First of all, I'd like to clarify that I am the group president for Discovery Air government services, in addition to being the CEO of Top Aces.
Mr. Chairman, vice-chair, and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to discuss with you today an emerging transportation solution that should be of interest to Canada. I'm talking specifically about hybrid air vehicles.
This technology holds much promise, especially for economic development in Canada's remote areas, such as the north and Arctic regions. In addition, Canada has an opportunity to establish itself as a major contributor and a world leader in the development of this technology by creating conditions that will attract investment and companies that are involved in the field.
What I can tell the committee is that Discovery Air is already actively participating in a collaborative effort with a world leader in this field. This effort has potential to bring significant development activities to Canada, but this will not occur unless the government can find ways to support it.
As with all new technical developments, there's always an element of risk, but with risk comes reward. By participating in the early stages of development, Canada and the Canadian aerospace industry will benefit from the jobs and cutting-edge expertise created throughout this development cycle.
With increased scrutiny on the environmental impact of development, and as nations push the geographic boundaries of where resources are developed, it is our belief that traditional infrastructure, such as roads and railways, will no longer be the preferred solution. Not only do these traditional solutions have significant negative impacts on the environment, they are capitally intensive and saddle governments with unsustainable support costs for years to come.
We don't believe Canada can afford to develop its wealth of natural resources using traditional methods. This is one of the reasons we should be exploring promising technologies, such as hybrid air vehicles.
Let's talk a bit about Discovery Air. Discovery Air Inc. is an aviation services company operating across Canada and in select locations internationally. We're one of the largest air operators in Canada. Actually, we are the second largest when it comes to the number of airplanes. We employ more than 850 flight crew, maintainers, and support staff to deliver a variety of air transport, maintenance, and logistics solutions to our government, airline, and industry customers.
We're headquartered in Yellowknife, and we're flying more than 45,000 hours per year in the Arctic. Discovery Air already provides air transportation and logistics in the remote regions of Canada's north. We're intimately familiar with the challenges this unique operating environment brings. When we began participating in buoyancy assisted flight workshops a decade ago, we immediately recognized the important role hybrid air vehicle technology could play in the future, and started to architect how Canada's aerospace industry, communities, and partnerships could benefit.
Hybrid air vehicles are not airships. Hybrid air vehicles are specifically designed to overcome the traditional problems associated with handling airships. The hybrid air vehicle generates its lift from a variety of sources, namely, helium, aerodynamic lift similar to a conventional aircraft, and vectored thrust from the engines. This combination of lifts is what allows the hybrid air vehicle to operate in remote locations, as it requires minimum support and infrastructure.
The other part of the hybrid air vehicle design that facilitates remote operations and minimizes the requirement for large infrastructure investments is the air cushion landing system. This system is similar to a hovercraft and allows the hybrid air vehicle to land on water, gravel, snow, ice, or grass, providing it's relatively flat. The airflow within the landing system can also be reversed to create a suction effect that stabilizes the air vehicle on the ground for loading and unloading operations. This negates the requirement for expensive runways in areas of thawing permafrost and rapidly changing ice conditions.
The initial hybrid air vehicle we plan to introduce to Canada can carry 50,000 kilograms over more than 5,000 kilometres. This would allow a non-stop flight from Hay River, Northwest Territories to Canadian Forces Station Alert and its return, without the traditional logistical challenges and the addition of infrastructure on the ground.
Because most of the lift is generated through buoyancy, the hybrid air vehicle does not burn as much fuel as conventional aircraft. For example, the 5,000 kilometre flight from Hay River to Alert can be done on about 12,000 kilograms of fuel, whereas an RCAF C-17 or a Boeing 747 freighter would burn over 80,000 kilograms of fuel. The hybrid air vehicle is therefore more environmentally friendly than comparable heavy-lift aircraft.
What are the obstacles to success? Introducing a new technology like the hybrid air vehicle into a service is not without its challenges.
After serving potential end-users of the technology in the oil and gas, mining, and transportation industries, we have concluded that interest in this technology is very high. However, no resource company is willing to initiate years of environmental approval based on a conceptual air transportation system, and very few companies are willing to invest the required capital to develop this technology.
To move ahead with the commercialization of the hybrid air vehicle, we need to design, build, and certify a demonstrator and prove that the technology works. This requires people with the correct skills, a receptive regulatory environment, and funding.
The Government of Canada has various funding programs that support research and development, such as the strategic aerospace and defence initiative. However, SADI eligibility criteria associated with intellectual property and geography are not attractive to international joint ventures such as ours. If a partnership with international members approached Industry Canada with a technical solution to some of Canada's transportation challenges and a plan to establish Canada as the global leader in the commercialization of the technology, the request would likely be denied, unless all of the intellectual property belonged to a Canadian entity. This is not conducive to international collaborative efforts for commercializing technology that originates offshore.
This issue is currently being discussed in the aerospace review the government has asked the Hon. David Emerson to lead. We believe that the aerospace review will generate a series of recommendations regarding access to funding for international collaborative efforts that will have several benefits for Canada. We urge the government to seriously consider these recommendations.
With respect to training, technical skills obstacles will need to be resolved. There is no academic institution specializing in buoyancy-assisted flight technology. And although Canadian aerospace engineers and technicians are globally recognized, specialized training in the intricacies of hybrid air vehicles will be required. We have initiated an annual student paper competition through the Canadian Transportation Research Forum to help encourage academic institutions to focus on the application of this technology. But time will be required to develop an understanding of buoyancy-assisted flight and to generate the required skill sets to build and maintain these aircraft.
The National Research Council Institute for Aerospace Research has no buoyancy-assisted flight expertise. They will need to acquire it if they are going to remain a trusted source of aerospace advice to the government.
There are at least three companies investigating or proposing commercial buoyancy-assisted flight operations in Canada at this time. The U.S. government spent over a billion dollars in buoyancy-assisted flight operations last year alone, so it is highly likely that this innovative transportation solution is coming to Canada sooner or later. Canada has a chance to be at the forefront of this innovation cycle and to establish itself as a global leader in this technology.
Let's talk about the regulatory environment. The regulatory environment for hybrid air vehicles also needs to be addressed. The Transport Canada regulations on buoyancy-assisted flight refer to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the FAA, and the European Aviation Safety Agency regulations for both technical certification and operator certification. Industry will have to work with Transport Canada to develop the regulations in parallel with the development of the air vehicles.
According to Transport Canada, there are 220 people in Canada with valid balloon licenses, none of whom are instrument rated and most of these licenses are for hot-air balloons versus commercial airships. Part of the challenge is that a clear licensing route for multi-engine instrumented operations of hybrid air vehicles does not exist. For example, Transport Canada currently requires a hybrid air vehicle pilot to have a hot-air balloon licence, which is comparable to mandating a candidate for a driver's licence to know how to ride a bicycle.
The third obstacle to success with hybrid air vehicles is one of infrastructure. In order to meet the market demands, the air vehicles are very large. A 50-tonne version measures 150 metres in length. It's 55 metres wide and 36 metres high. This is big. This is roughly the size of a CFL football field and 10 stories high.
During construction, the advanced composite layer hull must be laid on a heated floor and requires approximately 20% more space than the air vehicle dimensions in length and in height. There is no hangar anywhere in the world that can accommodate a 50-tonne variant and we have future plans that call for a 200-tonne variant measuring 200 metres long, 80 metres wide, and 50 metres high.
Whoever creates the facilities for the manufacture and final assembly of these air vehicles will establish a global centre for research and development in the field of hybrid air vehicles. This in turn will create jobs and the conditions for significant participation in this emerging field.
As Discovery Air has become better informed about the unique lifting mechanism and ground handling capabilities of the hybrid air vehicle, it is apparent that the possibilities for this transportation solution are very promising. Instead of thinking about the technology, we started to think in terms of economic development, environmental stewardship, and aid delivery. For example, imagine the vast regions of Africa that can be developed for food production because goods can easily be transported to these markets with no need for investment in roads and airports.
Canada could be a leader and contribute an environmentally friendly transportation solution direct from the warehouse or the farm to refugee camps without incurring losses due to spoilage or handling. Imagine the significant improvements in the quality of life we can bring to our remote communities by changing how education and services are delivered. Instead of bringing people to hospitals, let's bring the hospitals to them while at the same time not being held hostage to the seasonality of ice roads and ice-free ports.
With the ability to land on water and unprepared surfaces, think how quickly a hybrid air vehicle could respond to a natural or man-made disaster. Canada could become the global leader in disaster response and humanitarian aid.
It is our hope to introduce a fleet of 50-tonne air vehicles and to establish a centre of excellence here in Canada. With the global support of this fleet we look forward to working with our government and industry partners to realize this vision. By rapidly identifying itself as a leader in the development of a hybrid air vehicle, Canada can become a dominate player in this field, reap the benefits of this technology, and continue to provide cutting edge opportunities for the 80,000 people employed within Canada's aerospace industry.
Merci. Thank you.