Truckwest: Ice road truckers needn’t fret – How the use of airships would help the trucking industry
It’s not something from the front cover of a Led Zeppelin album, but it’s just as innovative as the legendary hard rock band.
Look up and someday soon you could see a zeppelin-like airship floating across the Canadian skyline, transporting goods to remote northern communities…
Dr. Barry Prentice is a professor at the University of Manitoba’s I.H. Asper School of Business’s department of supply chain management, and he has long had an interest in airships and even became part of this master’s thesis while in school in Guelph, Ont.
In the 1980s when funding for airships diminished, Prentice went on to work more on other forms of transport, with a particular emphasis on rail, air and truck.
“Around the year 2000, news was emerging that climate change was happening and we could see it in the reducing length of the ice road seasons in the north,” Prentice said. “It occurred to me that cargo airships would provide an ideal solution.”
Prentice attended a conference on airships but was disappointed that there was no focus on the a business case for implementing such a mode of transportation to Canada’s north, so he organized his own business conference – Airships to the Arctic – bringing together potential user and providers of airships to discuss whether the idea was a viable solution to Northern Canada’s supply chain woes.
Prentice notes that despite the fact that there are currently around 12 airship developments currently taking place, there are no commercial cargo airships that exist, but there could be in the next three to four years.
“The problem in every case is the lack of funding,” Prentice said. “The two airships that are closest to development are the AirLander in the U.K and the SkyTug by Lockheed Martin in the US.
“It is worth noting that unlike the 1980s, the collapse of oil prices has not dampened interest in cargo airships. The difference in 2016 is the concern about climate change. International agreements to curb carbon emissions have been signed and carbon taxes (and) cap and trade programs have been created.”
Prentice said airships burn far less fuel because they use no energy to lift, and can use alternative fuels like methane and hydrogen without compromising cargo space due to their large size.
“Lighter-than-air airships have much higher fuel efficiency than heavier-than-air aircraft,” said International Air Transport Association spokesman Jean Baptiste Meusnier, as noted in ‘Sustainable Transportation’ report provided by Prentice. “This makes them ideal for the use of cargo, as seen with some of the super heavy lifters already in operation.
“An airship produces 80% to 90% fewer emissions than conventional aircraft. They also fly at the lower altitude of 4,000 feet instead of 35,000 feet, which means their water vapor trails contribute almost nothing to global warming.”
Read the full article here (PDF).