Wednesday, January 23, 2008

4th Airships to the Arctic Symposium - Commentary Part 1

After yesterdays events, we are now back to our normal posting schedule, we still have way more material than time to write all the posts so let's get on with todays post, which kind of ties in to the Total Pole Airship Expedition which was supposed to got into the Arctic.
On Monday we released a Video about the Airship to the Arctic Symposium that was produced by CBC. If you haven't seen the video you might want to go back and watch it, it's a really nice report about airships and how they could help the transport business in the Canadian north. As promised on Monday we bring you today the first part of the commentary of the 4th Airships to the Arctic Symposium. The commentary was written by Charles R Luffman of LTA Solutions who was so kind to share it with us.
Symposium Details

This international symposium (see http://www.airshipstothearctic.com/), held from Monday 29 to 31 October 2007 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, was a special event, compared with other symposiums organised by the main societies around the world, as it was primarily to promote the use of Lighter-than-air (LTA) aircraft (balloons, aerostats, airships, hybrids or other dirigible types) for use in Canada's northern regions. It was the fourth of a series of symposiums since October 2002 in Winnipeg at the Fort Garry Hotel (see http://www.fortgarryhotel.com/) chaired by Dr Barry E Prentice. The conference was sponsored and supported by ISO Polar Airships Inc.

Barry is Professor of Supply Chain Management at the IH Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba and the former Director (1996 - 2005) of the Transport Institute (see http://umanitoba.ca/faculties/management/ti/). It is primarily due to his vision and determination, to provide a better solution for the supply of goods to people in the northern regions of Canada, that the symposiums were organised.

ISO Polar Airships Inc (see http://isopolar.ca/) is a not-for-profit research institute (an association), founded in March 2005, to help make the objectives possible. This they do by promoting interest between the international LTA aircraft industry and the communities living (plus industrialists operating) in the northern territories of Canada. They undertake economic and engineering studies, coordinate demonstrations, facilitate certification tests and other activities that are in the public interest. They also are a lobby group, interacting with politicians and others to get financial and general support for the cause. Their mission is, ‘To encourage the development of airship technology for sustainable transportation and logistics in the Northern Latitudes.’

Why Canada Urgently Needs LTA Aircraft to Serve its Northern Regions

Due to recent climate change, people living in the northern parts of Canada have been experiencing increasing hardships. This is because of an inability now to deliver essential supplies (food and fuel) due to deterioration of the ice roads as a result of warmer conditions.

This may seem strange, since one might think warmer conditions are better. However, in the arctic environment, the warmer conditions are destabilising - causing changes that upset the regular pattern of life and the seasonal times established there.

With the momentum that has gathered, these changes are unstoppable in the short term and will continue and worsen unless uniform world action is taken to reverse the effect - unlikely. As a result, new reliable ways to deal with the situation at hand are needed just as soon as they can be provided.

Industrialists involved in exploration, extraction and harvesting of Canada's northern territories also need ways to take heavy equipment in and bring things out. Their needs are just as great as the communities’, who also need the work these activities provide. Even so, the solution needed is one that is not harmful to the delicate ecology or environment of the regions served and that doesn't exacerbate global warming even more.

Ice roads traditionally have been prepared annually for freight movement through the winter. The very low temperatures caused thick permafrost on otherwise marshy land and the lakes to freeze, providing hard surfaces over which trucks could be driven.

For this, the snow and scrub land must be cleared, and a smooth track prepared with special sections to prevent ice fracture to control the way vehicles enter and leave the frozen lakes, which may have flowing water beneath - especially where the lake is deep. Then, when conditions stabilise and the ice is thick enough (1 to 2 metres), the truckers get underway.

Even then it's a precarious business, where crashes, break-through (into the lake), entrenchment in the snow or slithering into ditches are constant dangers. This all slows the movement, until blockages, snow drifts and ice fractures are resolved.

Due to climate change, the northern communities now are almost unreachable over land during the cold seasons; mainly because of thin ice and/or poor conditions from the relatively warmer conditions. Autumn now lasts longer and spring arrives sooner, reducing the time that winter ice roads can be used safely. Also, in the autumn and spring periods, when conditions are unstable,little can be moved over land because it is not firm enough to support the trucks.

Because of the ice road problems sometimes communities now do not get all the supplies they need and must rely on small aeroplanes for essentials like food and fuel. Many inhabitants therefore suffer from malnutrition, with diabetes as a common problem and tuberculosis on the rise. Survival is a wretched struggle, resulting in low life expectancy.

The ice roads (very expensive to prepare annually) are the northern Canadian people's main life line. Now, because of global warming, they no longer are reliable and the period they may be used safely is somewhat limited, particularly because snowfall and other bad weather conditions affect their use. The people (mainly aboriginal communities) are confronted with inadequate housing, very high food prices, chronic unemployment and substandard services (water/sewerage, healthcare, education).

It's a dire situation that these communities face each year, where air or perhaps sea (if they are near to it) are the only alternative supply routes. Air freight is possible when conditions permit, but this is very expensive with old aircraft (like DC-3s and Hawker-Siddley 742s) and rather limited with regard to what may be carried. Movement of goods by sea in the winter months also is prevented by thick ice, where temperatures may be below -40°C, so also not reliable.

Heavier-than-air (HTA) aircraft (aeroplanes and helicopters) are used, but these have limitations of capacity and range, suffer from icing conditions and (for aeroplanes) need runways to land and take off - making it difficult to serve isolated communities. Because they can only carry small amounts and their costs are high, HTA types are unsuitable for main heavy freight duties.

LTA aircraft for heavy airlift transport and crane activities, however, have now been recognised in enlightened circles to be a possible way to overcome the problems of Northern Canada. Indeed, as displacement vessels, LTA aircraft get additional buoyancy from the cold atmosphere, when (due to gas contraction) they are topped up with a greater gas fill than they would otherwise get in warmer regions.

They also can be operated with little infrastructure on the ground and their efficiency improves with size - making them cost effective for large heavy loads. If they can also overcome the cold conditions and weather in northern regions, then they will be a solution.
We hope you liked the first part of our conference commentary, we plan on posting two to three more parts to conclude the commentary. If you want to read up on the Airships to the Arctic Symposium check out this post we wrote before linking to a lot of documents that are worth a read.