Thank you very much to everyone for having us come.
I want to talk a bit about airships, give you some background on the technology and how it's evolving, and give you some comments on why we are where we are today.
To begin, I'm going to outline the need for a game changer, the technological opportunity, and the obstacles to commercialization. Finally, I'll give you some recommendations, which is what we've been asked to give to this committee.
This is a map I always like to show on the limit of the roads in Canada. Most Canadians haven't had much experience north of that red line, but 70% of our land mass lies above that red line, and there are no roads. So we have limited access to almost three-quarters of our country, and of course things aren't getting better with climate change, as you'll see in a moment.
There are challenges for the north in terms of transportation. The distances are vast. A three-hour trip north of Winnipeg still just gets you to what would be considered the southern Arctic by the people who live there. If you can get to Iqaluit, there is still a lot of Canada north of that.
The services are generally seasonal, especially marine and land services, like the ice roads. The freight rates are very high. There are thin markets. There isn't much traffic. There's very little coming back, so you have to pay for a round trip. Of course we live with harsh climate conditions, with permafrost to try to build on. So we have a real challenge for transportation in the north.
Solutions include ships, barges, trucks, airplanes, and helicopters. We use everything we can. One of the solutions we see for the future is to use airships. In the chart they're ranked in the order of cost as well, at least the top ones.
I always like to start with the airplanes, because this is the only way you can get to all parts of Canada 365 days a year. You can see various systems there. The airplane at the top on the left is landing on an ice runway. The Buffalo airplane you see was built before I was born, and it's still working. It's nice to see things older than me that are still working.
You can see the doors on the one on the right. I always like to put that slide in because it reminds me to mention that you cannot get things into an airplane that you can't get through the door. That was a special customized door put in for a Wasaya Airways airplane. What was the exotic cargo they were carrying? Plywood. One of the big problems is getting building materials to the north, and that's why that was changed.
Of course you've heard about ice roads. This is how we try to get to resource developments and serve our remote communities. I think there are 107 of them in total in this country. Not all of them are served by ice roads, but a good number are dependent on them. It's a very challenging terrain to get across, and the melting ice makes things more difficult. Some of you may have seen the Ice Road Truckers show. Those ice roads are like the 401. This photo is more typical of the kinds of ice roads we see in many parts of the country.
Marine transport is very good if you can use it on the coast, where you have barges. But there are also challenges that face people in the marine industry: how many trips they can do a year, how much they can carry, and what communities they can serve. By and large we have no harbours in most of these communities. Goods are offloaded onto barges, and then it's catch as catch can to get materials in.
Of interest to this committee is the question of the melting north and climate change. I know the Prime Minister has talked about this, and certainly our government has had more interest in what has been going on with the north as climate change is starting to open up potential Arctic shipping routes.
This picture on the right shows what people believe will be the case within as little as 20 years, when we might actually have cargo going right across the Arctic Ocean in the summertime. That will certainly raise challenges for shipping through this area.
What happens if we have an accident and we have to have an oil spill cleanup? How do we get materials there? We really don't have a good system to do that. Also, of course, how do we defend our sovereignty in the north when it's very hard to get things there? We think that the airships provide a solution to that problem, as well.
I'll give you a quick capsulization of over 300 years of history. Buoyant flight goes back a long time, way before fixed-wing aircraft. It has achieved many firsts, and some things that have yet to be equalled. Large Zeppelins were cruising across the Atlantic from Germany to the United States and from Germany to Brazil. They were neck-in-neck with airplanes in the 1930s in the contest to determine which was going to be the main mode of passenger transport.
What happened along the way, of course, was the Second World War. A huge amount of investment went into building airplanes. There were roughly half a million airplanes built in that five-year period. By the end of the war, there were high-altitude bombers and jet engines. That technology was quickly moved over to civilian airliners, such as the Boeing 707 and others. Of course the Cold War stimulated more public investment in airplanes, and now we are where we are today, with huge advanced technology in fixed-wing aircraft.
The airships were basically left behind. The investment wasn't there. They were slower. People didn't see them as being safe, although they did before the war. They were safer. And who was going to invest in them to use them for what? There was no cargo service until the 1980s. There was always belly space in passenger jets, but no dedicated cargo space.
Today things have changed. Fuel is no longer inexpensive. The pollution and the carbon dioxide emissions are things we care about now. And of course we want to get places where we don't have infrastructure, such as runways. So now the interest in this technology that has basically been ignored for 65 or 75 years has returned.
These are some of the technological advances you can see. These are two Zeppelins. The one in the photo on the bottom was built in the 1930s. The one on the top was actually built in 2000. They look the same in terms of their shape, but they're completely different. There are new materials for the envelope. There is a carbon fibre frame in the Zeppelin at the top. There are vectoring engines. The one at the bottom needed 30 people to hold ropes. The one on the top can be landed with one person on the ground.
Great advances in technology have come along. This is a list of all those things that have changed that now make the airship a much more viable technology than it was in the 1930s. Everything that has advanced the airline industry can be used, and is being used, for airships as well.
There are examples of some of those changes. We have tail thrusters and vectoring engines that allow the control to land without anybody on the ground.
These are airships that are being developed. The three in the photos on the left and the two on the right are actually U.S. military projects. The U.S. government has invested roughly $1 billion in airships in the last 18 months. The photo on the top right is a U.S. Air Force airship called the Blue Devil. The one on the left is the LEMV, an airship the U.S. Army has invested in. And the one on the bottom right is a cargo airship developed by the U.S. Defense Department. These are all test devices that have been put in place.
The one on the bottom left is an all-aluminum airship being developed by the private sector in the U.K.
There are lots of new ideas coming forward in this industry. Some are using a traditional soft body and some are going back to the rigid form.
I have a list of airship companies around the world. There's another list, twice as long, of people who would like to be doing something.
Each one on this list has actually built and flown something or is in the process of testing a product, some of which are called hybrid vehicles. These are vehicles that take advantage of aerodynamic lift and are, in that case, actually heavier than air when they're starting out.
What are the obstacles to commercialization? This is what we really want to bring to the committee. Why is it that in Canada we don't have an airship industry?
Part of the reason is that we've never had an airship industry. We have no tradition of airships in this country. The Europeans built airships during the First World War, and before the Second World War the Americans had a navy blimp program. They have about nine usable hangars. In Canada we have no hangars to accommodate airships, and of course the difference between an airplane hangar and an airship hangar is the height of the door. You have to have a very tall door to get the airship in and out, but without a hangar you cannot have airships. They operate very much like dry docks. You don't need to use them every night; in fact they're seldom in a hangar, maybe ten days a year. But if you don't have a place to put an airship to maintain it or to do a safety check, you can't operate an airship. So one of the problems is we don't have any hangars in this country.
We have a lack of business confidence. The users look at this technology and say, “You know, I'm not sure. When it's there and it's available, I'll use it.” We hear that all the time from mining companies and others, but they're not certain that the technology will really work. Then when you talk to the developers of the airships, they say, “We know there are no technical challenges. This has been around for a long time, and we can do it. But is there a market?” So you have two sides of the supply and demand, which aren't necessarily meeting because of uncertainty. Of course everybody is waiting for somebody else to take a chance first, and if it's successful they'll follow. And of course if everybody does that, we never go anywhere.
There is a policy vacuum. I wish that the people in the policy branch in Transport Canada were more engaged in this idea, and were more engaged in the problems of the north we're looking for solutions for, but we've not been able to get any response from that group in terms of taking this topic seriously and investigating it, and actually finding out what is the truth and where does it stand.
Finally, we have regulatory gaps, some significant ones in terms of airships, because we have no history of airships. Therefore the regulations in simple things like pilot training.... To become an airship pilot in Canada, you have to actually get a hot-air balloon pilot licence, which doesn't seem to have much relevance to airships.
These are our recommendations on the last slide.
What we'd like to see is a policy statement on airships for northern transportation that indicates and sends a signal to industry that this is a topic the government is willing to take seriously and not block, and will help accommodate, the regulatory framework to actually enable airships to come forward. Within that regulatory framework, certainly we need a more reasoned way of licensing pilots. The current situation is not just very unhelpful, I think it's dangerous, because somebody who can fly a hot-air balloon is not going to be able to fly an airship and shouldn't try. We have no way of actually building large airships in this country in terms of the certificate of airworthiness, and of course the first company that actually goes forward to build one would have to pay for all the regulations to be put in place, which seems not just unfair, but it's a terrible burden and a restriction on anybody trying. It was not a barrier for the fixed-wing aircraft industry or helicopters, so why do we have this so that we are actually forcing the first airship builder to pay for those regulations?
Finally, I have two last points. The first is on redirection of financial resources. You've heard this morning about the ice roads. In the province of Manitoba, where I'm coming from, the amount spent on ice roads every year is $10 million. That comes from the federal treasury, and at the present time it's getting worse. As the ice roads last less time and they fail, we are relying on small airplanes to bring in all the needed goods. That bill comes to the federal government as well. Ontario has 50% more ice roads than Manitoba, so I expect that the bill there is 50% higher, and it's not getting better; if anything, it's getting worse, and it's going to continue to get worse as long as the trend of climate change continues in its current direction.
We would like to suggest a redirection of those funds. Rather than spending on ice roads year after year and seeing the benefits melt away every spring, if we put some investment into hangars and perhaps into a pilot program to demonstrate the airships and build that business confidence, the private sector will carry this away.
With that, Mr. Chairman, I'll stop.