Mines in some of the world’s most remote locations could soon be a little more accessible thanks to a deal signed by U.S.-based Lockheed Martin and Straightline Aviation of the United Kingdom that will have the former deliver 12 hybrid airships beginning in 2018.
The airships are distinct from traditional airships in that there is the tri-lobe hull that combines the direct lift of a helicopter and the aerodynamic lift of a fixed wing aircraft with the buoyant lift of an airship. The ships have a maximum speed of 110 km/h (68 mph) and a cargo capacity of 20 t (22 st). The purchase agreement could be worth as much as US$480 million.
CBC News reported that the airships are expected to be deployed in Canada's North, Alaska, southeast Asia and the Middle East.
Mike Kendrick, Straightline co-founder and chief executive officer, said there are already customers interested.
“It's important to focus on the low-hanging fruit and the biggest problem and the biggest need at this particular point is the oil, gas and mining fraternity,” he said. “They have to find ways of getting oil out of the ground less expensively, more efficiently, without compromising safety.”
Zeppelins have long been held out as a promising idea to serve as a workhorse in Canada’s North and the oilsands, where huge pieces of heavy equipment often need to be transported to places with no all-weather roads.
“People are waiting for this because they need the economies that it brings and are also happy that the carbon footprint is reduced,” Kendrick said.
Straightline's Mark Dorey said the airships will benefit the mining industry.
“We’re aware that part of the world is very sensitive from an environmental point of view. You don’t have to build ice roads or bridges or wait for the environmentalists to give you permission. You can simply land on the ice,” said Dorey.
Binns said the ships can be fitted with tanks to transport diesel to remote areas now serviced by ice roads or helicopters.
“This is a way to service those mines all year round. With the airships we can deliver to the mines 340 days a year.”