Nunavut’s largest airline is taking its first step toward launching aircraft in northern Canada.
Canadian North President and CEO Michael Rodyniuk signed a memorandum of understanding with the France-based company Flying Whales, which has an office in Quebec, at the Paris Air Show in late June.
“We decided that we were going to work with them so we could help them develop an aircraft that can fly in the Arctic and [Canada’s] North,” Rodyniuk said.
Canadian North has not contributed any money to Flying Whales and the project is only in the design phase. The earliest the design will be completed is 2025. It will need to be approved by Transport Canada.
“I think the partnership we’ve created is really interesting because you have an operator helping in the development stage of a new … airframe that will be a game changer in the North,” Rodyniuk said.
For its part, Flying Whales described the agreement in a press release as something to be proud of. He said he hopes Canadian North can give him a better understanding of what it takes, and the challenges ahead, to move cargo to remote areas of the north.
Giving wings to a long-discussed idea
The idea of blimps has been floated in Canada for years. The Quebec government also signed an agreement with Flying Whales, contributing $30 million to get the idea off the ground.
Rodyniuk argues that the aircraft could “drastically reduce the cost” of goods in the North.
“If we can have a kind of flying warehouse that flies on hybrid electric power, that doesn’t need the infrastructure on the ground necessarily to deliver its payload, we can dramatically reduce the cost of goods in the North by flying them on an aircraft,” Rodyniuk said. .
Flying Whales blimps use 180,000 cubic meters of helium to stay afloat, unlike a jet engine on an airplane.
Rodyniuk said the aircraft could save money on fuel and ultimately lower the price of cargo when it hits the shelves.
There are many challenges when it comes to flying an aircraft up north. High winds, low temperatures, and unpredictable weather present difficulties.
Barry Prentice, the director of the Institute of Transportation at the University of Manitoba, has been trying to bring aircraft to the North for two decades.
An aircraft only needs a quarter of the fuel and aircraft needs, Prentice said.
“There really is no good substitute in terms of aircraft,” he said. “The North needs a better way to transport cargo.”
Prentice also noted that the aircraft are currently not regulated in Canada.
“There are still no regulations in Canada that would allow a person to be qualified to fly an aircraft here. You can’t even get a mechanic’s certification or license to work on an aircraft,” Prentice said.
Flying Whales’ blimps can carry about 60,000 kilograms of cargo, which is about 30 percent more than Canadian North’s planes can carry, Rodyniuk said.
But aircraft also need specific infrastructure to offload that cargo, since they technically hover rather than land.
Prentice said the planes can stay in the air “for weeks at a time.”
“The wind can be very strong at times … you’re not going to be flying aircraft on those days,” Prentice said.
He added that “the operating window of an airship is almost the same as that of an airplane.”
Rodyniuk said the aircraft could also bring mobile hospitals to communities in the north,
“A fully operational hospital can show up in one community and stay there before moving to another community,” he said.