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Industry can benefit from Discovery Air airship deal: Chamber of Mines
Plan to develop hybrid air vehicles to deliver up to 50 tonnes on land, water, ice, and snow with no need for runway

Thandie Vela
Northern News Services
Published Friday, September 2, 2011

Discovery Air Inc.'s plan to bring a developing line of heavy-lift, blimp-like air vehicles to the North can have beneficial impacts to the mineral development industry and communities, industry says.

NNSL photo/graphic

An artist's rendering of the heavy lift air vehicles Discovery Air Innovations Inc. plans to purchase from British lighter-than-air aircraft manufacturer Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd. - illustration courtesy of Discovery Air Inc.

The deal, signed with UK-based lighter-than-air aircraft manufacturer Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd. and Discovery Air Inc.'s subsidiary Discovery Air Innovations, aims to have the 50-tonne capacity, hybrid airships with the ability to deliver cargo on land, water, ice and snow, with no need for a runway, produced and delivered by 2014.

The helium-filled hull of the crafts creates aerodynamic lift up to 2.7 kilometres, with an ability to travel up to 185 km/hr.

"Should technology like this become available, obviously the industry overall and even communities can see a benefit," NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines vice-president for NWT Hugh Wilson said. "The opportunities are quite encouraging.

"Any new technology that could be a benefit and be cost effective -- and the key is cost effective -- the industry will be more than happy to look at what kind of opportunities this technology would provide."

While Wilson is currently working on a project near the old Discovery gold mine site, with proximity to existing infrastructure in Yellowknife, he said the heavy-lift airships might be of interest for projects in more remote areas, like the Meadowbank gold site, north of Baker Lake in Nunavut.

Discovery Air Innovations has began marketing the vehicles to customers in need of heavy-lift capability into remote areas, particularly resource development companies who have been dealing with the lack of existing infrastructure in the North, and those who are reluctant to invest in the infrastructure cost needed for conventional air service, said Rolf Dawson, Discovery Air vice-president of corporate finance.

"If this technology is as accepted in the North as we think it's going to be, resource projects will be launched that aren't currently viable because of the lack of existing infrastructure," Dawson said.

Discovery Air Innovations is working with Hybrid Air Vehicles to determine how to deal with the colder temperatures of the North, although the crafts are currently able to operate within -50 C to 50 C temperatures.

Final design and commercial terms are targeted to be struck by next year, and under the current agreement, Discovery Air Innovations has not committed to buy a certain amount of crafts, which are estimated to cost $40 million each, but has the option to buy more than one.

The company has been in discussion with Hybrid Air Vehicles for the most part of the year, Dawson said, and the company was chosen as the launch customer of Hybrid Air Vehicles' commercial heavy-lift program because of its "significant level of interest and willingness to work with them to bring customer feedback.

"We showed an interest, commitment to the concept, and we have a market they find quite interesting and really well-suited to the product," Dawson said.

Discovery Air Innovations is also taking intelligence back to the designers and engineers in the UK, and working with regulators in Canada to eventually get the crafts certified to Canadian requirements.

Shares of Yellowknife-based Discovery Air Inc. closed at $0.43 Thursday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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