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ANALYSIS: De Havilland eyes Dash 8 resurgence

The Dash 8 turboprop may have just received the adrenaline injection it has needed for a decade.

Free from CSeries-consumed Bombardier, the regional airliner now lives on under De Havilland Aircraft of Canada, a company that believes it has the resources and willingness needed to move the turboprop into a new chapter.

De Havilland, a unit of Longview Aviation Capital, has only run the Dash 8 programme for three months, but it is already planning product upgrades and a North American sales push.

Such updates likely include new cockpit technologies and efficiency improvements, though De Havilland is also considering new variants including a 50-seater, the Toronto company's chief operating officer Todd Young tells FlightGlobal.

"The constant question coming back is, are you going to do something to replace the existing 50-seat turboprops?" says Young, who heads the company. "The… Dash 8-400 is capable of being stretched. It's also capable of being shrunk. We are looking at all options."

Now an only child under De Havilland, the Dash 8 will get that company's undivided attention, Young says.

"We now have a company that's totally focused on the Dash 8. I think that's going to prove dividends over the long haul," he says. "We are looking at what we can do to… bring the Dash 8 product line to the worldwide market and build these airplanes for many years to come."

Addison Schonland, partner at consultancy AirInsight Group, agrees the Dash 8 is better off at De Havilland than Bombardier, which had put all its resources into the CSeries. Despite Bombardier's best efforts, the CSeries was ultimately taken over by Airbus and re-christened the A220.

"Bombardier was the wrong place," he says. "CSeries sucked all the air out of the room and all the money out of the bank. It took everything."

De Havilland has established its headquarters at the Downsview site in Toronto where Dash 8s are produced. "Our sales team wakes up every morning thinking about how they can sell Dash 8s," says Young. The same goes for procurement and marketing staff.

The company already has several Dash 8 improvements in mind. It first plans upgrades to the in-production, 76-seat Dash 8-400, potentially beginning after the start of the next fiscal year in November. Avionics improvements, fuel efficiency tweaks, LED cabin lights and aircraft health management products are among changes being evaluated, Young says.

De Havilland will also study potential demand, particularly in North America, for stretched or shortened Dash 8 variants, says Young, noting most 50-seaters in service are nearing retirement.

North American airlines operate about 870 aircraft in the 50-seat category, the vast majority being aging CRJs and Embraer ERJs, according to Cirium fleets data.

Those types are long out of production and few replacement options exist beyond ATR's 42-600 turboprop. As a result, United Airlines is actually ripping seats from 70-seat CRJ700s to create 50-seaters dubbed CRJ550s.

Other manufacturers have eyed similar opportunities, particularly for a larger turboprop. ATR looked into developing a 90-seater but dismissed the idea. Embraer has considered it, too.

"We spent a lot of time knowing that under Bombardier we would never do a 50-seat programme," says Young.

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Bombardier

OUT OF BOMBARDIER

Longview seemed a sensible Dash 8 suitor because it owns Viking Air, which holds type certificates for seven de Havilland Canada-designed aircraft, including the in-production the DHC-6 Twin Otter.

A $300 million payment on 1 June from Longview to Bombardier for the Dash 8 programme included type certificates for four variants and product support.

Some 1,200 former Bombardier staff – about 98% of those eligible – transferred to De Havilland, says Young.

The company holds about 50 unfilled Dash 8-400 orders from carriers such as Biman Bangladesh Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, India's SpiceJet, TAAG Angola Airlines and Air Tanzania, Cirium data shows. The worldwide Dash 8 in-service fleet stands at about 550 aircraft.

The company can continue producing Dash 8-400s at Downsview until at least 2023, when a lease expires. But Young hopes to negotiate an extension.

"Of course, our first choice would be to stay even longer," Young says.

Instead of bringing the Dash 8 under Viking's wing, Longview placed it with newly created De Havilland, reviving that storied brand. Young says no plans exist to merge De Havilland and Viking. De Havilland has not disclosed details about its funding or financial state.

Young brings to De Havilland three decades of Dash 8 experience. An engineer by education, he joined the original de Havilland Canada in 1986. Young has been Bombardier's vice-president of commercial aircraft programmes and planning, and vice-president of customer support.

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Kazakhstan's Qazaq Air operates five Dash 8-400s, each outfitted with 78 seats

Bombardier

TARGETING NORTH AMERICA

De Havilland created a new sales team under vice-president of sales and marketing Philippe Poutissou, a former Bombardier marketing and sales executive. The sales team stands at 80% of its planned strength, says Young.

"Our first step is to go out and touch and connect with all of our customers," he says. "They envision an improved focus on the product."

Though ATR has proved a formidable competitor, Bombardier had landed notable Dash 8 sales recently with customers in Africa, India and parts of Asia. Bombardier also invested some money on the Dash 8-400, recently certifying a packed 90-seat variant.

Young likewise sees opportunity for additional sales to customers in Africa and Asia. He also sees demand for special-mission-configured Dash 8-400s, such as those outfitted for government or fire bomber work.

But De Havilland has bigger ambitions: to focus sales efforts on its "fortress markets" in North America, where many of its prime customers operate, says Young.

North American airlines like Horizon Air, Jazz Aviation and WestJet Encore operate some 340 Dash 8s combined, about one-third of the global fleet, Cirium data shows.

De Havilland sees opportunity to sell replacements to such carriers and to otherwise tap North America's regional segment, which suffered severe cutbacks amid airline consolidation and pilot shortages.

The Dash 8's size enables De Havilland to pitch various cabin configurations, including aircraft equipped with business class, he says.

"We are going to put a big effort into seeing if we can penetrate the US market much better than we had in the past," says Young. "We do recognise its not going to be an easy win," he says.

Story updated on 26 August to correct figures related to the number of Dash 8s operated by North American airlines.

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