Viking is not just an integral part of Canada’s aviation history. The company actually epitomizes the cream of the Canadian aircraft tradition. Indeed, the Victoria, British Columbia-based company is one of its home country’s predominant aviation enterprises. “We are the only Canadian aircraft manufacturer west of Ontario – a long way from the focal point of aviation in the country,” says Marketing and Business Development Representative Angela Murray.
But that’s not to say that acting remotely has proved to be a challenge. Rather, in its rise to the top of its game, Viking has exercised an impact that extends high and far beyond national boundaries. Incorporated in 1970, Viking has gained renown throughout the entire global aviation industry as a top-level aerospace enterprise. “We provide the complete aircraft support package: certified parts manufacture, spares sales, technical and engineering support, and an aircraft repair and modification facility,” relates Murray. She adds that Viking Air specializes in de Havilland products, referencing a business association that spans more than 30 years. In fact, a major component of Viking’s mission is to advance de Havilland’s own tradition of world-class aircraft.
More importantly, Murray indicates a new direction for Viking, which is part of Westerkirk Capital Inc., a Canadian private investment firm with substantial holdings in the hospitality, aviation and real estate sectors. “As we’ve evolved, we’ve transitioned from an aircraft parts manufacturer into a complete aircraft manufacturer,” she says.
But that’s getting ahead of the story.
In its early history, Viking recorded significant milestones that continually propelled the company forward to its present height.
In 1983, after establishing itself as an aircraft modification, sales and repair facility, Viking acquired exclusive rights to spare parts manufacturing and distribution for de Havilland aircraft (including the DHC-2 Beaver and DHC-3 Single Otter). Viking subsequently acquired parts and service business for the heritage de Havilland Canada aircraft from Bombardier Aerospace. In 2006, the company accepted the transfer of the type certificates for seven legacy de Havilland aircraft, including: the DHC-1 Chipmunk, DHC-2 Beaver, DHC-2T Turbo Beaver, DHC-3 Otter, DHC-4 Caribou, DHC-5 Buffalo, DHC-6 Twin Otter, and DHC-7 Dash 7 aircraft.
Along with de Havilland, Viking’s impressive client list grew to include aviation industry top guns. “We support a global customer base from our Victoria headquarters,” comments Murray, “including national and international government agencies and armed forces, commercial air carriers, and independent aircraft operators around the world”.
SOARING TO NEW HEIGHTS
Viking’s acquisition of the aforementioned type certificates furnished the company with exclusive rights to manufacture new aircraft and move the company from supplier to OEM status. “We carried out extensive research, including a fleet survey and review of fleet attrition, to determine the market feasibility and operator demand for new aircraft. The feedback was positive and unanimous that we should put the de Havilland Twin Otter aircraft back into production,” recalls Murray.
Specifically, in early 2007, Viking publicly stated that it would offer a Series 400 of the Twin Otter, with the restarted production scheduled for the following year. Deliveries were slated commencing 2009, with a base price of $3.925 million for each plane.
In September 2008, Viking’s new Twin Otter Series 400 Technology Demonstrator – the prototype – achieved “power on” status that preceded an official rollout and first flight. At that point, all of the major structural components were installed, the electronics wired and control systems rigged. Moreover, with modernization upgrades incorporated into the craft, Viking was metaphorically flying the revamped Twin Otter into the 21st century, as the company reported.
This flight path into the future became possible with a flight deck equipped with a Honeywell Primus Apex avionics suite. This provides the deck with two primary flight displays and two multifunction displays that feature clear, high resolution Active Matrix Liquid Crystal Displays and wide viewing capability that enable cross-cockpit scanning. Further, the Apex platform provides integrated aircraft systems, safety sensors and navigation information, reduced pilot workload and improved safety through enhanced situational awareness.
Also, the Series 400 Twin Otter will be powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-34 or optional PT6A-35 Hot and High Performance engines – an improvement from the PT6A-27 engines on the previous model Twin Otters. Configuration options include standard landing gear, straight floats, amphibious floats, skis, wheel skis, or intermediate flotation (Tundra) landing gear. The standard 19-passenger regional airliner interior plan can be upgraded for private, executive, recreational, commercial or military use – providing versatility to the aircraft that can function effectively in diverse and even extreme operating environments, Viking reports.
Following the September “power on” announcement, the DHC-6 Twin Otter’s maiden flight was scheduled for the end of October 2008. However, the plane took her first flight on Oct. 1, only days after the initial power-on. Employees and spectators watched and applauded as the plane took off from less than 1,000 feet of runway at the Victoria International Airport. Piloting the plane were Steve Stackhouse, Viking’s manager of Flight Operations and pilot-in-command, and Michael Moore, Manager of Flight Safety and co-captain. When back on terra firma, Stackhouse commented that the first flight went smoothly and the aircraft handled exactly as designed and expected.
The occasion not only represented the launch of a new aircraft but the launch of a new direction for Viking. After thriving in the aviation field for several decades, the company was now one of only two manufacturers of new aircraft in Canada.
Befitting its proud status as an active player in the aerospace industry, Viking boasts professional memberships that include Aerospace Industries Association of BC, Canadian Business Aircraft Association, Pacific Aircraft Maintenance Engineers Association, and Canadian Aviation Maintenance Council.
The company’s current employee roster includes 330 talented, enthusiastic, highly skilled individuals that support customers around the world, promoting Viking’s comprehensive service range that includes sales, technical and engineering help, as well as maintenance, repair, overhaul and conversion activities.
The expanding employee roster also reflects the company’s robust health and growth. “Viking has been growing at an exponential rate, and we have more than doubled our staff size within the past year,” observes Murray. “We added about 130 employees, and on average are hiring two to three people each week.”
Growth is also manifesting itself in production expansion. “We’ve started building a new facility at our Victoria location, which will more than triple our operational space,” reports Murray. “We’ve also added a second 43,000-square-foot facility at Calgary International Airport.”
But back in Victoria, the new building will increase the company’s manufacturing dimensions to more than 125,000 square feet of manufacturing, assembly, modification and repair space. “The existing building comprises about 40,000 square feet, and it will transition into a full aircraft maintenance facility once manufacturing’s on-line in the new building,” says Murray. She also pointed out that the new Calgary facility will house final assembly of aircraft, and serve as a customer delivery operation.
The revamped Victoria facility includes the company’s highly respected maintenance, repair and overhaul division, which specializes in full service and workmanship for Beaver, Turbo Beaver, Otter and Twin Otter aircraft, and soon will service the full range of aircraft supported by Viking. Specific activities include aircraft repair and modification, inspection services, airframe overhaul, engineering and certification services, engine installations and piston-to-turbine conversions. Viking holds supplemental type certificates/ approvals for turbine conversions for Beaver and Otter aircraft, increased gross weight allowances for piston Beaver, Turbo Beaver, and Single Otter; and PT6A-34 engine installations on Twin Otter 300 Series.
Revenues also remain healthy despite recent global economic upheavals. “While the aviation industry in general has been affected by the economic downturn, we have not been directly impacted as our market is so specific,” indicates Murray. “As jet fuel prices soar, turbo props are becoming an economic alternative and allow carriers to focus operations on specific requirements. The term “go big or go home” does not apply in today’s market, so supporting smaller aircraft and providing versatile alternatives makes sense.” To this effect, Viking maintains strong sales in support of the existing fleet, and currently has a wait list that extends into 2012 for the new Series 400 Twin Otter.
For 2008, Viking projected for itself gross sales revenues of $30 million. Looking ahead to 2009, the company anticipates doubling that figure. By 2010, it expects to reap $100 million. As such, the company’s flight trajectory moves steadily higher, and Viking Air anticipates no turbulence.