The Arctic Gateway and Transport Airships
The hopes for an Arctic Gateway would be enhanced by transport airships
Dr. Barry E. Prentice, June 20th, 2011.
Wake up, northerners! Where is the money to pay for the promised road to Nunavut? Wake up, southerners! The price tag of between $2 billion and $3 billion is money not spent on the crumbling streets and deteriorating roads of Manitoba. No amount of jiggery-pokery can produce a viable business case for this road. This is why we have seen zero interest in this scheme from the government of Canada. A bad idea by smart people is still a bad idea.
At the recent Arctic Gateway Summit, some conference observers may have concluded that the road to Nunavut is a foregone conclusion. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is naive to suggest that if any idea for northern development is put forward, the federal government will collaborate and support it.
To claim that federal funds are imminent without proof that these funds are actually being considered is tantamount to being a street merchant peddling a piece of tin as a Rolex watch. How is it that Prime Minister Stephen Harper could come through Winnipeg during the time of this conference and not show any interest or encouragement towards its objectives? Perhaps, it may be the best indication possible that there is no federal support to build an all-weather road to Nunavut.
For too long, northern communities have been left to suffer economically, and for too long, northerners have received unfulfilled announcements. Surely the North deserves better, and the way to start is to look at all viable options.
Ignoring competing ideas is no way to hold a conference that purports to be the voice of the region. Should a serious conference on northern transportation completely exclude a discussion of transport airships?
In June 2010, the U.S. Department of Defense announced a $517-million contract to build three large airships for surveillance use in Afghanistan. These airships feature a new hybrid technology that combines static and aerodynamic lift. The public will soon see airships returning to the skies that have the footprint of a football field and the height of a seven-story building. These hybrid airships are being studied for the year-round delivery of freight to the North and the manufacturer”s representative has already made two stops in Winnipeg since the military contract was signed.
No one can deny that the shorter duration of the ice roads is a matter of urgent concern. Twenty years ago, on average, they lasted twice as long and climate change shows no sign of reversing. To build all-weather roads to every remote community would cost so many billions of dollars that no one even discusses the idea. In contrast, for the cost of building a few bridges on the route to Nunavut, transport airships could be acquired that can deliver freight in truckload quantities all year round. With no federal funding, there is no road to the North. And with no real promise of a road to the North, to leave out discussion of the transport airship option is unconscionable.
Now that the North is awake, let’s turn to the South. Who has not observed our deteriorating rural roads and city streets? How can we be guaranteed that a multibillon-dollar expenditure on roads through the sparsely populated hinterland will not affect funding to our southern roads?
The creation of an airship manufacturing industry in Manitoba would expand the tax base to the benefit of both the North and the South. Permanent employment in manufacturing and transport is better than temporary construction jobs. After our domestic demand for airships is satisfied, transport airships could be exported around the world. The Manitoba aerospace sector was founded on float planes to serve the northern mining industry almost 100 years ago. Modern airships can be the float planes of the 21st century and sustain growth in this high-tech cluster of our economy.
The hopes for an Arctic Gateway would be enhanced by transport airships. Churchill could become a more diversified point of consolidation and trans-shipment. Mineral concentrates delivered by airship from Nunavut and northern Manitoba could be loaded on ships or railcars for furtherance to world markets. Similarly, inbound ocean cargo to the Port of Churchill could be delivered by airship to anywhere in northern or western Canada.
Let’s abandon the fantasy road discussion and start planning how to build this sixth mode of transport into our gateway and corridor strategy.
Barry Prentice is a professor of supply chain management at the University of Manitoba.