Could airships offer a cheaper, greener supply line for the Far North?

Could airships offer a cheaper, greener supply line for the Far North?

Could airships offer a cheaper, greener supply line for the Far North?

By Lindsay Kelly,

Photo Credit: Hybrid Air Vehicles

Online panel weighs benefits of innovative tech to lower freight costs, create more equitable access to health care.

In addressing some of remote Canada’s most pressing issues — unreliable transportation, the high cost of goods, inadequate housing — there’s growing support behind airships as a viable means to creating solutions.

Industry experts explored those possibilities May 30-31, during Airships to the Arctic, an online conference hosted by the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba.

Barry Prentice, director of the university’s Transportation Institute, has studied airships for the last two decades.

Many of the same problems he’s identified in that time have continued or worsened, he noted, citing climate change and transportation among them.

“We already had limited transportation and now it’s becoming more limited, so the airships are a necessary means to access the North,” Prentice said.

“It’s also necessary for us to cut down on carbon emissions and one of the ways to do this is to move to a technology that doesn’t have carbon-based fuels, and the airships have the potential to do this.”

To weigh the benefits of airships in addressing these issues, the Canadian Arctic Innovation Association recently commissioned a study funded by Transport Canada through its National Corridors Fund and with participation from the private sector.

A project “initiated by people in the North for the North,” the Cargo Airship Strategy for Northern Canada sought to answer three questions: how would airship corridors be organized, is there enough market demand to make an airship service profitable, and could such a service be self-sustaining?

The association centred its case on the need for housing in the North.

Citing figures from Statistics Canada, Prentice said 40 per cent of all houses in Inuit communities are inadequate for the number of people living there, while the same is true for 25 per cent of housing on First Nations, and 10 per cent for Métis households.

“This is an area that, obviously, we need to do something about,” Prentice said.​

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