New Twin Otters Find Ready Market

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In an industry that's a little short of success stories at the moment, there's a rare exception to that playing out in some unlikely locations in Canada. Viking Air's plants in Sidney, British Columbia, a suburb of the provincial capital of Victoria, and Calgary, Alberta, are straining under the weight of a four-year backlog for their new-build Twin Otters, the 400 Series. Since reintroducing the venerable twin turboprop STOL utility hauler, Viking has racked up more than 70 orders for the $6 million aircraft and word is just now getting out that they're available. Viking, which acquired the Twin Otter type certificate, along with six other de Havilland Canada designs from Bombardier a few years ago, had never manufactured airplanes before although it was a recognized rebuilder and modifier of the various types, which include the Beaver, Otter, Caribou and Buffalo. Viking tapped Dan Tharp, a Wichita native with long experience in aircraft production, to get its facilities in shape to meet the demand.

Tharp, who came to picturesque Victoria from the Vought plant in Nashville, has 30 years of experience that includes development and production of Learjet models in Bombardier's Wichita facilities. In eight months, Viking went from producing an airplane every two months to rolling out a brand new Twin Otter every 18 working days. The goal for the end of the year is to shave that to 11 days. That will give the company a realistic output of 23 aircraft a year, enough to move the backlog into the 18- to 24-month sweet spot. Viking has developed co-op training programs with local colleges in Victoria and Calgary to provide its own skilled workforce. The Victoria facility builds wings, cockpits and other subassemblies and contractors build the empennage and other parts. Final assembly and flight testing takes place in Calgary before the aircraft is finished and delivered back in Victoria. Sales have been made all over the world, from air taxis in the Maldives to the militaries of Peru and Vietnam. The U.S. Army recently took delivery of a new Twin Otter for use by its parachute demonstration team, the Golden Knights.