By land mass, Canada is the second largest country on Earth. Yet much like Earth's largest country, Russia, humans populate a very small amount of its land. This leaves large tracts of resources untapped and wilderness unvisited. However, snow and ice make vast swathes of this land inaccessible for all but a few summer months, and large sea ice prevents the same for ships much of the time. And though increasing global temperatures will eventually (if global climate change isn't halted) reduce sea ice and the potential severity of winter, there's another alternative if humans want to traverse interior Canada before that happens: actual freakin' airships.
Barry Prentice is a professor of supply chain management at the University of Manitoba. He recently submitted a paper to Transport Canada (the Canadian government's equivalent of America's Department of Transportation) entitled “Transport Airships for Northern Logistics: Technology for the 21st Century.” It argues that, despite the firey failures of the past, Airships have a lot to offer the world of tomorrow, and even today.
After outlining the hurdles of season-limited maritime traffic, risky land transport, and expensive airplane shipping, Prentice writes:
Transportation infrastructure underpins the economic and social development of a modern economy in southern Canada. In northern areas of Canada transportation challenges discourage investment in resource industries, limit employment prospects, and increase the cost of living. Moreover, the socio-economic conditions in Canada's remote First Nations communities are deplorable. While some communities are better off than others, 60-80 percent unemployment, food prices two to three times higher than urban centres, high incidence of diabetes, boiled water restrictions and lack of indoor plumbing are commonly found. High food prices have given rise to citizen activism (Strapagiel, 2012) and concerns about food security have been the subject of in-depth analysis (Council of Canadian Academies, 2014).
Few transportation options exist because of cost, distance and demand. The North is served best by air transport, but the increasing cost of aviation is causing spiraling increases in food and fuel prices in northern communities and resource extraction sites. Land transportation is limited in many places to ice roads that are becoming increasingly vulnerable to climate change. Governments have neither the financial capacity, nor the political will, to undertake the expense of road infrastructure in northern Canada. A new approach is needed to northern logistics.
Highlighting the efforts of a few existing modern airship companies, Prentice outlines one of the first markets where it seems airships truly offer a competitive advantage. Needing only limited space to deliver their goods and capable of carrying heavy cargoes, airships could act much like ocean-going vessels do for much of the world: hauling in bulk items regularly, without the added costs and speed of airplane delivery.
Even better, they're a tool for the economic development of vast, cold areas that works even if humans manage to halt climate change.