Wednesday, January 30, 2008

4th Airships to the Arctic Symposium - Commentary Part 2

Today we continue our coverage of the Airships to the Arctic Symposium that we started last Wednesday. If you missed part 1 you might want to catch up by reading it here. This second part continues the introduction of the conference and talks about the workshop and the public lecture that were held on the day before the actual conference started. Again the commentary was written by Charles R Luffman of LTA Solutions. If you have any questions regarding the conference either send us an email or contact him directly, he also offers engineering consulting for the airship industry.
Making it Happen

Promotion of Airships to the Arctic and ISO Polar's efforts are therefore seen to be logical activities to enable timely and effective solutions. Whilst previous symposiums had paved the way, this symposium was organised with the theme of, 'Making it Happen'. So, with this in mind, the symposium was arranged with three consecutive parts, as follows:
- Workshop
- Public Lecture
- Conference

The Workshop

This first event got underway on Monday 29 October 2007 at about 2:00 pm for a 3 hour session as a combined ISO Polar Annual Meeting and, more particularly, a Workshop to discuss matters. 33 delegates attended the Workshop in a large first floor room of the hotel.

With Barry chairing a logical progression of the subject matters ensued. First, as one would expect, was an introduction from each delegate around the large table to say who they were and explain their reasons for being there.

From this we learned about the diverse interests of the delegates. 13 were international delegates, with the rest (20) from Canada. Of the international delegates, 5 were from the USA, 4 from Germany (including myself, a Brit), 2 from the UK, 1 from Australia and 1 from Japan (there to monitor rather than contribute).

Whilst Canada does have some LTA companies, notably: 21st Century Airships (run by Hokan Colting, from Sweden) and Advanced Hybrid Airships (run by Bruce Blake from down under); none were represented at the workshop. Hokan, however, was a speaker in the following symposium (more later). Also, Barry has a significant track record on LTA matters.

Nonetheless, my conclusion was that Canada does not have very much at the moment with regard to LTA technology, although it urgently needs it. Very sensibly though, it is taking positive steps to redress the situation (the reason for the symposium) and is open to international collaboration.

By contrast, of the 13 international delegates, 11 were active in the field of LTA technology and with 1 aspiring businessman ready to become involved. One might say these are the people who recognise Canada's needs and were there to help, as they may. Even so, practically all (including myself), need funding (a prime issue for the technology to develop) to make things happen.

Of the 20 from Canada, except for Barry, most had little LTA knowledge. These people were mainly there to explain their interest and express their real need for a solution to the effects of global warming, causing havoc with the winter roads. Although many were sceptical, they also were most interested to learn whether LTA aircraft were worth consideration.

The main group, around half of the 20, were involved with mining, exploration, construction, industry and energy supply (the later mainly wind turbines). These people expressed their problems and needs, which included transport of goods, large heavy parts and equipment. They also expressed their need for aerial cranes and the ability to undertake exploration for minerals and other resources by air.

Another large group (about 8) were people from the transport sector, involved in the movement of goods and people, as: distributors, advisers, regulators, carriers and haulers (air, sea, road and rail). From these people we also learned about their problems and needs. Certainly, some of these people could be customers for either LTA aircraft or their operation.

There also were a small group of people from the communities living in the northern regions who face the hardships and reality of their situation as the winter approaches. While they mainly were there to listen, we learned how they were developing networks to take control in their regions, to run the mines, harvest and manage the forests, undertake exploration and generally supply the resources they have – so must be included in any negotiations that follow.

This last group showed us the human issues we face. We must attend to these people's needs as our first priority, and without damaging their environment any further. In this way we perhaps will enable a better world.

Solutions were shown to be needed urgently (right away). LTA aircraft are a possible way for this, but we must cooperate to make it happen. ISO Polar appears to be the linking organisation for this, enabling its members to fulfil their goals.

To aid the proceedings, Barry also had sitting with him at the head of the table Harry Kelly, who is a successful industrialist from Canada with hard earned experience of what it takes to do business there – making it happen. Harry was there throughout the symposium with pertinent questions and advice, helping the proceedings to remain on track.

Following everyone's introduction, Barry started the debate by asking Ron Hochstetler to clarify the airworthiness authority's position with regard to certification and approvals. Ron explained the general position from a USA standpoint, followed by broad discussion of the topic.

The main issue from the discussion was to determine whether certification was a show stopper for LTA aircraft. Also, to understand the costs and time that the process of evaluation and proof of compliance takes before new LTA aircraft may enter service.

These issues were pertinent, since LTA types to fulfil the logistics operations needed in northern regions don't exist yet, so need to be developed. Really, though, the people from Canada had little interest in certification; they just wanted to know when LTA aircraft of a size and type necessary for the operations could start.

This really sums up what the workshop was about. Gaining an understanding of the issues and an appreciation of what it takes. Naturally, hybrid airships were discussed, as they appear to be in vogue at the moment, but it was made clear that they are a new type of aircraft with many issues that must be resolved before they could be used for normal service. Even so, it also was made clear that these types were not the only solution.

At 5:00 pm Barry duly brought the discussions to a conclusion. After a short break we then went to the 7th floor for the free Public Lecture in the Concert Hall (6.30 - 9.00), which had a stage from which the audience was addressed. This was an open event with several more people attending. About 50 total.

The Public Lecture

Unlike most conferences I've attended, the public event was a welcome addition, since it brought us in touch with mainly local people. From the questions after each of the 2 lectures, the audience were clearly interested in the subject matter and what we were up to, giving those with perhaps not enough time for the main conference over the following 2 days an opportunity to gain an insight.

Barry's first speaker was Dr James Blatz, a local man who is the Associate Head of Geotechnical Engineering at the University of Manitoba. Regular airship folk might think, what's his interest in the technology? Well, his lecture was titled A Birds Eye View of Riverbank Erosion, so it was not so much about an interest in the technology, as what the technology could be used to do - although it was clear that he had become enthused due to involvement.

In James' case, it was a way to monitor a part of the Red river running near by from an overhead position without disturbing anything below. This was a task needed to assess the erosion that was occurring at a particular position. Interestingly, he used a small tethered aerostat for the purpose. This provided a low cost solution with good results.

The second speaker was your commentary's author. Well, it gave me a good reason to be there and I was interested to help Barry, as I could. Knowing that a lot of people in the audience would not especially be knowledgeable about LTA matters and airship possibilities in the 21st century, I had prepared a lecture on Lighter-than-air (LTA) Technology (A View from Europe) to speak generally, in layman's terms, about the whole subject matter.

For those who don’t know me, I am an aeronautical engineer who has specialised in LTA structures since 1981. About 4 years ago, I was asked by a teacher from a local high school in Germany to talk to the older students. The information prepared then was the basis for my lecture, with a picture on every page to give the audience something to look at if my talk droned on. Naturally, with so much material to cover, this was a possibility!

When my lecture was over Barry closed the day's events and we all then dispersed. It had been a long day, especially as my body clock was still on European time and we were due to start again in the morning at 08:15 for the first conference session.
This concludes part 2 of the commentary make sure to read part 1 if you haven't yet. Stay tuned for the next part hopefully in two to three days. If you have any comments please send them to us, we love to get feedback.


george said...

What was your impression of the businessmen that attended the symposium?Would they be interested to get involved to funding technology LTA R&D, or they would wait and see until and if an airworthy airship takes their activities to the skies?

war21x3b said...

L'aerophile à son blog, je vais publier des courses avions, les dirigeables ainsi que des informations sur le pilote de la première. De plus les sorties seront vieilles photos. Vous attend à votre blog. Je vous prie d'excuser le mauvais français ...

Charles said...

Yes, I believe that a number of businessmen were interested to be involved, but nobody said they would be willing to foot the R&D bill on their own. It is still the case that they will try it if it's available, but getting funding for R&D is still an issue.
For people who want to develop this potential, the best approach would be to work with Polar Airships to explore the possibilities and to develop a plan that is supported by the various groups with interest. These are the current suppliers, the local communities and industrial concerns who need the services and, of course, the financial/political establishment.