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A project to build cargo airships in Quebec, which was blocked by the federal government due to Chinese involvement, could be relaunched.
The project by French company Flying Whales was first announced in November 2019, when the Quebec government said it was investing $30 million and possibly more in the venture. The idea is to develop “an innovative, affordable, and environmentally-friendly solution to transport heavy oversized loads in dense or remote areas,” according to the company.
But Ottawa halted the initiative because it was concerned about the risk of industrial espionage by a Chinese shareholder. Last month, however, the company’s French shareholders bought the 24.9 percent share held by the Chinese company, AVIC General, following a year of negotiations. Flying Whales is now trying to obtain the go-ahead from Ottawa to create Montreal subsidiary, Les dirigibles Flying Whales Québec, which will carry out research and development.
The Quebec government, through its investment subsidiary, Investissement Québec, owns 25 percent of Flying Whales and 49.9 percent of the Montreal subsidiary.
The French company is developing a 150-meter-long airship (the LCA60T) capable of carrying up to 60 tonnes of cargo. The model is still in the design phase. The first device should be built at its French factory in 2023. The certification process should then last two years, according to the company.
Flying Whales Québec will be the company’s headquarters in North America. It plans to start construction of a manufacturing facility in the Montreal area by 2025 in order to start production for the North American fleet in 2026. Some 200 people would be employed at the plant, according to the company.
“The mission of the Montreal branch is to enter the Quebec aeronautical sector and . . . help grow Quebec’s aeronautical industry, particularly in terms of renewable energies in this key economic cluster,” the company said.
Flying Whales is working with various collaborators, including the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières, the National Research Council Canada, and Pratt & Whitney Canada to develop the second generation of the airship, which would be entirely electric.
A 2013 report for the House of Commons transportation committee concluded that airships could play an important role in Canada, especially when it comes to reaching remote communities in the North.
This isn’t the first time a company has tried to build airships in the province. In 2015, LTA Aerostructures, a Montreal-based company with American and Canadian backers, announced plans to build a $60 million production facility in Mirabel to build airships capable of transporting up to 70 million tonnes of cargo. However, the plant was never built and the company’s website is no longer active.
I hope this happens! What a remarkable difference this could make for northern and isolated communities. You could bring pre-fab housing into a community from the sky…lift tonnes of water for delivery….the possibilities are mind-boggling.
If it pays off this will be one of the best investments Quebec ever made
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