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Making cargo lighter than air
Airship solution could have reduced cost, delay of shipping Pangnirtung generators

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Monday, May 4, 2015

It's an idea that could make air cargo within Nunavut cheaper and easier, even for very big objects, and all the Airlander needs is a buyer in the territory.

The helium airship - similar to a flatter zeppelin - is currently in the testing phase, with British maker Hybrid Air Vehicles expecting to make demonstration flights next year.

Business development director Andy Barton pitched the product at the Nunavut Mining Symposium this past month.

"It's cheaper per tonne-kilometre than a helicopter or little aircraft," Barton said, noting the cost is calculated on a per flight-hour basis at $2,500 U.S. It can fly 90 km/h, he said.

The Airlander can land almost anywhere, including on water, snow or ice.

Barton attended the Nunavut Mining Symposium because mining is a target market for the airship, but he said it would be a good investment for a local airline looking for affordable alternatives to current flight options.

"We don't plan to operate it ourselves," Barton said. "We're looking for some companies to partner with, so there are some obvious candidates like Canadian North and First Air, maybe Summit Air. Maybe it would fit with a company like NEAS as well."

The Airlander 10 can carry up to 10,000 kg or 48 passengers, meaning one on the ground in Iqaluit, Cambridge Bay or Rankin Inlet could service a region with regular flights carrying cargo and/or passengers.

Had one been in service earlier this year in Iqaluit, it could have transported the four emergency generators required to serve as the mid-term solution in the wake of the power plant fire.

Instead, a Skycrane helicopter had to be flown in by one of the world's largest planes and assembled on the ground in Iqaluit, all because the hamlet's runway is too short to accommodate a C-130 Hercules plane. Short runways are not a problem for the Airlander.

"The generator could have been strapped in the cargo area of the Airlander 10, we could have flown directly to Pang, landed directly on the frozen bay, and then just taxied up to where the generator was needed, or just get it ashore."

One catch is that the Airlander 10 is about five times the length of a Hercules. A proposed upgrade model, the Airlander 50, will be able to carry six-and-a-half times more cargo, and will be only twice the length of a Hercules. It would be ideal for bringing heavy equipment and shipping containers to a mining site, he said, whereas the lighter-use Airlander 10 is viewed as a solution for geological surveying.

Rocker Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of the band Iron Maiden and a pilot himself, is a major shareholder in the company. Barton said Dickinson would like to own an Airlander 50, once it is produced, to circumnavigate the globe pole to pole.

According to the company's marketing materials, Airlander "likes the cold," which provides better lift, meaning it is "ideal for the remote North."

Wind is no more of an issue for the airship than it would be for a plane, he said, with the ship able to stay in the air above high winds for many hours if needed.

The airship has four engines, but can still operate on one if needed, and floats on water, making it a safe alternative to planes. Its range is 3,200 km before needing refuelling with standard jet fuel.

The company's first commercial partners are based in Sweden, where the ship will be used to transport 50-metre long and six-metre wide wind turbine blades to the far North of the country, avoiding the need for paved roads to get the blades there.

"We basically strap the blades to the side of the Airlander 10, fly over the forest, land on the nearest lake, and the windfarm operators haul them using fairly traditional means the last 50 metres to 100m to where the site is."

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