Thursday, February 7, 2008

4th Airships to the Arctic Symposium - Commentary Part 3

Once again we bring you another part of our Airships to the Arctic Symposium coverage. This is part 3 in a series of posts. You can read part 1 and part 2 to catch up if you have missed them. All parts of the Commentary are written by Charles R Luffman of LTA Solutions.
Todays part takes a look at the first day of the conference and talks about each of the sessions that were held.
The Conference – Day 1, Tuesday 30 October 2007


As Chairman, Barry kicked the two-day conference off in the hotel’s 7th floor Concert Hall with his first guest, the Honourable Ron Lemieux (Minister, Manitoba Department of Infrastructure and Transportation), who provided a welcoming address. The Minister was clearly very pleased to do this, showing his enthusiastic support for LTA aircraft as a possible way to overcome the logistics challenges of northern regions.

His remark, “Airships will certainly be a reality. We want to be part of that”, shows his enthusiasm and he also stated that airships were “personally and government supported”. During his address he further said that, with airships, the town of Churchill by the Hudson Bay was viewed as a viable port (gateway) to America and he added that he was looking at making Manitoba the hub for LTA activities (primarily transportation).

These remarks from a government minister certainly are good news for the LTA industry and I hope this will make the difference to help make it happen. Up ship!

Session 1: Logistical Challenges in Resource Extraction (8:30-10:00 am)

For this session Barry introduced Eric Hinton of Golder Associates Ltd. to be the moderator. Eric is a mining engineer with a fair amount of experience in underground and open pit mines. He had attended the workshop, where he explained the needs of the mining industry. Eric’s first speaker (of two) was Richard Gibbons of Tolko Industries, Ltd. (who was not at the workshop).

Richard’s subject was Forest Product Transport in Manitoba. Nonetheless, he also told us about Tolko’s overall business and the responsibilities he had with regard to proper sustainable management of the resources and care for the habitat without damage to the ecosystem – minimising the impact of harvesting by selective cutting, new tree planting and reversion of land worked to its former state afterwards. He was a hard headed man with not much interest in fanciful notions, needing practical reliable solutions for the movement of large quantities of heavy logs, solid cut wood and paper in the remote regions. He was also interested in ways to monitor the vast areas of lakes and forest (with slow air patrols), assistance with the movement of equipment used, wood hauling and bridging across ravines or difficult territory. Although initially he stated that he could not see the link between his business and airships, the more he was exposed to the idea, the greater his interest became.

Eric’s second speaker was Ron Malashewski, the President of Cliff Lake Capital Ltd., who was at the workshop and who talked about Mining beyond the Roads. Ron’s professional background was largely to do with investment and finance. However, he also was concerned at corporate levels with business and strategic planning, project management, operations and maintenance. He holds a prospector’s licence and is a member of ISO Polar. He told us that ship routes were now opening earlier and lasting longer, and they were transporting 35,453 tons of metal annually. Transport operations between the port and the mines, however, was a problem where there was a need to move 150 tons per day over 750 km. He explained that the Saskatchewan region has money for development in order to extract new resources of uranium, gold, diamonds and many other critical minerals/elements. Even so, he said that the mining companies were only interested in reliable solutions for further exploration and movement. This was a consistent message from speakers who were interested but reluctant to invest in LTA without proof of its ability to deliver.

Session 2: Logistical Challenges in Resource Exploration (10:30-12:00 am)

The proceedings moved forward with Al Phillips of A.J. Phillips & Associates as the next session moderator. He also is an associate of the Transport Institute. His second speaker (David Owens from Major Drilling Group International), who was billed to talk about ‘Diamond Drilling and Mineral Exploration’, regrettably was unavailable. Whilst it would have been interesting to hear about this activity in arctic regions, from ZLT’s business with De Beers in Botswana, the subject matter was covered at the AIAA’s LTA conference recently in Belfast. So Al just had Stuart Russell, the Vice President of Braden-Burry Expediting, to introduce.

Stuart (who also was at the workshop) provided us with an interesting animated talk titled Arctic Gas Exploration. He covered most aspects of the logistics operations his company is involved in. He clearly was an enthusiast of the northern regions, having moved to Yellowknife in 1971 to live there. He was a flier, having been involved with Hercules flight operations and civil airlines over many years. He also said he is pro-airship, which he felt should be part of an integrated transport network, and is a fan of training and using local people for operations. His operations from Yellowknife supplied many Inuvik regions and ranged from Edmonton to the Beaufort Sea, where there were drilling operations. His air transport needs were for 2000 km range. He told us about his activities in developing numerous supply chains and clearly was instrumental in keeping things moving. He advocated utilisation of experts and his distribution needs for the oil and gas industry were from source to site. He told us that there was a need to carry heavy bulky goods together with fuel and passengers in combined operations, although the number of passengers on any flight was low (up to say 20).

Lunch Speaker (12:00-1:30 pm)

Lunch was organised in the adjacent Crystal Ballroom for the many guests, enabling networking to progress. Nonetheless, when our meal was over and keeping things moving, Barry introduced Dale Booth of Partnering First Solutions to address us while still at our tables.

Dale’s subject, Making It Happen: Procurement-based Initiatives, essentially was a proposition for the delegates to get together and come up with a way to begin LTA operations within 18 months. This was to be a sort of contest, where the winner would be awarded with a contract to supply the northern communities. Dale is a specialist of First Nations’ business, economic development and infrastructure who has held positions in the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, where he developed ways to enable success of First Nations economic development involving partnering solutions. He now has several First Nation communities as clients and is helping them to realise their housing and infrastructure goals. While his proposal was well received, this resulted in much animated discussion, because it was felt that 18 months was too short for a proper service to be established (needing certification by the authorities). Nonetheless, trials and demonstrations should be possible. This was certainly something to be developed and was similar to proposals that Ron Hochstetler introduced in the previous month at the AIAA LTA conference in Belfast. This is an exciting prospect that should help the LTA industry. Let’s get it on!

Session 3: Logistical Challenges in Serving Remote Communities (1:30-3:00 pm)

Barry, true to his cause, encouraged everyone back to the Concert Hall across the way in a timely manner where the conference continued. There he introduced Fred Petrie, the Accountable Executive for First Nations Transport Inc, as the next speaker.

Fred, who is a transportation economist and also attended the workshop, was there to tell us about his experience with Air-lift to Remote Communities. Showing his preparedness to help make things happen, he started his talk by offering to provide the test market for the first LTA operations. His company provides cargo and airline services for the remote communities of northeast Manitoba and northwest Ontario and his assignment is to enable it to be a stable/profitable enterprise for transition to aboriginal and employee ownership. He also is involved with Sasco Ltd., a winter road trucking business. With 40 years experience, constantly facing the logistics challenges of northern freight transportation, Fred was well able to inform about the issues and to make the case for a solution to overcome the worsening conditions discussed already.

Next on Barry’s list of speakers was Jim Huggard, the Manager of the Merchandising Division from Arctic Co-operatives Limited, who was there to tell us about Retail Logistics in the Arctic. Jim was not at the workshop, so had come especially for the conference to advise about the logistics challenges he faces. Having worked in Co-op Retailing for 28 years managing Retail Stores and Federated wholesale Co-ops, he was well able to tell us about the problems of the supply chain from the distribution point to the customer in remote northern regions. He uses every way available (barge, ship, aircraft, road and rail) for supply of merchandise, which could be anything from boots, food and fuel to furnishings, equipment and housing, depending on the urgency and conditions. Often orders were made a year or so in advance and the goods then put into storage until supply was possible. What was significant for customers was the variable rather high cost for anything ordered, depending on the cost of supply to different locations. Some of the essential goods, such as food, were subsidised and this was a great help in paying for the supply services necessary.

Session 4: Logistical Challenges in Project Freight (3:30-5:00 pm)

For the last session of the day Barry introduced Graham Starmer, President of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce since 1998, as the Moderator. Graham, a Brit who emigrated to Canada in 1969, also appeared to be pro airship, saying “it was not a matter of whether airships were needed but when would they be available to provide operating services!?” Another question he proffered was, “what are the alternatives?” No doubt there are alternatives, but at what cost? He explained that Manitoba was committed to extending the network of permanent all weather roads. However, these will cost several billion dollars, will damage the ecosystem, enable unwanted visitors (causing further damage) and contribute to global warming and pollution through their use. His view was that LTA aircraft were a better choice that would be cost effective and with minimal damaging effects. Let’s work to develop the industry and prove this view.

Graham’s first invited speaker was to be Don Finnvik, the Director of Business Development, B&K Trucking to talk about Wind Turbine Transport and Assembly, but regrettably he was not there. It would have been good to hear about the issues Canada faces with such installations and the extent to which Canada wishes to go with them. No doubt the remote communities would benefit greatly from these installations through year round power supply. I often see new windmills being erected in Germany and am sure that LTA may assist with both transport and construction (as a crane) to enable windmills to be installed almost anywhere. What we need, however, is a paid commission to undertake necessary development for such purposes. If enlightened people in influential positions, such as Graham, appreciate that the industry cannot afford to develop new LTA aircraft for their own sake, then there is a chance.

So, to explain the challenges of moving freight in the northern regions, Graham introduced us to Jerry Pokrupa, an Architectural Technologist from Keewaytinook Okimakanak (the Northern Chiefs’ Council). Jerry (who was at the workshop) had prepared a talk on Building Construction in the Near North. Providing housing for the northern communities, who badly need better living accommodation, is an essential supply chain issue – how to deliver the construction materials, often as large prefabricated parts or perhaps the whole building. Nonetheless, his talk was more about preparing and operating the winter roads from the main routes to the localised communities. He provided graphic detail of the severe conditions and problems faced, showing vehicles that had fallen through the ice or in ditches and crashed, where emergency recovery action was necessary. In almost every case, he said that the goods in transit were damaged and this had to be accepted because of the difficulties to re-supply. Naturally, this also added to the cost. Jerry provided details about the costs of building and operating the winter roads, which should be available when the papers are published, showing how these varied from one community to another – depending on their circumstances and the weather conditions encountered. His work was not for light hearted people, where difficulties and dangers were ever present.

Following Jerry’s talk, at about 5.00 pm, we were then introduced to Mayor Michael Spence from the Town of Churchill, Manitoba, to round off the day’s conference. The Mayor’s message basically was that they can’t wait 10 to 20 years for a solution. They need it right away, in order to simply survive and carry on. For people with ready and effective solutions it will be necessary to talk with the leaders in the northern communities, like the mayor, to reach agreement on how things will be developed. It appears that the finance essentially will flow via the northern communities, since they enable the mines and forests to be worked and the resources to be extracted. They also want to be in control of their own circumstances, where they need to take over and run the supply chain network. No doubt initial training will be necessary for LTA aircraft operations but, after all, they are there, need the work and know the circumstances they live under, so are best placed to run the operations. It’s all about cooperation.

Symposium Banquet – Reception 5:30pm Dinner 6:30 pm

It had been an intense day, so the banquet was a chance to relax in the company of good people from far and wide. Naturally this also was a networking occasion, forming new relationships and discussing possibilities. The banquet was held in the Crystal Ballroom, where we had previously gathered for lunch, so already familiar to everyone. What I hadn’t discovered before, however, was a glass roofed and floored recess with a bar. Naturally, this was where things started and it quickly filled with people chattering away. Even so, we were soon ushered to the tables for our feast.

The ballroom was filled with large round tables each seating around 10 people. Looking around it was apparent that, as well as the symposium delegates, additional guests from Winnipeg had swelled our number – probably over 100 people in total. As banquets go, it was a jolly occasion, thoroughly enjoyable on every aspect – good food, good wine, excellent company and flawless service. Just splendid! Then, when the meal was over, there was a celebration event.

In the spirit of Entrepreneurship that the symposium was held to encourage, Hubert Kleysen a retired businessman from the region, was honoured for his work, inspiration to others and contribution in the community as an Entrepreneur. But first, to understand what an Entrepreneur is, we were provided with an explanation from a learned fellow from the university. This was quite entertaining, as well as enlightening. After Hubert’s award he addressed the ensemble, recounting a few stories pertinent to the occasion. Hearing his words was a great way to end the day.
This is the end of part 3, thanks for reading all the way to the end, we are aware that this is quite a lot of text but you can do selective reading and we think it is important to publish what has happened during the conference especially for those who could not attend. There will definitely be a part 4 covering day two and probably a part 5 with closing remarks.

1 comment:

peter said...

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