Canada's iconic Twin Otter is heading for the Peruvian Amazon.
Viking Air Ltd., which has revived production of the turboprop, will announce a $65-million (U.S.) contract at next week's Paris Air Show to sell 12 Twin Otters to the government of Peru. For Viking, it marks the largest single order placed by a customer.
With landing gear that can be fitted with floats, skis or wheels, the Twin Otter attracted a loyal following worldwide after production began at de Havilland Inc.'s Downsview plant in Toronto in 1965. Production ceased in 1988, but Viking is breathing new life into the fabled Twin Otter.
"There are lots of great export opportunities for us," said Viking Air chief executive officer David Curtis, whose company competes against Germany's Ruag Dornier 228 and China's Harbin Y-12. "We continue to be quite happy with the market acceptance of the product."
Peruvian officials are preparing to take possession of their first modern Twin Otter later this month. The remaining 11 planes in the order placed by Peru's Ministry of Defence will be gradually filled by the end of 2014.
"It's a major milestone for our program - validates what we thought our market opportunities were going to be," Mr. Curtis said. "We're seeing some good commercial success."
Pilots will be able to land the 19-seat plane on the floor of the Amazon jungle or on airstrips higher than 3,000 metres, Mr. Curtis said.
"They're taking these planes into some pretty tough environments, perfectly suited for the Twin Otter," he said in an interview from Victoria. "It's an interesting contract for unique situations. It will be for remote villages in Peru and for humanitarian relief and drug patrols, but run almost like a scheduled airline."
The order from Peru, aided by Canadian Commercial Corp. in government-to-government negotiations, boosts Viking's total backlog to more than 50 planes. Peru still has five original Twin Otters that were manufactured in Toronto. About 600 of the older turboprops remain in operation out of 844 built from 1965 to 1988.
In 2007, Victoria-based Viking began making prototypes of the new Series 400 Twin Otter, which sports a modern cockpit equipped with updated avionics, though it is still based on the basic structural design of the original twin-engine aircraft. Last year, Viking completed its first plane for delivery to Switzerland's Zimex Aviation Ltd. (for duty in Uganda), and Transport Canada has now granted production approval for the new aircraft.
The second delivery went to Air Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, and other customers include Trans Maldivian Airways, the United Arab Emirates' air force and the U.S. Army's Golden Knights parachute team.
Preassembly for the new Twin Otter is done at Viking's Victoria plant, which employs 350 people, and final assembly is in Calgary, which has 125 workers.
The production rate is forecast at 12 planes this year and 18 next year. Some of the components are from Ontario and Quebec, helping to push Canadian content in Twin Otter parts above 80 per cent.
"It is a pan-Canadian product," Mr. Curtis said.
Viking is owned by Toronto-based Westerkirk Capital Inc., a private equity firm whose shareholders include the family of Sherry Brydson, niece of the late billionaire Ken Thomson.