By Canadian Arctic Innovation Association, www.arcticinnovation.ca
This document focuses on the application of airship technology to address various infrastructure challenges encountered in Northern Canada. Its purpose is to offer readers an informative overview of airships, highlighting their rich history and operations aspects, white also considering the modern advancements in terms of materials, computers, avionics and design. By considering disparate information, this document serves as a foundational resource for the airship industry in Canada, paving the way for its eventual resurgence. It is important to note that no other public document of this type has been attempted or exists for Canada.
1 CONTEXT OF THE STUDY
This study examines the potential for a new generation of cargo airships to provide year-round transportation services to Northern Canada. It seeks to answer three fundamental questions. First, does enough market demand in the North exist for an airship industry to serve it profitably? Second, are the costs and service that could be provided by cargo airships sufficiently attractive to be embraced by shippers and receivers in the North, or does it require a government subsidy? Finally, how would the airship corridors be organized to provide timely, efficient transportation services to the remote communities, mining operations and other users in the North?
Freight rates to the remote communities in northern Canada are high because the population is sparse, the distances are long, and there is neither road, nor railway infrastructure. Residents in these “thin” markets are often faced with monopoly services. In most cases they have no southbound freight and must pay the full roundtrip costs.
The high cost of transportation has direct impacts on the prices and quality of everything consumed in the North. Food prices are two and half to three times higher than in the southern cities. Housing is over-crowded, and many houses are in need of significant structural repair. Employment opportunities are scarce, malnutrition is widespread, and health problems with molds and diabetes are chronic. Although the lack of affordable freight rates is seldom the direct cause of these social and economic challenges, improved transportation is the solution.
Infrastructure gaps in the North persist because it is uneconomic to construct enough roads, ports, or paved runways in the rugged terrain and islands that span seven (7) million km2. With rock outcrops, permafrost, swamps, muskeg and water crossings, the cost of constructing a gravel road in northern Canada averages $3 million per kilometer. Air transport is the only way to serve such vast distances and sparse populations year-round, but gravel runways limit airplane size, and bigger items must come in on an annual sealift or over a winter road.
Existing technology cannot alter the pattern of economic disparity between the highly developed southern Canada and the developing world conditions of the sparsely populated North. A transformative change in transportation costs and service is required. This is why cargo airships are being considered.