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Canada's infrastructure issue and a return of the Zeppelin?

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Wednesday, September 23, 2015, 6:11 PM - A new report in Canadian Manufacturing draw attention to Canada's infrastructure problem and how some companies hope to alleviate the issue, including one brash idea to bring back an iconic airship.

According to the report, close to 70 per cent of Canada's landmass -- approximately 7 million square kilometres -- is inaccessible by major roads or rail lines.

Some areas can be reached seasonally by ice roads or by ships, but the winter months can completely cut off parts of the country.

Much of this 70 per cent can be found in the north and while portions of it are uninhabited, there are small populations scattered throughout.

Inaccessibility drives up the cost of goods in these regions and can turn the transport of valuable items a logistical nightmare, especially when the weather isn't cooperating.

Canadian Manufacturing says the issue has attracted the attention of several companies, all of which are vying for a solution.

One idea that's being tossed around is bringing back the Zeppelin -- rigid airships that saw their heyday in the early 1900s.

“It’s been a long time in the wilderness… [but] the airship is finally finding itself a market,” Barry Prentice, a professor of supply chain management at the University of Manitoba, told Canadian Manufacturing.

The USS Los Angeles, a US Navy airship built by the Zeppelin Company. Courtesy: Wikipedia

Zeppelins aren't often seen nowadays, largely due to the disastrous Hindenburg disaster that was broadcast around the world nearly 80 years ago.

“It isn’t that the technology didn’t work. The Germans took their Zeppelins from Brazil to Germany back and forth on a scheduled flight, and they never had an accident except for that famous one in New Jersey,” Prentice added.

But experts say the technology has its benefits.

The ships are able to carry heavy cargo and require less fuel than conventional planes due to their buoyancy. That makes them cheaper to operate and better for the environment.

“These airships allow access to virtually anywhere, water or land, in wide range of weather conditions, without forward infrastructure or manpower required,” Lockheed Martin Hybrid Airships program manager, Bob Boyd told Canadian Manufacturing.

Barry Prentice, a professor of supply chain management at the University of Manitoba, adds that safety standards and testing abilities have improved significantly since the Hindenburg era, minimizing the risk of a repeat disaster.

The concept became a source for heated debate on the content-sharing site Reddit, with some users wondering if the technology is a good fit for Canada's sometimes harsh weather conditions.

"Zeppelins basically can't fly in even moderate winds," Reddit user guyjin speculates.

"It might make shipping cheaper when the weather cooperates, but my understanding of northern weather is that it doesn't often cooperate."

Source: Canadian Manufacturing | Reddit

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