When the Singapore Airshow was last held two years ago, Canadian airframer Viking Air had yet to receive certification for its Twin Otter 400, the twin-engine turboprop formerly produced by de Havilland Canada (DHC) and a continuation of the series that ceased production in 1988. Today the British Columbia-based manufacturer will hand over its ninth production model to Papua New Guinea-based OK Tedi Mining at a ceremony at its chalet (39).
While Viking has attended the two previous Singapore Airshows, this year marks the first time it is exhibiting an aircraft in the static display and occupying its own chalet. The company’s increased presence at the show is not surprising when you consider that the Asia Pacific region is currently responsible for generating 34 percent of its sales and inquiries, followed by Europe (24 percent) and the U.S. (20 percent).
Viking had nearly 40 years of experience producing parts and providing support for the more than 1,000 DHC aircraft still flying, when it purchased the type certificates from Bombardier for several of the out-of-production models, including the rugged DHC-6 Twin Otter, in 2006. A company study at the time showed a worldwide market for up to 480 Otters over the following 10 years leading to the decision to put the iconic aircraft back into production.
With the aircraft modified and brought up to 21st century standards, the manufacturer currently reports more than 60 aircraft on its order book valued at approximately $380 million. Here in Singapore this week, the company is expected to announce more orders from operators in Turkey, Nigeria, Chile and Peru.
The modernization work includes adding upgraded Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-34 (or optional -35) engines and a Honeywell Primus Apex avionics suite. In total, more than 400 changes have been made from the legacy Twin Otter.
Over the past two years, Viking has more than doubled its staff (currently more than 600 employees) as it seeks to ramp up deliveries, and while the company admits it has encountered some difficulties meeting its initial expectations, Rob Mauracher, Viking’s vice president of business development, told AIN they have now been sorted out. “We had to get through our own design issues and then we had a little certification delay that had to be straightened out,” he said. “We changed a few things like wiring harnesses and since that was addressed things are starting to accelerate nicely.”
Current plans call for deliveries this year of 15 of the versatile aircraft, which can operate off wheels, floats or skis, followed by 18 in 2013. Viking is debating whether it should raise that goal to 21 in 2014. According to the manufacturer, the eight turboprops delivered since July 2010 have proved reliable with a better than 99-percent dispatch rate, including three that operate as seaplanes in the Maldives.
The company has pursued its certifications of the aircraft based on its delivery schedule, with Australian approval being recently achieved. Viking now is working toward Russian certification ahead of the planned delivery of two aircraft there in June. It is also currently in the midst of its U.S. certification, and flying for U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approval will begin next month.
While the aircraft is on display at the show, the manufacturer is demonstrating its “quick-change” interior seating, which will allow operators to swiftly alter it from a 19-seat commuter configuration to a VIP arrangement. After the show concludes, Viking will take the aircraft on tour to Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and, finally, to Manila, before it officially enters service.
Another variant of the 400, intended for government and military use and known as the Guardian, has also been gaining traction. The modified version, which operates at an all-up gross weight of 14,000 pounds, includes additional fuel tanks for extended-range operations and can be equipped with search radar and infrared sensor systems. Intended for long-range maritime patrol or search-and-rescue operations, the first example of the type, destined for Vietnam, is currently under construction. According to Mauracher, at least one third of the company’s backlog now consists of Guardian 400s, and some existing customers with late delivery dates for standard 400s have converted their orders into the Guardians.
Gravity always wins!