Airships, Infrastructure and the North – Di Matteo

Lockheed Skytug

Lockheed SkytugTHUNDER BAY – Having just got back from a four-day fly-in fishing trip into Ontario’s North, one acquires a new appreciation for the beauty of this vast land as well as the rugged geography and the challenges of providing transportation in this region. Development of the Ring of Fire will require transportation infrastructure and the Ring of Fire Conference held in Thunder Bay yesterday discussed proposals for transportation infrastructure. Of course, the proposals have a familiar ring – building new all-weather roads as well as building a new rail line. These are expensive pieces of transportation infrastructure and will provide access to the Ring of Fire and immediately adjacent areas. There are many First Nations living in Ontario’s Far North who rely on winter roads for bringing in supplies and these ice roads have become increasingly fragile with the shorter winters brought about by climate change. A railroad or road to the Ring of Fire would not necessarily meet the needs of all remote First Nations.

One solution that would be cost-effective in meeting the needs of First Nations as well as providing a means to transport heavy equipment and supplies for mining companies lies in an old technology that is receiving some updates – Lighter Than Air Vehicles, also known as airships. A visit to the Daily Climate website reveals an article titled Floating Into the Future that deals with new airships and their possibilities. The new airships allow for heavy loads that can be transported long distances quite cheaply and with a minimum of ground infrastructure as airstrips are not required. According to Barry Prentice, a transport economist at the University of Manitoba and a proponent of airships : “The cost of building all-weather gravel roads in northern Manitoba is $1 million per kilometer” but “If transport airships were available, then it would be hard to justify any roads.” An example of the new technology is the prototype by Lockeed known as the Skytug that would have a range of 1,000 nautical miles and carry a payload of 20 tons. Such airships could also have some passenger capability.

Is this approach feasible? After all, there have been similar claims in the past about new airship technology and airships have yet to stage a major comeback. However, their utility in accessing remote regions is indisputable and maybe its time to look into their potential more deeply. Think of the money that would be saved by not having to build major road or rail lines in areas with muskeg or permafrost. Think also of the potential for manufacturing jobs in Thunder Bay to build and maintain airships as well as the transport jobs from locating an airship hub near rail and port facilities. This is something that should at least be investigated given the potential benefits to the region’s economy.

Livio Di Matteo

Di MatteoLivio Di Matteo is an economist in Thunder Bay, Ontario specializing in public policy, health economics, public finance and economic history.  Livio Di Matteo is a graduate of the Fort William Collegiate Institute (1898-2005) whose school motto “Agimus Meliora” has served as a personal inspiration.  Livio Di Matteo holds a PhD from McMaster University, an MA from the University of Western Ontario and an Honours BA from Lakehead University.   He is Professor of Economics at Lakehead University where he has served since 1990.  His research has explored the sustainability of provincial government health spending, historical wealth and asset holding and economic performance and institutions in Northwestern Ontario and the central North American economic region.  His historical wealth research using census-linked probate records is funded by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.  He has constructed, assembled and analyzed nearly 12,000 estate files for Ontario over the period 1870 to 1930.  Livio Di Matteo writes and comments on public policy and his articles have appeared in the National Post, Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press and Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal and  Livio Di Matteo has had an entry in Canadian Who’s Who since 1995.

This article was originally posted on Livio Di Matteo’s NORTHERN ECONOMIST Blog at

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