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The Quebec government is defending its decision to invest $30 million in a project to build blimps or airships to transport heavy equipment and supplies to remote areas of the province that lack roads.
In June, the government announced it was buying a minority stake in French blimp manufacturer Flying Whales that plans to build a production facility in the Montreal area within five years. The French company is developing a 150-metre-long airship capable of carrying up to 60 tonnes of cargo.
Terms of the agreement were not disclosed. Quebec will join France and China as shareholders in the company founded in 2012. Flying Whales is working with Pratt & Whitney Canada (PWC) on a propulsion system that would be adapted from existing helicopter turbines.
A spokesperson for PWC confirmed the company is a partner in the project, but said it is still too early in the process to add further comment.
“I’m not even sure we’ve signed a contract with Flying Whales, but it’s something very different than what’s out there and we’re always looking to be involved in advanced projects,” said Catherine Cunningham, assistant director, Public Relations and Communications at PWC.
However, Quebec opposition parties are demanding access to a study that supports the project, claiming it’s not economically feasible. In 2017, the previous Liberal government declined to partner with Flying Whales for a similar project. But the current Quebec government claims the new project is better laid out and is supported by many sources that were not identified.
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 However, the plant was never built and the company’s website is no longer active.