What is the biggest dilemma facing Arctic and sub Arctic communities these days? Not how many cups of coffee to have, nor how many layers of caribou hide to wear on a -50c winter day…not even how to keep those big, furry polar bears in check….more importantly how to ship goods and supplies all over the North at an affordable rate. Well, Barry Prentice a University of Manitoba supply chain management professor may have come up with a solution..albeit very futuristic.
Prentice has been researching the idea for over ten years now and he thinks he has the capability of solving the problem. If all goes as scheduled, the first airship he has designed will take flight over the North this Fall in what will be a maiden voyage for a fleet of six or more flying transportation vessels. Many pieces of the first ship are assembled and a hanger has been assembled at St. Andrews airport in Winnipeg.
” I think that this could be a very large industry for Manitoba one day. This is a need that spans our entire northern three-quarters of the country.” Prentice stated. The need could be particularly timely as the port of Churchill is under threat of losing a vast majority of its’ capital with the impending government- forced closure of the Canadian Wheat Board. If that happens, shipping from the port to the North may also severely diminish. The old outdated cargo moving system of track-rovers has gone by and the barge shipping season is a short one. With no rail -lines farther than Churchill, the need is there for a prudent alternative method.
His final product will be about 25 metres long and cost about $100,000, not including labour costs. Its top speed will be 50 kilometres per hour. While the cost seems extensive when one figures in testing, repairs and modifications, and maintenance, it outweighs the effort to build roads, a nearly impossible task, in the permafrost – laden arctic. However, the affects of cold weather on these ships is unknown and somewhat of a concern in the frigid Winter months.
“(Conventional) airships are basically fair-weather flyers, and they’re not engineered to operate in 30-below. If we want to operate airships in Canada, then they have to be robust, year-round vehicles, and that means they have to be engineered to deal with freezing temperatures so the valves don’t stick and the rubber doesn’t fasten to the door when you’re trying to open it.”
All this testing will go on most likely over the next few years and hopefully funding from his company Buoyant Aircraft Systems International (BASI) and its’ funding investors will endure the preliminary stages.