Viking Air is gearing up to deliver the first new and improved DHC-6 Twin Otter Series 400 to Swiss charter operator Zimex Aviation early in the second quarter. This will follow "imminent" approval of the twin-engined turboprop from Transport Canada and the European Aviation Safety Agency.

The Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-34-powered Series 400 will incorporate more than 200 upgrades from the original Twin Otter, last produced by then certificate holder Bombardier in 1988.

Viking purchased the type certificate for the Twin Otter and six other de Havilland aircraft from Bombardier in February 2006, restarting the Twin Otter line a year later.

Twin Otter series 400
 © Viking Aircraft

Vancouver, Canada-based Viking has a $200 million backlog for the Series 400, reaching into late 2012. "The aircraft is very popular, the backlog is strong and [despite the economic downturn] we have not lost a single customer," says Viking vice-president of business development Rob Mauracher.

"This is a great position to be in," he adds, "but it also has its downsides, as potential customers are not happy to wait until the last quarter of 2012 to get their aircraft."

The desire to satisfy customer demand has created a dilemma for Viking, which launched the Series 400 with a "conservative" business model. "Our business plan is predicated on a lower-rate production and feeding the industry over a number of years," Mauracher says. "We want to avoid at all costs the hills and valleys of ramping up production and then cutting down, we want production to remain steady and consistent."

Viking's current plans call for production rates of between five and eight Series 400s in the first year, 10-12 in the second, 18 in the third and around 24 thereafter, depending on demand.

"However, we are considering ramping up to 10-12 in the first year and then 15-18 in the second, but this a decision that has to be made by Viking's board," Mauracher says.

Viking is also considering offering older Series 200 and 300 Twin Otters under lease to those customers who are unwilling or unable to wait. "These would be bridge aircraft until the new model is available," says Mauracher.

Viking says passenger-based operators form two-thirds of its Series 400 orders to date while the remainder have been sold into government and military service - with the Series 400 Guardian search and rescue and maritime patrol versions showing particular promise.

Source: Flight International