North

Giant airship project, touted as solution to remote shipping, 'on track' says company

The giant airships promise to lower the cost of northern shipping. However, there's no flying prototype yet.

Local hiring, Canadian partnerships and assembly line coming soon, says Flying Whales president

This rendering shows the airship carrying giant blades for wind turbines. The vehicle will be able to carry 60 tons, according to the company. (Submitted by Flying Whales)

A French company says its plans to develop giant airships are on track. 

Quebec's provincial government invested $30 million into the international company, Flying Whales, as part of its northern economic development strategy. 

The vessels have been touted as a lower-cost solution to transport cargo to remote areas, including the North.

Flying Whales does not have a flying prototype yet. According to Quebec's registry of businesses, it has incorporated two subsidiary companies in Montreal, but neither have Canadians employees yet. 

Sébastien Bougon, the president of Flying Whales, told CBC News from Paris that Canadians will soon see local hiring, partnerships with Canadian companies and the establishment of an assembly line in Quebec. 

"You need an assembly line that is about 250 metres long and about 60 meters high. So it is going to be a very, very large cathedral," he said. 

Bougon added that permitting for such a space, in the Quebec region, is underway. 

Exclusive deal with Canada

Many different companies have pitched airship ideas over the years, but none have been able to get those plans off the ground. Instead, they've been marred by failures, bankruptcies and missed deadlines. 

Flying Whales has said its vehicle would be the largest aircraft in the world — at 200 meters long and 50 meters high. The rigid balloon ships would be able to lift 60 tons. 

The company's president said the first prototype will be finished in 2023. Other companies, promising similar vehicles, have failed to deliver. (Submitted by Flying Whales)

That's about three times the maximum carrying capacity of a Hercules plane, a cargo plane used by the Canadian military.  

Yukon's territorial government has used Hercules planes to occasionally bring heavy goods and vehicles to the fly-in community of Old Crow. It has plans to use one again this summer to bring large storage batteries to the community's new solar array. 

Bougon would not say how much the vehicles cost, but said "it's something like 10 times cheaper than a plane that would have the equivalent capacity of tonnage." 

Quebec's Ministry of Economy, Science and Innovation said it will not release its $30 million deal with Flying Whales to the public. 

The agreement is not a purchase order. Instead, it sets a requirement the company build a factory in Quebec and base all of its American continental operations in Canada in exchange for early capital. 

"Canada has an exclusivity on this solution," Bougon said. "This means any airship that will operate in Canada, in America, in Mexico, even in Argentina has to be built in Canada, create jobs and tax in Canada." 

Bougon hopes to have the first prototype done by 2023. It would require six months of ground testing and almost two years of flight testing before commercial production could be approved.

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