Viking Air president pitching to produce firefighting planes

Source: Times Colonist
Author: Carla Wilson

Viking Air president pitching to produce firefighting planes

Viking Air president David Curtis is finalizing a business case to start building SuperScooper water bombers as wildfires continue raging at home and around the world.

Curtis is going before the company’s board in two weeks to seek a green light to start talking to potential customers about the plane. Called the CL-415, it was manufactured by Bombardier until 2015 and 170 remain in service.

North Saanich-based Viking acquired manufacturing rights for the water bomber last year.

“We have interest from around the globe,” Curtis said Tuesday.

Viking describes the water bomber as the “aviation industry’s benchmark amphibious aircraft and backbone of firefighting missions around the globe.”

It is able to skim over water and scoop up its load of 6,137 litres in just 12 seconds.

He is hoping to move ahead with the plans now that Viking has hit pause for three months on manufacturing its Twin Otter Series 400. Viking has built 120 Twin Otters and delivered them to 30 countries. The plane’s base price is $7 million.

A total of 212 Viking employees have been temporarily laid off. Of those, about 136 worked in North Saanich. Viking also has a facility in Calgary. Workers are continuing to receive benefits during the anticipated 90-day break in manufacturing.

There was pent-up demand when Viking resurrected the Twin Otter, Curtis said. Sturdy and versatile Canadian-built Twin Otters won a loyal following when they were built by de Havilland between 1965 and 1988. Many of those are flying today.

But the company is subject to a number of factors beyond its control and is now in a cyclical situation, Curtis said. This includes the health of resource sectors. The downturn in oil, gas and mining affects orders. Curtis also noted that a political situation in another country stymied purchase plans.

He has committed to employees that he would not wait until the end of the three-month period to update them on the company’s plans. Viking is aiming to be transparent with its workforce. Some remain on the job to handle parts for servicing work.

In 2015, Viking laid off 116 — with 100 of those from North Saanich — when sales slowed and some customers were not paying for planes that they had ordered.