Sky-high potential for airships

Sky-high potential for airships

$30-million investment by Quebec government shows foresight into emerging transportation field

By Martin Cash ~ Winnipeg Free Press

Recent controversy about the Quebec government investing $30 million in a French airship company was like catnip for University of Manitoba logistics professor and world renowned airship expert, Barry Prentice.

Prentice has been studying airships, talking to people about airships all over the world and holding an annual conference about using airships in the North, for about 15 years.

The fact the Quebec government — or any institution, for that matter — would invest in a company developing such technology is encouraging for Prentice and likely anyone else who believes airships can solve many of the problems associated with northern development in Canada.

It is not, however, any guarantee that such hybrid lighter-than-air vessels will be floating across the skyline anytime soon.

It has taken Lockheed Martin, a company with as much technical/regulatory/financial wherewithal as any company on earth, more than 20 years to design, build and certify its version of a hybrid airship. But commercial production still has not begun.

With such massive barriers to entry — just designing a certification process with the Federal Aviation Administration took years — and the potential for significant benefits to society, Prentice believes this is exactly the kind of investment governments should be making.

“Somehow Canadians got the idea there was no need for governments to take on the risky effort of nation building,” Prentice said, “If the current politicians were around during John A. Macdonald’s time, the last spike would have been driven just a little west of Toronto.”

No doubt any investment in any airship company today would be a risky proposition. There are a handful of companies developing commercial versions of cargo-hauling airships including Lockheed Martin. Flying Whales, the French company that now intends to build a production facility in Quebec in the next couple of years, has not yet built its first vessel.

Prentice believes the investment in Flying Whales by the government of Quebec — which was preceded by investments by the French and Chinese governments — is the first time in more than 80 years that any governments have invested in a civilian airship.

With its partnership with that company, Quebec will become of strategic interest to the nascent industry. It may well also become the site of one of the very first airship construction hangars in the world, and it may also become the region where one of the first commercial test cases take place.

Read original full article by Martin Cash ~ The Winnipeg Press here:

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