Need a lift? – Hybrid-Aircrafts
Using airships to fly personnel and equipment into mining projects has its attractions. Guy Richards reports
Imagine a transport technology that would transform the feasibility of mining in remote regions by removing the need to build supply roads or runways, with running costs a minor fraction of other forms of transport and without an environmental impact on sensitive ecologies.
These are the promises offered by a new generation of airships such as those shown here, from UK company Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) and Aeroscraft Corporation (Aeros) in California.
Still largely at the design stage, both types will come in a range of load capacities – from 50t up to, eventually, 200–250t, with additional passenger capability – and are expected to be operational towards the end of the decade.
HAV’s Airlander will be a non-rigid craft, with a rigid payload module beneath an inflated canopy, while the Aeros ML868 will have a zeppelin-like rigid structure. The Airlander will fly using a combination of helium buoyancy and aerodynamic lift, while the ML868 will be able to switch between lighter- and heavier-than-air operation. As such, both will have a vertical take-off and landing capability, and neither will need anything other than reasonably flat and level ground on which to land.
Interest in both craft is already healthy. HAV is in talks with two undisclosed mining transport service companies in Canada about orders for its initial, 50t variant (it is not releasing any details about its 200t version at present), while Aeros has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Amur Minerals for it to use at least two ML868s at its Kun-Manie multi-metal project in eastern Siberia.
To illustrate the potential savings from using these craft, the pre-feasibility study for Kun-Manie estimated that it would have cost about US$140m to build a road to the project to truck in heavy construction gear.