Some two months after announcing the relaunch of 19-seat Twin Otter production, Canada’s Viking Aerospace has begun cutting metal on the first unit at its final assembly plant in Calgary. Scheduled for delivery in the first quarter of 2009 to Zurich’s Zimex Aviation, the first Twin Otter 400 will look virtually identical to the operator’s “legacy” Twin Otter 300s. It will, however, carry a few closely considered improvements that should help improve reliability and lessen Viking’s cost burden.
The most significant change, perhaps, will center on the powerplant choice–a pair of Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-34 turboprops, derated from 750 to 620 horsepower. Originally powered by 620-hp PT6A-27s, the Twin Otter will see its TBO requirement increase from 3,600 hours to 4,000 hours due to the cooler-running engines. Viking also offers the PT6A-35, a variant of the -34 with a higher T5 limit for hot-and-high operations.
Other changes will involve what Viking CEO David Curtis referred to as a general modernization of the fuel system, for example, and the use of composites of certain ancillary components such as the cockpit doors, the so-called long nose and landing gear fairings. The use of composites, though by no means liberal, will not only lighten the airplane somewhat and help with corrosion control, but it will hopefully, for Curtis, help draw some much-needed research and development funds from the Canadian government.
Viking has applied for funding through Canada’s Aerospace and Defense Initiative, formerly known as Technology Partnerships Canada, and hopes to gain within the next 60 days “some general feeling as to whether we’re going to qualify,” said Curtis.
“Certainly there’s a softer side to diversifying the aerospace industry in Canada, which is pretty much centered on the eastern part with Bombardier and Bell Helicopter,” said Curtis. “Viking is pretty much the only aircraft OEM west of Ontario. So we’re looking at how we’re going to diversify from a supply chain point of view with all the SMEs that are in the area, to try to cluster a little bit more aerospace manufacturing in the region.”
Viking has already benefited from support offered by the government’s Canadian Export Development Corp. in the form of advanced deposit guarantees to customers, as well as actual asset financing.
The program has helped boost Viking’s order and option count to close to 30–a significant number for a company that plans to deliver no more than seven airplanes in 2009 and perhaps accelerate the rate to no more than one and a half airplanes a month by the end of 2010.