MESA, Ariz.–Boeing [BA] and Canada’s Skyhook International this week announced a teaming agreement to develop the Jess Heavy Lifter (JHL)-40, a new commercial heavy lift airship aimed at transporting equipment and materials in remote areas.

The helium-filled airship with rotorcraft technology has potential in defense applications, Dave Koopersmith, Boeing vice president Advanced Precision Engagement and Mobility Systems, believes.

Ship to shore transport, military or commercial, is generating interest at a number of briefings he’s delivered, Pete Jess, president of Skyhook International, said.

Koopersmith said the airship would be “a game changer,” and a “tremendous business opportunity.”

The JHL-40 would be able to carry 80,000 pounds some 200 miles, he said. Boeing has received the first increment of a multiyear contract from Skyhook to develop the new aircraft. Financing and specifics of the contract were not discussed, though “it will be a very expensive aircraft,” one official said.

Alberta’s Finance and Enterprise Minister Iris Evans said it’s an “exciting opportunity for the province:” a vehicle to extend our roadways without roads.”

Considering today’s volatile oil situation, Evans said Alberta has proven oil and gas reserves of 173 billion barrels underground, which would benefit by the development of the airship.

Peter Jess, Skyhook president, said he had the idea 25 years ago when working for an oil company and saw the need to move heavy things long distances.

There is a market potential for 50-60 such aircraft.

Jess also said the flight deck would have a crew of five and there would be sleeping and eating areas, since the vehicle would operate in austere, remote areas.

Boeing is designing and will build two production prototypes of the JHL-40 at its Rotorcraft Systems site in Ridley Park, Pa.

Ken Laubsch, Skyhook program manager and chief engineer, said a key discriminator for the JHL-40 will be the Chinook heavy-lift helicopter rotor system, which Boeing has designed and produced since 1961. That makes the technology an off-the-shelf item for the program.

Another key advantage is a neutrally buoyant feature, which means that in an emergency, the aircraft can achieve static balance, or just “sit there,” Jess said.

Skyhook will “own, maintain, operate and service all JHL-40 for worldwide customers.