Six months into its emergence as a separate company resurrecting the storied de Havilland Aircraft of Canada name, DHC is focusing much of its overall sales effort on the North American, African, and Asia/Middle East regional-aviation markets. The goal is to build the orderbook for the Dash 8-400, its only aircraft-manufacturing program. DHC is also pursuing potential sales of new Dash 8-400s to governmental customers who would then customize the aircraft for special-missions work.
Todd Young, DHC’s chief operating officer, told AIN that at the company’s preferred, somewhat flexible production rate of two to two-and-a-half aircraft a month, DHC’s Dash 8-400 order backlog in October was sufficient to sustain production until the fall of 2020. As of July 31, when DHC last provided a precise number for the order backlog, outstanding orders stood at 46 aircraft.
Immediately after Longview Aviation Capital (LAC) bought the Dash 8-400 type certificate and production assets from Bombardier and created a new subsidiary under the de Havilland Canada name to run the Dash 8-400 production and sustainment program, DHC first established as its top priority the need to “create additional backlog for future years,” said Young. DHC was already primed to do so; the Dash 8-400’s existing sales organization under Bombardier moving over to the new company by remaining at the Downsview location where assembly of the Dash 8-400 takes place. DHC as an OEM has always been based at Downsview since the original company was founded in 1928.
Ever since LAC bought the Dash 8-400 program, “we’ve been very active building a pipeline of orders,” said Young. Speaking in mid-October, he said, “We’re very active in a couple of campaigns, and we’re working toward the Dubai Airshow” to achieve additional progress there with those sales campaigns. However, he cautioned that this didn’t necessarily mean DHC would announce new orders at the show.
Young said that while DHC views North America and Europe as “fortress” markets where a considerable number of Dash 8-400s are already operating, the company is particularly optimistic about the potential for suitably configured new Dash 8-400s to replace sizable numbers of aging Bombardier CRJ200 50-seat regional jets in the North American market.
“We see an opportunity to have the Dash 8-400 in the same [seating] configuration as the CRJ550,” said Young. The CRJ550 is a reduced-seating version of the 64-to-70-seat Bombardier CRJ700, for which United Airlines became the launch customer in February by ordering 54 examples. Like the 50-seat CRJ550 (which in United Express service has 10 first-class, 20 economy-plus, and 20 economy seats), DHC’s proposed 50-seat version of the Dash 8-400 would have “a three-class cabin and lavatories at the front and back,” he said. “It would be a good replacement option for the CRJ200, in either 50-seat or 65-seat configuration.”
In terms of potential Dash 8-400 orders, “We see a significant replacement market for the CRJ200 over and above what United is doing with CRJ550s and Embraers,” said Young. “It’s an opportunity we’ll try to leverage.” DHC gave a presentation on the Dash 8-400’s potential to be a CRJ200 replacement at the Regional Airline Association’s Annual Convention in Nashville in early September and “we received a lot of interest” from U.S. mainline and regional carriers, he said. Now, “we’re having initial discussions [with a number of airlines] on that configuration and offering.”
Young said Africa is “very big for us right now” as DHC continues to deliver new Dash 8-400s to customers such as Ethiopian Airlines (to which it delivered the 600th Dash 8-400 off the production line in late July) and TAAG Angola, announced as a new customer in April. Kenya’s Jambojet, Air Tanzania, and South African Express also operate Dash 8-400s and various carriers in Africa also fly Dash 8-100s and -300s (which DHC calls “Dash 8 Classics”). DHC continues to consider Africa as a “really interesting” market for potential new Dash 8-400 orders.
Another highly interesting market to DHC is Southeast Asia in general and India in particular. “Southeast Asia is growing rapidly in terms of the number of [Dash 8-400] customers in the region and we feel there is a big opportunity to grow that,” said Young. Additionally, “we do see India as possibly a growing market for us,” particularly given the Indian government’s encouragement of new regional-aviation services under its national Regional Connectivity Scheme.
While Ethiopian Airlines was the first customer for the 86-seat, single-class version of the Dash 8-400 developed and marketed by DHC as an Extra Capacity Seating (ECS) version, DHC subsequently certified a 90-seat Dash 8-400 ECS cabin configuration. Indian carrier Spicejet then became the launch customer for that version, ordering 25 and optioning 25 more. DHC hopes for more such orders from India. “The Middle East is a big potential market too,” added Young.
Last but not least in terms of the potential growth markets is what DHC calls the “missionized” role for new bare-cabin aircraft, which government customers would customize after delivery. These aircraft would operate in specialized roles such as firefighting, coastal patrol and border patrol, and special operations. Several Dash 8-400s have already been customized for special missions, including firefighting aircraft operating in France and a Dash 8-400 that L3 Harris Technologies has “outfitted with a range of technologies that would support a military mission,” according to Young.
“With the size and speed of the aircraft and the ability to reconfigure the cabin quickly and easily, we see many applications in the missionized business,” he said. “We’re active in some campaigns on that front.”
In its efforts to stimulate sales of new Dash 8-400s well into the future, DHC maintains a constant focus on product improvement, according to Young. In addition to developing the ECS versions of the cabin by removing the cabin’s T2 and T3 doors and forward baggage compartment, in June DHC introduced ultra-lightweight seats made by Expliseat as a customer option both for new-build aircraft and for retrofit. “We have been and continue to look at product improvements—in fact, over the past decade more than $300 million has been spent on improvements to the aircraft,” said Young.
Going forward, DHC is focusing on two main areas of potential Dash 8-400 improvement. One is generally to “continue to advance the Dash 8-400” by improving its functionality and the customer experience it offers, and—as a longer-term possibility—potentially re-engining the aircraft, according to Young. The second main area of product improvement would be to develop new shorter-fuselage and/or longer-fuselage Dash 8-400 models.
As regards the first category of improvements, “we have looked at things like avionics changes, LED [cabin] lighting and an aircraft health management system—we’re evaluating if that makes sense,” said Young. The reason DHC is considering potentially re-engining is that “we’re always looking at fuel efficiency,” he said. “The aircraft is very environmentally efficient and we want to continue with that positioning. That includes a potential engine change—we’re talking with manufacturers about what engines are available.” However, “we would only do that if it came with a fuel-burn reduction and a direct maintenance cost reduction. We want to maintain product efficiency and environmental improvement” at the same time.
The second major category of potential improvement would be—“in the medium to long term,” according to Young—potentially to truncate the fuselage to create a version with 50 to 65 seats in single-class configuration, and also to develop a stretched version that would accommodate more than the 90 passengers the Dash 8-400 ECS version seats today.
“There was an intention to be able to do both” within the Dash 8-400 production-and-sales operation under DHC’s previous owner, but Bombardier was so focused on its difficulties with the then C Series program that neither Dash 8-400 development option was seriously considered. However, “under Longview Aviation Capital ownership, we are able to have these internal discussions,” said Young. “It’s very early days on this, but we are starting to talk about it. But we would need to be in a good position” with orders for the existing version to be able to do so.
Both new fuselage-size options probably would need an engine-selection rethink. “In the case of the shrink, we’re exploring options as to what engines could power it. The key focus is the economics of the engine,” said Young. “The PW150A [which powers the existing Dash 8-400] would work” from a technical viewpoint, “but would the economics work?” To power a Dash 8-400 shrink, the PW150A might need to be derated and might not have the right fuel-burn economics.
DHC “would be talking to manufacturers” to find the best solution,” said Young. “It could [either] be a new version of the PW150A or a new engine,” he said, noting that DHC is also potentially interested in powering a Dash 8-400 shrink electrically. The company is closely involved with Pratt & Whitney and Collins Aerospace on their parent United Technologies’ Project 804, which aims to develop a hybrid turbo-electrically powered demonstrator.
The aircraft being modified to serve as Project 804’s product demonstrator is a Dash 8-100, the first Dash 8 model ever developed. The company that created that aircraft—and all the major subsequent Dash 8 versions—was the original de Havilland Aircraft of Canada. Now DHC is back.