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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

Guy S. Ginter  Acting Director, Impact and Benefit Agreement, Moose Cree First Nation
Barry Prentice  President, ISO Polar
Stuart Russell  President, Livingstone Range Consulting Services

May 8th, 2012 / 9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thanks to our witnesses for appearing here today.

This is a new and novel topic for me. I know virtually next to nothing in regard to airships, so I may ask some very basic questions to get them onto the record, both for my understanding and for that of anyone else who is reading this.

I'm getting some sense of it. Some of my questions may have been answered along the way, but how versatile is the current technology for airships? Are there weather restrictions? I don't know...do they run on any kinds of fuels at all? I don't understand the technology, so if you could walk us in a layman's way through the technology and its capabilities, that might give us some understanding of how it can be used.

9:45 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

Right. Let me deal first of all with the question of weather, because in Canada we always like to talk about the weather—we have a lot of it.

We have a very fierce winter, and the airships that exist today are basically fair-weather flyers, so they would fly in summer, spring, and fall. It doesn't mean they cannot fly in the winter. In fact, the very first vehicle to cross the North Pole was an airship. The Italian airship Norge flew there.

However, there has been no demand for advertising blimps or surveillance blimps in the north, so now the companies have designed their airships to live in 20 degrees or 30 degrees below centigrade, which is what we have to deal with. It can be done.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Or minus 50 degrees in Iqaluit.

9:45 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

Or minus 50 degrees or worse.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

It was that way in January when I was there.

9:45 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

So we have to adapt the technology for Canadian conditions. It can be done.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Are there any northern countries that are approving the idea of the airship cargo transport and hangars that you talk about? Is there any international example—with a northern climate—that we can point to?

9:45 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

Yes—Russia. The Russian RosAeroSystems have an airship and they have flown it in the wintertime. That's a government-owned project, really, out of the military of Russia, from what I understand. I don't know that much about it.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

They're not using it for sort of commercial applications.

9:45 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

No, they are not using it for freight. They've used it for surveillance and for looking at the hydro lines and so on, but they have not invested heavily in using this. Although they have a problem in Siberia that's very similar to our problem in the north, and they are probably the closest.... But they've shown that airships will fly year-round. It's just that they haven't done that much work with the cargo.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

On the issue of weather, in southwestern Ontario, of course, if you don't like the weather, wait 15 minutes and it will change.

But to go back to the capabilities, in regard to flight range and time, how fast do they move and how long would it take to get from.... Well, I don't know where they would start in Manitoba. It might be Churchill, let's say, or would they start farther south? How long would it take to go from there to Iqaluit, let's say? How many days can they stay in the air? How long can they run? Can you just give us some sense of that?

9:45 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

Mr. Russell may be better at talking to the logistics than I, but by and large, they'll start at the end of the roads. You'll truck as far as you can, because it's less expensive to move by truck, and you'll use the airship only where there are no roads. So I would see places such as Hay River, Thompson, Rouyn-Noranda, Cochrane, or Moosonee.... Those are the places where you'd have jumping-off spots. So you'd probably station near—

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

So they would be like cargo hubs, similar to what Toronto's Pearson would be for commercial aircraft.

9:45 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

Exactly. And you wouldn't necessarily maintain the airship there, because those skilled trades might find a better location in Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg, or Toronto. So you'd bring those airships back. You might build them here, but they would live their life up north because that's where they do their work.

With regard to time, they will fly roughly 80 miles an hour at cruising speed, so they're not that slow. Of course they could go faster if you want to burn more fuel. It's really a matter of how fast you need to go. But most freight doesn't have to move that fast.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

What kind of fuel do they use?

9:45 a.m.

President, ISO Polar

Dr. Barry Prentice

Typically they're now using diesel engines, or Jet-A. Some are using gas. However, you can use almost any fuel. In fact, the old Zeppelins used a mixture of methane and hydrogen, which was very environmentally benign 75 years ago.

The advantage of an airship is that it's so big, you can have a very large low-pressure tank. You can use a gaseous fuel like hydrogen or methane without having to compress it and getting a heavy tank inside. They do have lots of options.

Stu, would you like to comment on this?

9:50 a.m.

President, Livingstone Range Consulting Services

Stuart Russell

Yes.

I think all I was going to get to, Mr. Watson, was that if you simplistically look at them at 100 miles an hour—Barry says 80, but let's say you take 100 miles an hour—they don't fly over 10,000 feet because they're unpressurized, and from some of the studies we looked at, you could load them in Houston and fly them all the way to Inuvik without stopping for fuel.

On the concept of the Mackenzie gas pipeline, we looked at all the piping manufacturing—

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

How long would it take to get from Houston to Inuvik?

9:50 a.m.

President, Livingstone Range Consulting Services

Stuart Russell

Divide 3,000 miles by 100 miles an hour.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Okay. Fair enough.

9:50 a.m.

President, Livingstone Range Consulting Services

Stuart Russell

They have looked at double-crewing the crews on board and various things. There are some practical applications, as with anything that flies.

Conceptually, they are designed to be able to do short-lift vertical takeoff, and some of them are designed to do long-haul. It just depends what the application is.

A lot of companies I've chatted with have said many times over what Barry has commented on—namely, if you bring it to the marketplace and prove that it works, we'll use it, but we're not going to spend any money on R and D to get you to develop your machine at our expense.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

How big a hangar do you need, and where would you put them for servicing these things?

9:50 a.m.

President, Livingstone Range Consulting Services

Stuart Russell

I think that just depends.

My comment--and again, I know that Barry has quite positive views on where they could be located and how that could be done--would be that it's wherever they need to be. If you look today....

No, I don't say that in a negative sense.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

It's nebulous to me, but....

9:50 a.m.

President, Livingstone Range Consulting Services

Stuart Russell

I understand that, but if you look today at Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, there are more aircraft in Yellowknife than anyplace in Canada, per capita, for hauling cargo. There are three huge diamond mines 300 kilometres northeast of there. You have airplanes that are 75 years old that are still flying every day going to work, because they have a job and someone will pay them to do that.

So, simplistically, you could put an airship hangar in Yellowknife and you could service all of northern Canada, or you could put it in Hay River, or probably both, because they're accessible by road. But as Barry mentioned, they only come back to the hangar for about ten days a year. For the other 355 days of the year, they're out running around making money, doing jobs, and supporting things. They only go back to the hangar once a year.

The location isn't really as important, in my mind, as the fact that there is one physically located so that you can service them—like a dry dock.