Singapore Air Show

OEMs See Many Asia-Pac Roles for Utility Aircraft

 - February 10, 2022, 7:29 PM
Textron Aviation sees the Asia-Pacific market for the new Cessna 408 SkyCourier as “very favorable" for both the freighter and passenger variants. (Image: Textron Aviation)

Manufacturers of current-production utility aircraft see many different market opportunities for their aircraft in the Asia-Pacific region, performing a wide variety of civilian, government, and military missions.

However, while most modern utility aircraft designs retain unpressurized cabins, each OEM’s view of the sales opportunities for its aircraft in different mission roles is unique and depends on the vehicle’s specific operating, design, and structural characteristics.

For instance, Textron Aviation sees the Asia-Pacific market for the new Cessna 408 SkyCourier as “very favorable for both the freighter and passenger variants” in commercial-aviation operations “throughout the entire region,” said Juan Escalante, Textron Aviation’s v-p of SkyCourier sales. “[While] the SkyCourier will be a great special missions platform for operators in the region, the civilian market still dominates for fixed-wing. The freighter version of the SkyCourier can accommodate three LD3 shipping containers and a 6,000-pound payload capacity, while the passenger version has 19 seats, so … the opportunities for use in this region will be many. It will also be capable of supporting domestic and regional connectivity initiatives for remote or underserved populations.”

Textron reckons the SkyCourier—slated for certification under FAR Part 23 commuter-category rules—will make for a compelling case for commercial operators in the Asia-Pacific market because it serves “a new market segment delivering a [6,000 pound/19 passenger] payload previously only available with a Part 25 [transport category-certified] aircraft,” said Escalante.

“This will open up new sectors for regional airlines and cargo/logistics operators,” he said. “The average twin utility turboprop on the market today is 30 years old, indicating that the market is ready for a modern replacement, and the SkyCourier is a unique solution” for high-utilization customers. 

Amphibious Twin Otter Series 400
All the Twin Otter variants—particularly the 300 and the new 400—have seen strong sales success throughout Asia Pacific.

Meanwhile, Viking Air sees particularly strong Asia-Pacific sales opportunities for its 19-seat Twin Otter 400—the current-production, upgraded version of the venerable but irreplaceable Twin Otter family—as an amphibious aircraft, according to Peter Walker, Viking Air’s global special missions sales director.

“As major airports experience greater strain with aircraft movements due to insufficient slot allocations and more efficient seaports in burgeoning coastal cities become available due to relatively low infrastructure costs, the Twin Otter’s adaptability and amphibious capability position it to benefit from exponential market growth in the Asia-Pacific region,” said Walker.

In areas of the world where land is scarce, seaports increasingly serve as feeders to land-based runways, said Walker. “A prime example is in the Maldives, where the tourism industry is dependent on amphibious Twin Otters to provide transport to outlying islands.” (Maldives-based carriers operate a total of almost 70 floatplane-configured Twin Otters.) “The tourist market in Asia is no exception, and the potential for amphibious operations is untapped and presents a lucrative opportunity for OEMs and other industry stakeholders.”

All the Twin Otter variants—particularly the 300 and the new 400—have seen strong sales success throughout the region, and continue to do so. The type serves in a wide variety of Asia-Pacific civilian and governmental/military roles and has become particularly popular in major island nations such as Indonesia and the Philippines.

Walker reckons the model’s appeal stems largely from what he called “the unsurpassed inherent STOL capabilities of the DHC-6 Twin Otter in the civilian utility and multi-role configurations for remote short-runway access.” Asia-Pacific operators also favor the Twin Otter because of what Walker characterized as the unsurpassed life expectancy of its airframe.

Meanwhile, Britten-Norman, which offers the BN2 Islander—as venerable and irreplaceable as the Twin Otter—in various configurations, offering up to nine passenger seats or 1.6 tonnes of cargo capacity, sees Asia-Pacific sales potential for the aircraft in an unconventional market niche.

Today, Britten-Norman concentrates its sales efforts for the Islander—available in two fuselage lengths as either the piston-engined BN2B-20 or the turboprop-powered BN2T-4S—more on civilian than military markets, according to a Britten-Norman spokesman.

Within its civilian-sales effort, Britten-Norman sees particularly strong opportunities—in a very specific role—for an alternative-propulsion, hydrogen fuel cell-powered version of the Islander, which the company is developing with Cranfield Aerospace Systems.

According to the B-N spokesman, the company has received “a flood of inquiries” from luxury resorts in the Asia-Pacific region for the environmentally friendly forthcoming Islander version to transport up to eight passengers at a time between resorts and airports. The Brando Resort in French Polynesia already operates a piston-powered Islander in that role, along with a Twin Otter.

Sizable Asia-Pacific markets also exist for the SkyCourier, Twin Otter, Islander, and other utility aircraft—such as the Indonesian Aerospace N-219 and the Aircraft Industries L 410 NG—in special-mission roles. For instance, the Guardian version of the Twin Otter operates maritime patrol and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance duties in countries that include Vietnam and Thailand.