Wednesday, March 19, 2008

New Twin Otters for the North?

The Ottawa Citizen's David Pugliese flies a kite at his blog (internal links are by me):
What ever happened to the promised Northern Utility Aircraft that was (is) part of the Harper government’s promised Canada First Defence Strategy [see this story of Mr Pugliese's from January 2007--these aircraft were still in a leaked draft of the strategy then; Laurie Hawn, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, said on Feb. 22 that the strategy would be released "soon"]?

Nothing has materialized yet and no one at NDHQ seems to talk about the proposed purchase of these aircraft.

But could one potential candidate (if the program ever does get off the ground) be Viking Air Limited’s new DHC-6 Twin Otter Series 400 aircraft? The Sydney, BC. company has been making headlines with its reworked Twin Otters. On Monday it announced it had won a $14.3 million contract to supply three new DHC-6 Twin Otter Series 400 aircraft to the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights parachute team.

The Golden Knights become the 9th operator to purchase Viking's new Twin Otters, according to Viking Air.

Flight International reports that Viking, which purchased the type certificate for the Twin Otter and six other de Havilland aircraft from Bombardier in February 2006, restarted Twin Otter production last year. The company plans to deliver the first Golden Knights aircraft in 2010 and the remaining two in 2011. The sale brings Viking's order book for firm and optional purchases for the Twin Otter to more than 40.

The company has been getting a lot of press lately on its initiatives. The Globe and Mail recently published an article [purchase only] on its efforts.

Agence France Presse had this to say about the planes:

“The new Twin Otter model will use a more powerful Pratt and Whitney engine, lighter composite materials and newer avionics, but the original design remains mostly intact. At a list price of 3.5 to four million dollars (Canadian, US), Viking Air says there is demand for 440 Twin Otters over the next decade, but it will restrict production to 200 for now, due to a shortage of skilled labor and to avoid flooding the market.

Of course, the market for bush planes is still "fairly small" or "niche," which is why heavyweights Airbus, Boeing and Bombardier all passed on keeping the Twin Otter alive themselves.

Boeing shut down production of the Twin Otter in 1988, only two years after it bought de Havilland, then sold de Havilland to Montreal-based Bombardier in 1992.”

An aircraft which already has a proven history of operating in the Arctic. Could the Canadian Forces be interested in the new models?

For more information:
Here's an Edmonton Journal story March 11 on Viking and the new Twotter.

CTV's David Akins, in a November 2006 story, reported that Bombardier's Q Series was favoured for the Northern Utility Aircraft (it lacks the Twotter's STOL capability). If in fact the Twotter is still the best aircraft for the missions required, a contract to a B.C. company might be a good political mover (Q Series are built in Downsview, Toronto, not much hope there). Earlier posts on the Viking Twotter are here and here.


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