Dornier closes in on manufacturers for Seastar

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Dornier Seaplane has narrowed its choice of European aerostructure companies to build the tooling and fabricated composite parts from next year for its Seastar twin-engined amphibious turboprop.

"We have got a shortlist of two candidates and plan to make our selection by the end of 2011," Dornier Seaplane chief executive Joe Walker said.

Although the start-up is headquartered in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, near Montreal, Canada, Walker said its decision to appoint a European company to build the parts is because of the abundance of expertise on the continent in manufacturing the composite material ­E-glass.

This process involves curing parts in a low-pressure, low-temperature oven instead of a high-pressure, high-temperature and a more expensive autoclave, Walker said.

"They are familiar with this product in North America. It is lightweight, cheap to make and doesn't rust," he added.

Fabrication is set to start next year and the parts will then be shipped to Dornier's final assembly facility in Saint Jean.

"We would like to migrate the fabrication manufacturing process to a lower cost base eventually, but it is important that we make this move gradually, when we have built up the confidence and expertise to do so," Walker said.

The first job for the successful vendor will be to retrieve the Seastar tooling from Malaysia, where it has remained in storage since the 1990s after plans to establish volume manufacture along with the Malaysian government fell through.

"We are now back on track with the Seastar," Walker said.

"We have 25 orders more than enough to restart manufacture and we plan to deliver the first aircraft in 2013," he added.

The 10-seat, Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-135-powered Seastar, which was unveiled in the early 1980s, had already secured European and US certification before production stopped in 1991 because of a lack of funding.

Dornier may offer the first seven aircraft in the Seastar's original round dial configuration priced at $5.5 million. Subsequent aircraft will be priced at $6 million and come with a glass cockpit, known icing, autopilot and air-conditioning.

"We haven't decided yet whether to produce all the aircraft with the round dials and offer the glass cockpit as a retrofit option, or build all aircraft after serial number 10 with the new features," Walker said.

The company will ramp up production slowly, Walker said, from one aircraft in 2012, six in 2014, 12 in 2015 and 24 in 2016.

"Once we get up to full production, we hope the market will be booming again," Walker added.

Dornier is targeting three sectors commercial operators that would use the aircraft for island hopping, governments for special mission operations and high-net-worth individuals.