Joel Shurkin, contributor
Travelling through the Arctic is notoriously difficult and climate change is making it even harder. But there is a way to rise above the problem: the latest generation of lighter-than-air vehicles. Canadian company Discovery Air has signed a contract with the UK’s Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) to buy around 45 new hybrid air vehicles. These aircraft will be used across Canada’s Northwest Territories.
Whether taking out lumber from the forests or helping people access remote villages, transportation in Arctic Canada can be extrememly daunting. Most transportation is either by air, which is expensive, by boat, or by ice road. Rising winter temperatures, due to climate change, are likely to make Canada’s ice roads less stable and reduce the amount of time in winter in which they can safely be used.
Gordon Taylor, marketing director for HAV, says the vessels are technically neither airships nor blimps. While they do make use of non-explosive helium for lift, they also get substantial lift from the aerodynamic design of the fuselage.
HAV already has a major contract for hybrid vehicles with the US Defence Department for long-endurance surveillance vessels.
The vessels Discovery Air has ordered are HAV’s model 366, which Taylor says can carry 50 tonnes if they take off horizontally like an airplane and around 30 tonnes if they take off vertically. Not even the largest helicopters in the world can match that, explains Taylor.
One hundred and ten metres long, the vessels can reach altitudes of almost 3000 metres and can take off and land almost anywhere. The cargo will fit in the fuselage for very long trips or can hang beneath the ship for shorter ones. Later models can also be flown remotely.