NBAA Convention News

With all-composite Seastar, Dornier revives the seaplane

 - October 5, 2008, 3:25 PM

German seaplane manufacturer Dornier Aircraft on Sunday announced plans to manufacture and sell the Seastar flying boat in the U.S. Former Adam Aircraft president Joe Walker will head the program as CEO of the recently formed Dornier Seaplane Company.

Dornier Seaplane is independent from other Dornier Aircraft businesses and is wholly funded by the Dornier family. To date the family has invested $150 million for the design and development of the all-composite twin-engine amphibian but is seeking additional U.S. investors to fund the program. Walker said the company will require an additional $150 million to bring the airplane to full production status, a fact he called the “hard realities” of the industry.

All manufacturing and product support will be conducted in the U.S. and only a small group of core engineers will remain at the company’s headquarters in Germany, according to Conrado Dornier, grandson of the Dornier Aircraft founder Claude Dornier. “The Seastar will be German engineered but U.S. manufactured, much like the BMW and Mercedes [automobiles],” Dornier said.

The company expects to create 400 to 500 jobs at the as-yet-undetermined manufacturing facility, which will most likely be located in the Southeast U.S. The company will make a final location selection by the first quarter of next year.
The company also expects a market demand of 30 to 50 units per year, for total sales of 300 to 500 units over the next 10 years. At its full production rate, the company would generate $300 million in revenue annually.

The $6 million Seastar has a number of advantages over competitors, Walker said, which “validate” the company’s market expectations. In addition to having a greater payload and range and a 50-percent larger cabin than most single-engine amphibian aircraft, the Seastar is also 40 to 60 knots faster and less likely to require frequent overhauls because of the composite structure. “When you mix aluminum and salt water, the outcome is not good,” Walker said. He added that composite airframes are now widely accepted and will make the seaplane that much more attractive to potential buyers.

Walker addressed the company’s decision to launch the program in the U.S., as opposed to overseas. The U.S. is the single largest market, one of the main reasons the company chose this location, he said. It also is home to major suppliers and a strong workforce. Dornier Seaplane hopes to avoid international currency issues by manufacturing and selling the aircraft in U.S. dollars.

The company launched the program this year in the hopes that current seaplane owners will soon decide to replace their aging fleet, said Walker. He added that no true seaplanes have been manufactured in more than 50 years and no new land planes have been modified with floats in more than 20 years.

The company acknowledged Viking Air’s relaunch of the Twin Otter and said it was no surprise another company is entering the market, which he called “ripe.”
Dornier has already built two prototypes of the six- to 12-passenger seaplane, one of which is on display here at NBAA’08. Walker said the company should be able to produce another aircraft within 24 months and the first 10 serial numbers by 2012.
The airplane has already received FAA Part 23 and EASA certification. It is equipped with two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-135A in-line engines, cruises at 180 knots and has a 348-cu-ft cabin.