Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Report flies idea of airships

Good for Canada, committee says

  • Print

OTTAWA -- It's time to rethink the blimp, a House of Commons committee suggests in a new report.

Airships are often associated with the Hindenberg crash of the 1930s, and their development was overtaken by that of the airplane, reducing their use in recent years mostly to props in ad campaigns.

But there's room for certain kinds of them to play a new role in Canada, especially when it comes to reaching remote communities in the North, the transportation committee recommended in a recently released report.

"Hybrid air vehicles may one day provide a superior solution, as they can travel over snowfall, frozen water or impenetrable terrain, and require no roads or rail installations to operate," says the report.

The committee's look at airships was part of a broader study examining more creative ways to address some of the shortfalls in Canada's transportation sector.

When it comes to airships, a number of barriers exist to putting them into more widespread use, the committee heard.

Among them is a lack of infrastructure, trained personnel and licensing regimes, said Barry Prentice, a professor at the University of Manitoba and president of ISO Polar Airships, a research institute that promotes the use of the vehicles.

His was one of two groups that testified before the committee.

Prentice is adamant the time to start developing those capabilities is now.

"The problem we have in the North is not going away, climate change is not going away, and what are we going to do when we get to the point where the ice roads are not usable," he said.

"We certainly can't afford to build gravel roads every place in the North and the airships are the most reasonable solution that we should be taking a hard look at."

In addition to helping northern communities access food and supplies, they could have military applications.

The U.S. military was expected to spend about $1.3 billion last year to acquire and develop airships and related technology for both cargo and surveillance.

Discovery Air Innovations told the committee that just to develop the vehicle they'd like to bring to Canada could cost $60 million to $80 million, but they are having difficulty obtaining support from banks or private companies that might be able to use one.

The government is equally wary about putting in money.

"As the committee does not wish to put taxpayers' money at risk by investing in a business that cannot attract private capital, it focused on the question of whether the operator of a hybrid air vehicle would have the opportunity to compete for federal shipping contracts," the report said.

So the committee has recommended a pilot project be launched via Public Works and Government Services to see whether the airships could work.

"The technology needs testing to ensure reliability. If the government were to abandon existing transportation modes in favour of a new option that failed to work, urgently needed goods might not reach their destination," the report said.

The committee report does not obligate the government to pursue a particular course of action and the government has time to table its response.

Meanwhile, another government department has decided to forge ahead with funding -- Natural Resources announced $2.2 million Friday to support one airship company.

Solar Ships is seeking to partially power the blimps using the sun, saying in a statement it will use the funds to keep developing the technology.

The firm says it can move cargo to remote areas in Ontario form $1.20 per ton/per kilometre, compared with truck transportation costs of $10 per ton/per kilometre.

Both the committee's report and the announcement of funding are important steps, Prentice said.

"This isn't quite on the scale of building the Canadian Pacific Railway, but as far as the North goes it is," Prentice said.

"Because if we don't have a transportation solution for the North, we'll never solve the problems of the North."

The recommendation to take a closer look at airships is one of several made by the transportation committee in a report released this week studying new ways to get goods and people moved across Canada.

The committee also suggests the government needs to do more thinking outside normal channels to encourage development.

Instead of just allocating money to existing institutions, why not fund major prizes that could produce the next big idea? the committee suggests.

"Government should clearly define the hoped-for invention, discovery or innovation, and offer financial rewards to the first Canadian innovator who achieves it," the report says.

"Prizes should be large enough to deliver a return on investment for the innovator."

Government-funded prizes have a long tradition, used by monarchs as early as the 18th century, when the British government offered funds to find a way to measure longitude at sea.

In recent years, private contests have sprung up in their stead, kickstarted by the creation of the X Prize in 1996 to encourage commercial space flight development.

But the idea of federally funded prizes has regained currency. In 2010, the Obama administration included offering prizes as a component of its innovation strategy.

So far, they've included $15 million to design a better light bulb and a current contest worth $9 million in prize money for a system to manage veterans' health care.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 17, 2013 A5

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Winnipeg Cheapskate: Cheap summer weekends

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A golfer looks for his ball in a water trap at John Blumberg Golf Course Friday afternoon as geese and goslings run for safety- See Joe Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge- Day 24– June 15, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • June 25, 2013 - 130625  -  A storm lit up Winnipeg Tuesday, June 25, 2013. John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press - lightning

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should political leaders be highly visible on the frontlines of flood fights and other natural disasters?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google