Airship technology for a northern future
Canada lacks a serious solution to the rapidly changing climate in the North and to the increasing demand for access to natural resource extraction in remote areas. This has economic and security implications that require a change in transportation technology. After years of study, only one viable alternative has yet to be put to the test: the transport airship.
Buoyant vehicles were already flying 50 years before the Wright Brothers first flew, and continued to be a viable means of transport for the next 40 years. Ultimately, military necessity pushed forward aerial wing technology and eclipsed buoyant aircraft completely. After WW2, oil was cheap, people were enthralled with the speed of jet airplanes, and no one cared about carbon emissions. No market existed for airships, except as floating billboards and camera platforms. Air cargo was merely a byproduct of belly-space of passenger jets, well into the end of the 20th century.
In 2016, the world has greatly changed. Although the price of oil has dropped, the carbon footprint is obvious and freight has been the fastest growing air transport market for the past 30 years. From an environmental perspective, airplanes may have become too successful. A recent estimate puts the global jet A fuel consumption at 5 million barrels per day. The need for transport airships to take part of that burden off the atmosphere of the Earth is reason enough to want to see the technology developed.
Most of the tools, techniques, materials and avionics used to build airplanes can also build airships. The differences can be boiled down to one word: buoyancy. Airships do not depend on thrust for lift, so they burn less fuel, and can be built as big as cruise ships. Naturally, in the world of freight economics cost is favoured over speed for all but the most valuable and perishable goods.
The case for the using transport airships in the North first is sound. The economic boundary of an airship increases with size. A transport airship of less than 50 tonne lift size has a market radius of about 400 kilometers. Canada has scores of communities without road access that live within this distance of a road. Goods can be transshipped at the road ends and delivered more economically to resource camps and remote communities.
In addition to the economics, any transport airship that can operate year round in northern Canada can safely fly in any other part of the world.
To have a compelling competitive advantage, airships must offer year-round freight service at a lower costs than the next best alternative. Airships have this advantage in the Canadian Shield and Arctic Territories. Traditional ice roads are experiencing ever-shorter seasons of use. The construction of all-weather roads is extremely expensive. The terrain is rough, the permafrost unstable and numerous watercourses must be bridged.
BASI is not prepared to share its transport airship’s design beyond some general description of where the research is pointing. It must be all-metal, rigid, optionally-UAV and able to operate using hydrogen gas for lift and fuel. Hydrogen handling and containment has to be shown to be safe in order to receive regulatory approval. This is no different than any other component of the airship. Safety is not what you say; it is what you do. This applies to all facets of the business.
The talent to build airships is not widespread, and with the exception of the Russian airship developers, have done no prototype cold weather testing. BASI is working on technological solutions to adapt airships to the Arctic environment. Most proposed cargo airships are based on advertising blimp designs. The challenges of operating a cargo service with heavy loads to the northern latitudes are not trivial. Being located at Winnipeg, Manitoba, cold weather survivability is built into the operation and maintenance of BASI designs.
Air transport is the backbone of the North because it is the only year-round reliable service. However, airplanes are expensive to operate and their size is limited by length of the gravel runways at remote communities. Transport airships offer a flexible cargo solution that can carry large volumes at lower total costs than any other alternative. According to our economic research, a transport airship capable of lifting 10 tonnes could operate competitively in the Boreal forest markets.
BASI seeks to gain strategic advantages as a research facility. The buoyant technology BASI has acquired can enable the company to be a Tier 2 supplier to the airship industry and manufacturer of a Canadian airship. Over the next five years, our goal is to grow Canada’s first buoyant aircraft research facility and develop manufacturing capability. BASI has design solutions to meet the demands for transport to remote regions of the North.
BASI is interested to locate investors and a plan is being developed to structure a vehicle for investment. By being early in the market, BASI enjoys the benefits of leadership that creates the opportunity for prospective investors to gain above normal profits.