Who needs roads or railways when you have blimps?
A small Montreal-based mining exploration company called Quest Rare Minerals Ltd. thinks it may have found a solution to the lack of transportation infrastructure in Canada’s North: a blimp-like hybrid airship made by Lockheed Martin Corp. that can land virtually anywhere for a fraction of the cost of a regular airplane.
Quest plans to use a fleet of seven Lockheed airships to transport supplies and personnel to its Strange Lake mine on the boundary between Quebec and Labrador, 1,100 kilometres northeast of Quebec City. Once the mine is up and running, it will also use the helium-filled airships to transport ore out of the mine as far as the town of Schefferville, Que., where it can be loaded onto railcars.
Residents of northern Quebec shouldn’t expect to see the hybrid airships, which resemble a giant piece of meringue, floating overhead anytime soon. Lockheed Martin is forecasting they will receive certification from Transport Canada near the end of 2018, and first commercial deliveries will begin in 2019. This jibes well with Quest’s schedule — the company plans to ship its first rare-earth minerals, used in everything from smartphones to MRI machines, in 2019.
Once certification is complete, Hybrid Enterprises LLC, Lockheed’s exclusive reseller, will deliver the $40-million airships to U.K.-based Straightline Aviation Ltd., which will then operate them on Quest’s behalf in an $850-million deal.
“This a defining contract which demonstrates how this unique aircraft can unlock the economic potential of the remote regions of the world and in particular Northern Canada without the environmental impact of traditional transport options such as road, rail and airports,” Mark Dorey, chief operating officer of Straightline Aviation, said at a press conference in Ottawa last week.