No, it’s a lighter-than-air cargo hauler, and Manitoba is in the cockpit!


By Volker Beckman,  Thompson Chamber of Commerce


Visualize huge 200-metre-long airships hauling up to 100 tons of cargo, fuel, food, building materials, mine ore, and equipment into northern Manitoba and the Arctic over the next five to seven years. They are coming! 

Airships are a green technology with electric propulsion that has zero carbon emissions. The advantages of reduced freight rates and year-around delivery of goods are significant for distant and isolated parts of Canada. Continuous delivery of supplies by airship would expand mining, overcome seasonal limitations, and speed up housing construction that is so much in need.

Airships have been around for decades, but recently new developments have been substantial. Flying Whales in France, with a consortium of government and private stakeholders, has invested 360 million Euros in their development. 

Air Nostrum, a Spanish airline, has purchased ten “Airlander 10” airships that are being built by the British Hybrid Air Vehicle (HAV) company. In addition to these slow, but luxurious, air tours beginning in 2026, another tour operator, OceanSky, is planning “Airlander 10” trips to land at the North Pole Sergei Brin’s, (billionaire, co-founder of Google) LTA Research company has built a 407-foot-long airship called Pathfinder 1. It finally came out of the hanger in Paolo Alto, California this year and is undergoing flight tests. His goal is to use them for humanitarian relief when natural disasters strike from earthquakes and hurricanes.

Here is a major opportunity for Manitoba if the opportunity is seized. The Province of Quebec has moved with a $50 million investment in the French company, Flying Whales. Yellowknife has expressed an interest to service the western Arctic. Manitoba can now enter the game and take a significant share of the development and research phase. We must move before this opportunity goes elsewhere.

Before any cargo airship can operate in the extreme cold, snow, and ice of the Arctic, it must get approved for engineering and safety standards by the regulators. Given that Canada needs airships for year-round transport they must be tested in cold winter conditions. 

Over the past two years, a Manitoba Airship Research Task Force has been quietly meeting, planning, and advocating with government, private stakeholders and airship developers to use a potential site in Thompson as the Hub for this new industry.

Extreme cold testing would take place, possibly using an exhausted open pit mine as a below ground hanger space or other local sites. The Task Force is seeking some $100,000 in funding for Phase 1, an engineering feasibility study. 

The interim chair of the Task Force is Volker Beckmann, with the Thompson Chamber of Commerce. Other team members are in Winnipeg, Gillam, Ottawa, and Toronto. A key person on the team is Dr. Barry Prentice, Director, University of Manitoba Transport Institute and President of ISO Polar, a not-for-profit airship association. He is an airship and transportation expert, who is known worldwide by airship companies. He has hosted several airship conferences and webinars on airships and recently promoted Thompson’s intentions at a major airship conference in Germany. Dr. Prentice has been advocating for airships for the past 20 years and presented proposals in Thompson as far back as 2006. His dream could finally come to fruition very soon. 

Ross Prentice, CEO, BASI have a proposal to the CMHC to build an airship landing system called the Buoyant Airship Rotating Depot (BARD). The BARD is a large turntable upon which an airship can land and unload. If the wind changes direction, it keeps the airship facing into the wind. The City of Thompson has endorsed this aspect of the development. There would be several BARDS located in northern Manitoba. 

Once Thompson becomes this Hub for cold weather testing, research, and maintenance, other companies and suppliers can participate to grow this new industry. Who will supply the components? Do the fabrication? Pilot training and certification? Hydrogen supply? Each remote community will need an unloading zone, equipment, and manpower. BARDS will have to be built and serviced. Businesses can start. Jobs created. 

Any new industry always starts with visionaries and humble beginnings. If you or your company have questions or ideas, please contact us. Here’s to... Manitoba flying high!

Contact us at www.isopolar.com or Thompson Chamber of Commerce at 204-677-4155.

@ 2024 Pegasus Publications Inc.