Airships to the Arctic II: Conference Proceedings

Airships to the Arctic II: Conference Proceedings

Held in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada – October 21 – 23rd, 2003


By: Dr. Barry E. Prentice, Director, Transport Institute Professor, Transport and Logistics, I.H. Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba

The second Airships to the Arctic Symposium builds on the progress made at the 2002 meeting. The conference opened with a very impressive Public Lecture by William Althoff, a noted airship historian and author, in honour of Brigadier General (retired) Keith Greenaway. The evening also featured the premiere screening in Canada of a video produced by Richard Van Treuren, entitled “Airships Fight a Cold War”.2 Mr. Althoff’s lecture, which is printed in the first section of the proceedings, provides a thoughtful analysis of the potential for using airships in the Arctic, along with some useful caveats and topics for research. Those who attended the Public Lecture were able to hear General Greenaway answer many questions on the 1958 flight that he made with the U.S. Navy blimp to Resolute Bay, NWT. Unfortunately, this evening was not recorded. For those who are interested in his flight, the Van Treuren video provides a narrated history of this pioneering mission.

The theme of the 2003 Airships to the Arctic Symposium is “Beyond the Roads”. Experience has shown that roads are important, if not essential to economic development. Fully 70 percent of Canada’s landmass lies beyond the end of the roads and supports only a sparse population. It is in such road-less areas of the earth, that airships are most needed and have their best opportunity to compete for passengers and freight.

The Airships to the Arctic conference addresses the business case for lighterthan-air technology. The first day is devoted to the “demand side” for transportation services in the North, while the second day considers the “supply side” of aviation and airship manufacturing capabilities. This year the “demand” topics include the logistics of serving remote communities, vertical lift and the effects of climate change on transportation. The logistics of operations in remote communities present significant challenges to the provision of essential services. Patricia Bouchard describes the issues associated with the delivery of health care services to isolated villages in northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba. She outlines a very tangible demand for airships to transport medical equipment and supplies to the North. Her account also makes visible the social realities and costs of living in a remote community.

Canada has a large civilian market for helicopter services. Tony Bembridge outlines how helicopters are used in the North to move everything from pianos to drilling rigs. He observes that the helicopter industry does not view airships as a threat. They are interested in the technology because airships could serve a market niche that is now outside their operating domain. The vertical lift capabilities of helicopters are illustrated by John Smith’s description of helicopter logging of standing tree trunks. In this case, airships could complement helicopters by eliminating the need for roads to carry out bundles of harvested tree trunks.

Tom Boyle extends the concept of vertical lift to buoyancy vehicles. He compares the costs and benefits of using a heavy lift balloon versus conventional methods of infrastructure construction to build a track for a Maglev train. Again, a significant economic benefit of the airship is its ability to forego the construction of service roads for this project.

The costs and environmental barriers to building all weather and seasonal winter roads in the North are addressed in three presentations. Bud Norris discusses the construction costs and environmental impact considerations associated with all-weather road construction in the North. The time, cost and delays in obtaining environmental approval and remedial processes pose important barriers to the construction of all-weather roads.

Environmental concerns are growing with mounting evidence of climate change. Dr. Danny Blair provides an illuminating explanation of the science that is producing evidence that winter in the northern latitudes is becoming warmer. The global impact of climate change remains uncertain, but the visible evidence of climate change on the length of the winter road season is compelling. Don Kuryk examines the growing variability of winter road operations and the efforts of the Government of Manitoba to re-route the winter roads around the lakes. He also describes the wooden “Meccano” bridges that they have developed to span river crossings.

The supply side of the LTA industry is addressed in the second day of the symposium. Charles Huettner and Dr. Don Richardson consider the future directions of aviation industry and the role of airships. A theme that is repeated many times throughout the conference is that airships are a legitimate part of the larger aviation industry, and should be examined in this light. Airships can fill a niche in the requirements for aviation that is unique, but they do not necessarily need unique regulations.

Rear Admiral (retired) John Tozzi and Hokan Colting speak to airship concepts and technology. Hokan Colting, president of 21st Century Airships, presents a description of his revolutionary spherical airship concept. He outlines the advantages and disadvantages of the spherical shape and technological tradeoffs. His remarks are highlighted by a description of his recent experimental flight to 21,000 feet.

Admiral Tozzi advises on the differences between requirements, concepts and technology, and the need to find a point of convergence. The convergence is the “sweet spot” that the airship industry requires for commercial success.

One example of Admiral Tozzi’s “sweet spot” may be the use of remotely controlled airships for surveillance and photography. Albert Robbins and Stephen Barkley present information on two remotely controlled airship companies that are serving markets for advertising and aerial photography in North America. The airship industry would appear to have found a profitable market segment where the vehicle concept, the size requirements and the technology merge to serve an expanding demand.

The Symposium concludes with a forward look at airships from the civilian and military carrier perspectives. Les Aalders provides an overview of aviation carriers in the North, and addresses some of the key environmental considerations that aviation is facing. He observes that the greatest threat to the aviation industry in the Arctic is the absence of a replacement aircraft. As existing aircraft (DC-3, C-46, Hawker-Siddley’s) reach the end of their useful lives, no successor airplanes are obvious. LTC Mike Woodgerd provides a road map for a way to move the divergent interests of the airship industry towards a new level of development. The exact private-public partnership is yet to be defined, but he suggests that this is the only means of accelerating the technological development.

The keynote speakers at the Symposium are the Hon. Scott Smith, Minister, Manitoba Department of Transportation and Government Services, and the Right Honourable Ed Schreyer, former Governor General of Canada. Both speakers recognize the need to “think outside the box”. They offer encouragement to the airship conference attendees to continue their work towards a long-term solution to the transportation requirements of the North. The second Airships to the Arctic Symposium benefited from many volunteers, and the financial assistance of numerous sponsors. With the support of these sponsors, a group of experts could be assembled that spanned a wide range of topics. A list of the sponsors and brief speaker biographies are presented at the end of the document. The support of the Transport Institute staff, and in particular, Jill Winograd, is gratefully acknowledged. Jill also participated in the preparation of the proceedings, as well as organizing all the meeting logistics. The assistance of Hart Berger is gratefully acknowledged for his role in organizing the conference. Finally, we wish to recognize all the speakers who worked with us to participate in the conference and to produce these permanent proceedings.

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