution to Northern Canada's high cost of food and supplies.

Prentice tells Tremonti that airships would lower the costs by a quarter of what is being spent to fly supplies in to remote areas — the savings have a lot to do with size.

"Airships can get much better as they get bigger ... something over about 10 tonnes is the starting point in terms of the short haul moves in say Ontario and Manitoba," says Prentice.

"One of the expensive things in the North is corn flakes because you know they're all basically air. The airplane gets
filled and that's all you can take. So that's the cost you pay whereas an airship is so big you have no limit on volume."

Airships 2

While blimps are basically big balloons that are inflated, rigid airships have an interior "skeleton" to help them maintain their shape. (Barry Prentice )

There are critics who argue the airship industry would cost too much to set up but Prentice says the alternatives converting ice roads to gravel roads, paying for trucking and maintenance doesn't compare. He says airships don't need that infrastructure.

Prentice has submitted his airship idea to Transport Canada but says he hasn't received a serious response. He feels it's a missed opportunity for the future of Canada.

"We know it works. It's a technology that worked 80 years ago."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this post - including the history of airships.

This segment was produced by The Current's Julian Uzielli.