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

9:30 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

Perhaps I'd ask Mr. Russell to speak to that.

9:30 a.m.

Stuart Russell President, Livingstone Range Consulting Services

Good morning, everyone. I haven't had a chance to say hello. My two colleagues here are quite the chatterboxes, as you've noticed.

I'm just kidding.

I think, realistically, my colleagues are very well versed in what they do, and I'm a logistics guy. I spend most of my time working in the Arctic. I have for the past 40 years used every type of device to move materials around.

To your question, Madam St-Denis, the cost of moving things on the water is the cheapest, most economical way to move things. When you move them on the water, you move them as far as you can until you run out of water. Then you put them on the train, because it costs a little more money, and if you have no train, then you put them on the truck, and it costs a little more money. If you have absolutely no choice, you put them onto an airplane.

The cost difference, simplistically, between the water and an airplane is about ten to one. If you can move freight on the water for a dollar a pound or a dollar a kilogram, it costs you ten times as much to move it in an airplane.

I think everything about the isolated communities in the north is based on cost. If you have communities with 400 people, 500 people, 1,000 people, they're all a long way from roads and whatever else. As my colleagues have mentioned, once a year you get a sealift. It leaves Montreal, Hay River, or Churchill in the summer and drops off its goods. They have to store that for a whole year. They have to put in 40 million litres of fuel storage or 400,000 square feet of warehouse; they have to spend all of their money at once. Whereas with an airship concept, to come in and bring in their materials once a week, once a month, once a day—whatever the economics dictate—it has to be more economical than what they have in place today.

Most of the resource companies I've worked with and worked beside for years have looked at the airship and said it's a really nice idea. Some of the studies have come out and shown how we could build the Mackenzie gas pipeline by moving everything by airship. Again, a paper project, but....

There are huge opportunities in the north to help the communities, as my colleagues have mentioned. As well, industry has found resources all across the Northwest Territories and Nunavut that they can't economically access. They can't get close enough with an ice road or they can't get close enough with the sealift. They're sitting out there stranded. When they're stranded, if they can't develop the resources, there's no training, no education.

If you look at the area around Yellowknife, where the three diamond mines have come in since the early 1990s, there's been phenomenal educational transfer, and 40% of the employees are aboriginal. Even to your comment about the airlines and the people in the north benefiting, Canadian North flies across northern Canada. They're owned by the Inuit, the Inuvialuit. First Air, which again is Makivik Corporation, I believe is owned by the aboriginal groups.

These companies that fly in the north benefit from it. The majority of their employees are local employees. It has a huge advantage to employ people and keep business going forward.

I think to a cost point of view, the biggest concern of moving things to the north to the community level is black bananas, black tomatoes, and black lettuce. Because if you don't get efficient transportation for your foodstuffs that you bring in, it turns black and you throw it out, so it costs twice as much money as if you just transport it at once.

I guess I could wander off for a long time here. Anyway, it is far more expensive in the north, and there are so few opportunities to move things economically.

Just as one example, in 2006 the ice roads north of Yellowknife, which are very sophisticated.... Barry mentioned the Ice Road Truckers. It is a bit of a farce on television. But they planned to move in 10,000 truckloads in 10 weeks. Well, they had 3,300 loads that didn't make it. They had to bring every available cargo airplane that could fly into Yellowknife to fly all those loads out of there--millions and millions of dollars' worth of activity, but they had to do it to keep their mines running, and so on.

There's a huge economic benefit if we can keep doing it.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

Thank you.

Mr. Poilievre.

May 8th, 2012 / 9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

You said, Dr. Prentice, that the airship can lift 50 tonnes cheaper than the cost of trucks, and much less expensively than airplanes. I see here on the table you've presented that we have large corporate players with big budgets. We have at least a half dozen of them with a certified airship device. What is to stop any one of them from simply planning a cargo trip for industrial purposes to a mining site in northern Ontario, and then saying to De Beers or to another mining enterprise, “We are going to be doing this trip on a certain date. You as a company already transport large volumes of goods to these sites. We are prepared to transport them on this date for you at this price, which is significantly lower than you're paying now, so how could it possibly hurt you to try this method,” and in so doing, prove itself?

9:35 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

It's a very good question. It's one that I've asked them as well: what is holding you back? It varies with the various companies. Lockheed Martin, which you see on the board, the biggest company by far, is a purely military contractor. It will not do anything civilian. It made that a policy when it almost lost the company with the L-1011 airliner. So it has been a defence contractor only; that's all it will do.

On the other ones, you can go down the list. Some are relatively smaller. Every one of the companies up there has basically suffered from a lack of investment in this technology. It's that lack of business confidence. Again, to bring an airship to Canada and fly it and do a demonstration, Lockheed Martin certainly could afford to if it wanted to, but I'm not so sure the rest of them are in a position to do that.

Beyond that, there are no hangars here. If you have a problem with the airship, where do you go? How do you maintain it? The closest hangar would be in Ohio, and that's owned by Lockheed Martin, and it may not let you in if you're not them. North Carolina has a hangar. There are a couple in California. So it would be very difficult to do that if you ran into trouble.

The second point, of course, is who is going to pay you for your goods? Again, if you are operating a mine for some operation and you have to meet a deadline because you have investors who are depending on you to come up with revenues, you say you will. Are you going to take a chance on a technology that you haven't seen work before? Or are you going to wait for somebody else to make it work and then you'll invest in it? I think it's the latter.

We've talked to companies like Hudbay Minerals. I had a wonderful conversation with the president, and he said he'd hire them right away if they were available, but he wouldn't invest anything in seeing them become available because that's not what they do. They don't take that risk. So all the risk is on the companies to prove themselves.

For that matter, in order to do business in Canada, you have to have a certified airship with pilots operating in Canada. Those are rules we have under the cabotage restrictions that apply to air, truck, and all the rest of our modes of transport. Where would we get the pilots? We have no airship pilots in this country. Maybe we've got three guys who could fly them because they've got hot air balloon pilot licences, but I don't think Lockheed would let them on their airship, not without extensive training. How would you get the airship certified in Canada?

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Is there no certification process right now in Canada for airships?

9:40 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

There's a reciprocal relationship with the U.S. FAA, so if the company applies to have its airship certified here and brought here, it can do that at a certain price. It does cost, and it takes time, but it could be done. Then you'd have to have a Canadian owner, because our regulations say it has to be a Canadian company that's operating freight within our country. Unless you have a Canadian company willing to purchase it, willing to train pilots, willing to do everything, it wouldn't happen.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

It sounds like a protectionist obstacle.

9:40 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

It's a regulatory gap. It comes back to our not having any experience with this technology in this country. When the Second World War came around, we trained pilots and the U.S. Navy built the airships and protected the coast and the submarines. So they have a lot of experience with this, and so on, but we don't have any experience in this country or any infrastructure at all. But we have a tremendous need. In fact, where most of the airships are being built in the U.S. and Europe, they don't need airships because they have roads everywhere.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Are you suggesting, then, changes just to the cabotage rules in order to allow this--I mean, strictly applied to airships and not airplanes?

9:40 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

I think the cabotage rules are a different topic, and one that I would like to get rid of completely anyway. I'm in favour of free trade in transportation services. I think we diminish ourselves unreasonably without good reason, but that's a debate you'll have to take up with the trucking industry, the airlines, the shipping lines, and everybody else.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

If we did make changes to the cabotage rules, just strictly applied to this sector, would it help the introduction of this technology in Canada?

9:40 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

No question, because it would remove some of those regulatory barriers we have today to do that, and that would be part of it, yes.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Can you succinctly provide us with a paragraph in writing describing that problem and the proposed solution? Just a paragraph would help.

9:40 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

I'd be very happy to do that.