Airships over the Arctic: 2 companies are looking into it

Canadian North believes its years of experience in Arctic climates will be an asset to research partnership with Flying Whales

Flying Whales is a French company with a subsidiary in Quebec. The company is working with Canadian North to look at possibly using airships in the Arctic. (Photo courtesy of Flying Whales)

By Jorge Antunes

This article was updated on Thursday, July 27, 2023 at 6:30 p.m.

Could giant flying airships offer a better way to transport cargo in extreme Arctic conditions?

Canadian North and French airship company Flying Whales want to know, and are working together to research the use of cargo airships in the North.

“We hope to be able to help Flying Whales with the development of their aircraft,” Canadian North CEO Michael Rodyniuk said in an interview.

A representative from Flying Whales could not be reached for comment.

The two companies are looking at airships, which are similar to blimps — like the Goodyear Blimp — except airships have a frame while blimps are a giant balloon.

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Flying Whales is proposing to use airships that are 200 metres long — nearly three times longer than a Boeing 747 — and would be able to carry 60 tonnes of cargo.

Canadian North has been flying in the Arctic for 77 years and believes that expertise could help overcome the harsh environment and other challenges such as winds, icing and darkness.

“Anti-icing systems, the ability to hover for a period of time in very strong winds. What would be required as far as tethering or masting” — all of these things need to be considered and Rodyniuk said he believes Canadian North could help answer those questions.

For the time being, the two companies are working together to answer questions like that.

Rodyniuk said if Flying Whales can develop an aircraft capable of flying in the Arctic, his airline would consider acquiring it.

Cargo airships are seen by some as a possible solution to infrastructure deficits of the North.

Airship technology has advanced significantly since the 1930s when it was popular for a time, said Barry Prentice, a professor and director of the University of Manitoba Transport Institute.

He said it wasn’t the several high-profile disasters, such as the Hindenburg explosion in 1937, that killed the dirigible industry in its infancy. Rather, it was the advent of commercial air travel and jet engines.

Jet planes were faster, cheaper and could carry more passengers than dirigibles.

Most of those factors still remain true, he said, which is why the newest evolution of airships is focused on cargo shipping. Airships need minimal infrastructure and can drop off cargo in the most remote locations.

Prentice has been studying and advocating airships being used for cargo for more than 20 years and said it’s only recently that real progress is being made.

He compares it to the development of the internet, where early on there wasn’t much interest on the part of the government or investors until the mid-1990s when investment exploded.

He believes that the tipping point is approaching or, as he calls it, “airship mania.”

“This idea is like a pent-up idea that’s been working away for a long time,” Prentice said, predicting “there will be a lot of money flowing into this” once people understand what airships are capable of.

Considering existing projects, he believes the tipping point is likely about five years away.

Modern airships are also environmentally friendly. Current designs feature electric engines and don’t use any fuel beyond the hydrogen or helium that’s needed to inflate them. Airships would maintain a tiny carbon footprint, which would only improve as green sources of electricity increase.

To that end, the huge open spaces of the Arctic are ideal for wind farms, Prentice said. While the region does not get as much sun as the south, vast arrays of windmills could be deployed.

The entire North is dependent on diesel for energy, which has been a bone of contention between the northern premiers and the federal government’s approach to fighting climate change.

In addition to green energy development, he said airships could be used in mining operations, transporting building materials for homes, and transporting fresh fruit and vegetables year-round.

The airships are even large enough to be used as mobile hospitals or medical clinics, which is specifically part of Flying Whales’ plans.

It’s hard to get a dentist to move to a remote community with a population of 400, Prentice said, but with an airship dentists and their technicians could be brought to the community.

Food prices in the North are “horribly expensive,” Prentice said, but with less-expensive shipping “there’d be no need for a food subsidy, [for the] transport of food if we had airships.

“There’s no place in the world that stands to benefit more than northern Canada.”

Clarification: This article was updated to include that both hydrogen and helium are gases that can be used in airships.


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(9) Comments:

  1. Posted by Putting this out there on

    Wow Canadian North is going to finally do cargo…
    because right now they are so bad at what they call doing Cargo. How does it take 2-4 (if not longer) weeks to ship stuff between communities.
    No reliability.

  2. Posted by I live in the Arctic on

    Wow very cool, I wouldn’t mind working on an airship, how cool would it be if summer airships had surrounded by solar cells.

    I hope to see them flying around.

  3. Posted by NASCAR on

    Where’s the Good Year logo?

  4. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    Back in 2011 Discovery Air was hyping airships from a British company called Hybrid Air Vehicles. The plan was to buy up to 45 of them. Of course the deal expired the following year with little fanfare, and not even a toy blimp being flown around the Discovery Air hangar.

    Get a working craft and then fly it up to Iqaluit in January. Let’s see if it can survive a week. Prove that the technology can survive the environment.

  5. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    read between the lines.

    Canadian North is gobbling up another competitor to bury this at its infancy before they grow legs and walk on their own.

    • Posted by Tell us more? on

      I don’t see that here, show us where you take that assessment from?

  6. Posted by common sense on

    Canadian North just looking for another tax write-off like their new uniforms.
    Hydrogen is what Hindenburg had. How did that go? Stop wasting our money and find ways to lower fares and be more efficient.

  7. Posted by Carl Fay on

    This is the definition of innovation. With the cost of living in the North, the affects of global warming growing daily, I say get at it. This tech has been around for generations. It shouldn’t take long to perfect. They may as well keep there food subsidy, it’s only a pittance anyway, time for real solutions.

  8. Posted by MARK SEIDENBERG on

    This airship msy be a great alternative to bring cargo from mainland Alaska to Wrangell Island in the Arctic Ocean as alternative to a ship. Wrangell Island (f.n.a. New Columbia Land entered the District of Alaska on 17 May 1884, by resolution of the Alaska Board of the United States Department of the Treasury under Section 1 of the Harrison Alaska Organic Act.

    The six islands added to the District of Alaska on 17 May 1884 included five additional islands, viz., Bennett, Forrester, Henrietta, Herald, and Jeannette not included in the Alaska Treaty of 29 March 1867.

    Wrangell’s Land was the name that Charles Francis Hall gave to the land the British Navy assigned as Kellett Land. It was on 17 February 1868 that POTUS Addrew Johnson by an Executive Memorandum order the Arctic Land to be attached to the United States. That happened on 12 August 1881 when a landing party from the ship THOMAS CORWIN took formal possession in the name of G-d, POTUS, and the Secretary of the Treasury. That landing party was headed by 3rd Lt. William Edward Reynolds, USRM and included John Muir, and Edward Nelson.

    It was on 1 April 1924 that the Lomen Brothers of Nome, Alaska went on title to all of Wrangell Island, Alaska.

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