Aviation: The Twin Otter returns

The last Twin Otter was made in 1988. Now Viking Air is building them anew.

Since the de Havilland Twin Otter was first flown in 1965, no other plane has been able to top it as the aircraft best-suited to flying in difficult environments — from search-and-rescue in Canada’s North to surveying for oil in Africa. De Havilland made about 800 of the planes before it halted production in 1988, and an estimated 600 remain in service. Now, three years after Victoria-based aerospace manufacturer Viking Air bought the rights to build new versions of the Twin Otter from Bombardier Inc., Canada’s storied 19-seat workhorse is poised for rebirth.

In October, Viking said it was expecting Transport Canada and European Aviation Safety Agency certification within 90 days. Its first seven planes are in the final stages of assembly and, with 43 orders in hand, Viking’s decision to buy the rights and become a full-fledged airplane maker is looking sound.

Viking’s plans don’t stop there. It bought the rights to seven de Havilland aircraft and intends to bid on a $3-billion federal contract to replace a fleet of de Havilland Buffalo search-and-rescue aircraft with upgraded versions of the same model. But for now, ramping up to meet Twin Otter demand is keeping it busy. Given the plane’s popularity, spokesperson Angela Murray says it’s not surprising. “It’s rugged,” she says. “It’s not a cream-puff airplane.”