Evidence of meeting #35 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was airships.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

10 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

The only place right now where you can actually get an airship pilot's licence is in San Francisco. There's a company there that does this. But it's very expensive. Of course, that licence would not be respected here, because it's not a hot air balloon licence. You would have to do that first.

Typically what happens is that most airship pilots are trained on the job. Typically they have an airplane pilot's licence in the U.S., and then they go through certain training and they get time on the airship with the small companies that are doing this. Eventually they get to sit in the left seat. That's the way it is done.

But we don't really have services like that here today.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler York Centre, ON

Okay.

In terms of maintenance and all of that—

10 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

Oh, sorry, maintenance—

10 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler York Centre, ON

Carry on.

10 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

Maintenance is relatively low. Typically you're looking at using diesel engines, which are low maintenance. The airframe is obviously not an issue. You do have to have an inspection. Those ten days you're spending in the hangar include seven days for an annual end-to-end inspection. It has to have it annually.

The regulations for airplanes, which may be the same for the airships, say that every thousand hours, or whatever that number is, you have to go in for a check-over. There are certain checks that go along with that, and the regulations follow that, except, again, in Canada. Since we have no experience, and we have no airships, we really have no regulations like that.

In fact, this may be an opportunity for us. I don't suggest that we simply carbon copy what's been done in other places. We should look and see what's reasonable for Canada to do, because these are not the same as airplanes.

These are different vehicles. They don't fall out of the sky when the engines quit. They float around. You can come down to earth safely by releasing the emergency valves. They don't have the same kinds of pilot requirements in the sense that it's kind of a boring job, being an airship pilot, because you move pretty slowly. You're going along. It's not very exciting, as it would be in an airplane.

The regulations need to be developed specifically for this technology and not just carbon copied from someplace else.

To give you an example, again, my view is that with $100 million, you could buy three airships, the 20-tonne size, and have a hangar. That's enough to get started. That's a relatively low number compared to what it would cost to start up an airplane operation of a similar size.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler York Centre, ON

In terms of the component parts, what is used to construct the airship? They are made primarily where and by whom?

10 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

There are different designs. Because this technology has been held back for so long, and technology has moved so far forward, it's not clear what the dominant design is going to be. Are they going to be a cigar shape? Are they going to be one of these flat-shaped ones that take care of aerodynamic lift? Are they going to be a non-rigid structure, with a flexible envelope, or are they going to be a rigid structure? Will it be composite materials? Will it be aluminum? Will they have one big gas bag or many cells?

One of the exciting aspects of this technology is that we're going to find out. In fact, one of the things we'd like to encourage is innovation and competition.

One of the arguments that I would suggest to the committee is to think about the notion of public hangars. I know this may be anathema to this committee to even think about any kind of expenditure at this point, and I respect that as a taxpayer. But in transportation it's a shared jurisdiction. The public provides the roads, the private sector provides the trucks. The public sector provides the airports, the private sector provides the airplanes. The public provides ports, the private sector provides the ships.

In the case of airships, don't think of them as being hangars, think of them as being like dry docks. We have public dry docks. They are a place where you could encourage many companies to take advantage of this, so you'd get multiple companies competing in the industry, you'd get rapid technological advance, you'd get many ideas tried, and then we'd find out what works best.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

I have to stop you there.

I'll go to Ms. Chow.

May 8th, 2012 / 10:05 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

How does one get a pilot licence? You can't right now, because there are no regulations--

10:05 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

The way the regulations read is that you have to—

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

There's the hot air balloon. I heard your previous answer. If Canada were to change that, what would need to happen?

10:05 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

The regulations would have to be changed.

The U.S. regulations are something like 50 hours on an airship after you have a fixed-wing aircraft pilot licence, and 10 of those hours have to be on an actual airship. The other 40 could be in a simulator. I believe that's what the U.S. regulations are. I can get the fine details for that, but that is what the U.S. requires.

What Canada really did is we adopted a lot of the U.S. regulations, but we didn't adopt the update. We have the previous regulations.

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

I see that in August 2011 Hybrid Air Vehicles signed a provisional deal with Discovery Air Innovations to sell the hybrid for use in northern Canada, with the hope of its being finalized this year. Was it finalized? Is it four to five airships at $40 million per aircraft? Is this just talk, or did it actually happen?

10:05 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

It's more than just talk, but maybe Stu would have the information better than I do.

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

So it's signed. Has it been delivered? The first is supposed to be delivered in 2014. What's the plan there?