The makers of an airship were in Hay River on Thursday to pitch the idea to an NWT cabinet committee meeting. 

Thursday’s pitch involved the NWT’s economy and environment committee of cabinet, Hay River South MLA Wally Schumann, Thebacha MLA Louis Sebert and Premier Bob McLeod.

The P-791 Hybrid Air Vehicle is a massive blimp-like aircraft that has been in development for 20 years.

The developer of the craft, Lockheed Martin, thinks it could be a solution to some of the logistical challenges to transport in the North. In fact, much of its design is based around remote operation.

“Today’s meeting was primarily one for sharing information,” said Grant Cool, chief operating officer with Hybrid. “We came to brief the premier and some of cabinet on what we’re doing and to open dialogue.”

The aircraft is known as a hybrid airship because it has features of a traditional airplane, while maintaining some features of a blimp-like craft. Only a portion of the lift comes from the helium that’s in the body, while the rest of the lift comes from moving forward like an airplane.

SEARCHING FOR CUSTOMERS 

For the company, the goal is to find potential users of the airship, whether that’s a government or a private oil and gas company.

“We believe northern Canada and Alaska are the primary two markets where we’ll see the airships put into use,” said Cool.

“We’ve been speaking to the mining companies, large oil and gas companies, governments, aviation companies and various logistic and operations companies here to find ways to put it into operation.”

The GNWT doesn’t appear to be interested in purchasing the vehicles themselves, but Premier Bob McLeod has called the idea innovative. The idea of airships in the North isn’t new, with Hybrid having held over 30 meetings with potential customers in the NWT over the last five years.

So far, 12 of the aircraft have been ordered by a British company known as Straightline Aviation. The purchase was valued at $480 million.

The P-791 can travel up to 2,500 km while carrying as much cargo as a transport truck. Lockheed says they are more efficient than planes and helicopters because of their low weight, but they only travel at speeds around 120 km/h.

Before it can get off the ground commercially, however, an extensive certification and regulatory process is required from various agencies.

“The world has never seen this kind of aircraft before,” said Cool. “We are completely new, so new that there are no regulations from Transport Canada so we’re having to create those as we go along.”

With a prototype already built, the company expects production to begin in 2018 with the possibility of the aircraft working in the North by the following year.

QUICK FACTS:

  • Powered by four diesel engines
  • 280 feet long
  • has the ability to turn 120 degrees allowing for vertical take-off
  • fitted with four hovercraft-style landing pads which allow for standing down on land, ice or water without being tied to the ground like the older generation airships
  • can fly up to 2,500 km
  • can carry up to 19 passengers and 20 tonnes of cargo