Quest Aircraft is seeking to almost double the production rate of its $1.75 million Kodiak single-engined unpressurised turboprop -` from 16 in 2011 to 30 this year.

"The intention is to ramp up between now and the middle of the year," said Steve Zinda, director of sales and marketing at Quest. Key to the boost will be to optimise the manufacturing processes and components that take 90 manufacturing employees out of Quest's workforce of 170 10 working days to build one aircraft using a seven-position production line. Zinda said the majority of the all-metal aircraft is built in-house.

"We're looking at what parts in the aircraft we can refine to make assembly operations more efficient," he said. The plan is to reduce the build time to seven manufacturing days per aircraft, with the same number of line stations, resulting in one new aircraft every seven manufacturing days. "We will juggle the workload and personnel, and position to support that," said Zinda.

Like most other airframers, the Sand Point, Idaho-based company sees about 60% of its product head for foreign countries where, in Quest's case, operators seeking an economical aircraft for use on unimproved runways see value and utility in the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-34-powered single.

Zinda said Brazilian certification for the Kodiak, obtained in late January, will open a "major market" for Quest, furthering its already strong inroads into Latin America. The aircraft is now certificated in seven countries.

Projects in the pipeline include a forward-fit "summit" club-configured interior (a retrofit executive interior is available through Wipaire), various new avionics options and an airborne surveillance variant.

"We're testing the market place right now," said Zinda. "One constant I hear from a lot of customers is that helicopters are expensive to operate [for surveillance]. We'll have some good work and announcements on that sometime in 2012."

Source: Flight International