Viking Air

Antony — May 3, 2012

Twin Otter

Dave’s post on Libertarian Logistics reminded me of a local business that provides a good example of the entrepreneurial innovation that arises in a free market.

Normally when we think of innovation, we imagine high-tech, cutting-edge science. But in the marketplace, an entrepreneur can also innovate by spotting opportunities to re-use old ideas that have fallen out of use. Viking Air, located in Sidney BC, has done just that by resurrecting the Twin Otter aircraft design, producing them new once again 20 years after production was discontinued.

The Twin Otter was originally designed and manufactured by de Havilland Canada. This company had been nationalised by the Canadian Government during World War II, but went on to design and manufacture a series of rugged aircraft including the Beaver, the Otter, the Twin Otter, and the Caribou mentioned in Dave’s post. Eventually, the government sold off de Havilland, and the production of Twin Otters ended in 1988. The remnants of de Havilland ended up being acquired by Bombardier, who still manufacture a successor to the de Havilland designed Dash-8, now known as the Q-400.

The old Beavers, Otters, and Twin Otters continued to be employed by operators, however, and these aircraft earned a reputation as rugged reliable workhorses. They can be seen every day taking off and landing in Victoria’s inner harbour, among other places. Twin Otters are used in many harsh and remote environments, including daring missions to the South Pole.

Viking Air ran a nice little business maintaining these old aircraft, and upgrading them with new technology such as turbine engines. They bought the old tooling from Bombardier, which helped them produce replacement parts. Then in 2006, they purchased “type certificates” from Bombardier, which gave them the right to manufacture new aircraft. Because of their understanding of their customers, they sensed a market opportunity for new, upgraded Twin Otters, and re-started production in 2007. The process of resuming production after a 20-year gap was not straightforward, they had to study photographs of old processes to reverse-engineer them, and interview former employees to try to recover their knowledge of the manufacturing process. But it all worked out, and today Viking Air is churning out brand new Twin Otters from their manufacturing plant in Sidney, with final assembly in Calgary.

Of course, the situation is not a purely free market, it would be even better if anyone were allowed to produce aircraft from this design, anywhere in the world, without needing a “type certificate”. But we can be happy at the entrepreneurial drive that allowed this old design to be used and improved on, to the delight and benefit of their happy customers.

Comments

Michael Clyne says

It is by chance our company found itself in the Twin Otter business buying, selling them for customers worldwide while providing spare parts support.
Now, with Viking ‘s achievements we have decided to move forward to acquire up to 50 Twin Otter aircraft (both Legacy and the new Viking Twin Otter 400) to put out on lease to customers not able to afford the Twin Otter due to the difficulties our customers face in obtaining bank financing.
So, our children and grand children can also enjoy this wonderful business that touches every corner on earth. Thank you to Dave Curtis and the personal investors who felt so comfortable in Dave’s vision and passion.

— May 4, 2012

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