Straightline to bring hybrid airships to Quest mine site

Straightline Aviation (SLA) signed an agreement with Quest Rare Minerals at the Canadian Aerospace Summit last week to provide dedicated air services for the transport of ore concentrate, supplies and personnel using Lockheed Martin's hybrid airships

Staff reporter
Straightline and Quest will bring the eco-efficient solution to Canada's remote transportation challenges

Straightline and Quest will bring the eco-efficient solution to Canada's remote transportation challenges

The airships will provide shuttle transportation between Quest's Strange Lake complex mine site in Northern Québec, Canada, and Schefferville, a town with a direct rail link to the Port of Sept-Iles.

Under the memorandum of understanding (MoU), SLA will operate a fleet of seven of the world's first heavy-lift cargo hybrid airships, the LMH-1. The airships will transport personnel, critical supplies for mine operations, and carry more than 200,000t/y of rare earth ore concentrate for delivery to Quest's Bécancour refining facilities. Rare earth metals are critical to hundreds of high tech applications, many of which define our way of life and are key to the emergence of green technologies.

Developed and built by Lockheed Martin, the LMH-1 is well suited to Quest's transportation challenges due to its remote northern Québec mine site location. The airship has the ability to land on virtually any surface including snow, ice, gravel and even water, with no runways required or other expensive infrastructure. The helium-filled, heavier-than-air airships can carry 20t of cargo and up to 19 passengers. Both the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Transport Canada have agreed on the newly developed hybrid airship certification criteria, which is being used to complete the type certification. First commercial deliveries are scheduled in 2019.

Hybrid airships combine the technology of lighter than air aircraft with aeroplanes, helicopters and hovercraft. Helium provides 80% of the lift, while the remaining lift comes from the aerodynamic shape of the aircraft and its four thrust vectoring engines. The airship also features a hovercraft-like air cushion landing system that facilitates taxiing and grips the craft firmly on the ground.

The airships present a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly solution to Quest's transport challenges. The LMH-1 is not only designed to use less fuel, emit less carbon dioxide and produce less noise than conventional aircraft, it also eliminates the need for costly ground-level infrastructure, avoiding impact on the area's wildlife habitat compared to road transport and trucking along a road corridor to the Labrador Sea coast.

This new transportation solution will also stimulate employment and business opportunities for regional and Indigenous communities, increasing the socio-economic benefits to the area around the mine site.

The service agreement represents a value of approximately US$850 million, including fuel costs, over a 10-year period that starts in 2019, with further extensions of up to 20 additional years in line with the current projected life of the mine.

Mike Kendrick, CEO of Straightline, said: “We are looking forward to working with Quest, and believe that our hybrid airships will provide significant benefits in reaching remote locations such as the Strange Lake complex. Removing the need for expensive, intrusive infrastructure, it is a significant step in re-defining the way transport works in remote regions."

Charles Bouchard, chief executive at Lockheed Martin Canada, added: “I am thrilled to see Lockheed Martin's advanced technology coming to the province of Quebec and indeed being sought after to solve transportation challenges in some of the most isolated and northern regions of Canada. It is an ideal country to use the highly innovative hybrid airships and I applaud the collaboration between Hybrid Enterprises, Straightline Aviation and Quest Rare Minerals in pursuing such an environmentally-friendly solution in Canada.”

A growing series of reports, each focused on a key discussion point for the mining sector, brought to you by the Mining Magazine Intelligence team.

A growing series of reports, each focused on a key discussion point for the mining sector, brought to you by the Mining Magazine Intelligence team.


Mining Magazine Intelligence Future Fleets Report 2024

The report paints a picture of the equipment landscape and includes detailed profiles of mines that are employing these fleets


Mining Magazine Intelligence Digitalisation Report 2023

An in-depth review of operations that use digitalisation technology to drive improvements across all areas of mining production


Mining Magazine Intelligence Automation Report 2023

An in-depth review of operations using autonomous solutions in every region and sector, including analysis of the factors driving investment decisions


Mining Magazine Intelligence Exploration Report 2023 (feat. Opaxe data)

A comprehensive review of current exploration rates, trending exploration technologies, a ranking of top drill intercepts and a catalog of 2022 Initial Resource Estimates and recent discovery successes.