Pontifications: Recovery plans from the pandemic at ATR, De Havilland

By Scott Hamilton

March 29, 2021, © Leeham News: Aviation stakeholders’ attention understandably focuses on Airbus and Boeing as the industry works its way through the COVID-19 pandemic. Embraer gets less attention than the Big Two.

But two other OEMs must be considered as well: ATR and De Havilland Canada.

Outside of China and Russia, whose home-grown industries sell only to these markets, ATR and DHC are the only manufacturers of turboprops in the 50-90 seat sectors.

LNA revealed on Jan. 12 that DHC would suspend Dash 8-400 production after the small backlog rolled off the assembly line. The privately held company delivered 11 airplanes last year due to the pandemic.

About 900 aging regional turboprop aircraft need to be replaced in the coming years.

ATR Recovery

ATR delivered only 10 aircraft last year and received six gross orders.

ATR on March 17 outlined its plan for recovering from COVID. In a statement, it said the plan includes:

  • The implementation of incremental improvements into the aircraft family to enhance operational efficiency and reduce maintenance costs through system upgrades and state-of-the-art avionics, maintaining the competitive and environmental advantage we offer to our customers;
  • Following the delivery of the first new purpose-built freighter to FedEx, ATR is well positioned to benefit from the resilience of the cargo market, already at pre-Covid level. Air cargo is expected to double its capacity in the next 20 years, and point to point express deliveries can best be served by our aircraft;
  • The Short Take Off and Landing variant of the ATR42-600 will open a range of opportunities in airports with airstrips between 800 and 1,000m; and

ATR has an advantage over De Havilland because it is 50% owned by Airbus. Airbus is studying hydrogen-powered designs, including a turboprop. If this design proceeds, it most likely would be sold through ATR.

De Havilland’s plans

Longview Aviation Capital (LAC) bought the Q400 program from Bombardier, and with it, all the rights and tooling for the smaller, out-of-production Dash 8-100/200/300s. Longview renamed the Q400 the Dash 8-400, the original moniker.

Longview previously purchased dormant de Havilland/Bombardier programs, such as the Beaver and Twin Otter through its Viking Aviation unit. Viking restarted Twin Otter production.

Longview created a new unit for the Q400 program, naming it De Havilland Canada.

DHC can’t match the money and horsepower of ATR’s partnership with Airbus. Longview is part of the Thomson Reuters family money, providing some deep pockets.

“We fully expect worldwide demand for the Dash 8 to return once the industry has recovered from the pandemic, and the aircraft’s characteristics – including low operating costs, low emissions impact, and performance capabilities that support efficient regional operations – will make the Dash 8 an important part of the aviation industry’s post-pandemic recovery,” said David Curtis, executive chairman of Longview.

In a Feb. 17 statement, DHC said it “is introducing enhancements that will ensure the Dash 8 remains at the forefront of the regional aircraft market around the world.” These include:

  • Investing significant capital in the Customer Services and Support team, distribution network and information technology to reduce the operating cost of the Dash 8 platform;
  • Developing upgrades and modifications to the Dash 8, including packages that create a best-in-class freighter with unmatched operating and financial attributes;
  • Introducing cabin refurbishment features such as an overhead bin extension solution which improves the cost-efficiency of in-service Dash 8; and
  • Actively innovating across the aircraft platform, including product improvements that will reduce operating and ownership costs and help prepare Dash 8 fleets for the aviation industry’s move to greater sustainability.
Synergies within Longview

DHC added, in response to LNA questions, that it is in discussions to relocate and restart the Dash 8-400 production line. Meantime, DHC offers aircraft from its inventory and seeks new orders.

“We have multiple opportunities to share resources, expertise and capacity with our LAC sister companies,” DHC says. “We are just starting to take advantage of this potential and are strengthened by being part of a robust aviation portfolio with patient long-term ownership.”

Coming from behind compared with ATR is a big challenge for DHC. It’s planning product improvements for upgrading the interior, life extension programs, and further noise reduction certification. DHC also will help lessors, and current owners remarket aircraft that became available during the pandemic.

Expanding cargo configuration uses, which ATR also offers, and non-commercial utility, fire-fighting, and military operations are objectives.

While ATR is studying alternative energy power sourcing, alone and in conjunction with Airbus, DHC embarked on its alternative studies even before the pandemic.

“We are exploring new propulsion technology options that will likely shape the future of aviation,” the company said. “De Havilland Canada and LAC are uniquely positioned to participate in this green journey by leveraging the unique capabilities of our aircraft platforms in the zero emissions challenge.  We have had discussions with many parties on the ‘greening’ of aviation and are keen to see our products fulfill their potential for decades to come.”

21 Comments on “Pontifications: Recovery plans from the pandemic at ATR, De Havilland

  1. As a passenger since the mid fifties (props) and a pilot, I love the Dash 8

    You can never have too much power and the Dash 8 has that in spades.

    Its a shame BBD did not sell it on the merits of you can get economic operation out of it and speed if needed (or make up speed to catch up on delays)

    Also its one engine out ops allows efficient routes in Western US, India, Pakistan and certainly the Ethiopian region Africa.

    I would love to see it get going again and give ATR a run.

    Strange that Anchorage Fairbanks route is a E175 when its the ideal route for the Dash 8.

    I would like to see it succeed and its in the best possible hands for that.

    • I like the thing also, especially the 400 and chose it (over 737) for a recent Portland to Sacramento flight just for the fun of it. I love seeing those big props go to work, but it IS narrow for a 2/2 aircraft. I think the ATR and for sure the E series are significantly roomier.

      • Good for you.

        Never paid attention to seat details when I was younger. DC-3 at -40 something on Canvas side seats was no fun (Northway AK to Fairbanks).

        Longest I think was Seattle – Eugene. Got a fantastic view of St. Helens with a front moving through and the rain shadow on the far side.

        Boise- Seattle and Mosses Lake Seattle as well as number of Seattle Bellingham.

        They flew fast so never got to the discomfort stage you get on the jet to or from Anchorage and Seattle.

  2. ATR width 8′ 5”
    DHC8 width 8′ 2″
    Maybe 1 in each side ?

    The widest in the TP 4 seater is the vitually unknown Casa CN235 at 8′ 9″
    The E series is 2.74 or 9ft internal width.

  3. Both are pretty old designs, the ATR has a reliability and cost advantage but a new turboprop using state of the art technology and UDF’s instead of turboprop should be able to cruise at 80-90% speed of a ERJ/A220 at 60% of the cost with better hot&high performance. Embraer might be on to on track to achieve this with its prop studies.

    • ” UDF’s ”

      As a propulsion solution still out of reach, aren’t they?

      • Depends on the definintion of UDF, The An-70 has a version. Designed by the Progress Design Bureau, each of the D-27 engines is rated at 13,800 shp (which can be uprated to 16,000 shp), which is used to drive the SV-27 contra-rotating scimitar propellers designed by Aerosila; eight on the front propeller and six on the aft propeller.
        Today you might go for prime numbers of blades like 7+5 to minimize harmonic vibrations. Even turboprop engines are having more blades as the latest Hamilton Sundstrand prop with 8ea and Turbofans are coming down to 16 on the GE9X, so soon there might be 12blades on anything you buy…

        • I think (and I may be wrong) that UDFs by definition still develop significant thrust from the core flow, where a TP generally gains little net thrust from the core flow.

          • Claes:

            What would be your info on reliability of the Dash 8 ?

            They did have some gear issues but memory was it was failure to follow the maint procedure.

            A320 has the funny 90 degree nose turn thing.

            Not sure what ATR uses for gear ops but you have to maintain right

            I know the F-27 fleet used pneumatic and those were a problem reliability wise.

          • Wasnt the UDF criteria is that the props arent geared like on a TP ?
            But now of course there is a mid sized geared turbo fan.

            The Progress D-236 ‘prop-fan’ was the closest to a UDF concept but was more of a hybrid and was tested on the An-70 model. Noise as usual was the biggest issue.

    • @Bjorn

      would be cool if you did a corner series on the potential of a GTF UDF and the economic crossover points (speed/fuel consumption) between Turboprops, GTF/UDFs, GTF/TFs etc.

      historical UDF designs were ungeared, and so the fans were spinning at a the same speed as the LP Core and so were horrifically noisy. with a GTF based UDF, the fan is spinning at 25-33% of core speed, which should greatly reduce the noise factor as well as further increasing propulsive efficiency.

  4. ATR market segment is 40-75 pax with very few opportunities to increase or decrease fuselage length.
    Q400 is focused on 70-90 pax with the same limitations but with a far better speedy versatility
    What will be the next right market segment based on both replacement ( Saab 340, jetstream,…) and new demand market ?
    With new hybrid design ( hydrogen? ) I will be not surprised if those segments move forward ans backward for instance:
    30-50 pax with new Do328 eco
    70- 100 pax with new Embraer proposai
    In this perspective ATR will have to do something else than ATR42S which is a short term answer. Will Airbus and Leonardo give a go ahead with the right money?
    DHC with a good original product closer to the right market segment is in a better position to move forward with less money needed for a new hybrid design which is Key at my opinion for long terme options.

    • As noted in past LeehamNews articles, each of the Dash8 and ATR have advantages over the other.

      There is likely a need for smaller turboprop airliners, like earlier Dash 8s, but economics is a question. Production cost important as reduces capital requirement.

      Longview subsidiary Viking Air has been trying to sell its existing designs for remote sensing/surveillance work. The Twin Otter and Buffalo can land locally for littoral surveillance and SAR, the Twin Otter is renowned for operating in remote places. As a high wing airplane the Dash 8 geometry is good for surveillance of the surface, would fill gap between Viking Air products and B737s which are already used for surface surveillance, but everyone and his cat wants into that business, several platforms already in use. (Which would benefit from partnership with a radar and computation business, MDA and CMC are in Canada.)

  5. I flew the first scheduled passenger flight of the Dash 8 in April 1985 (Eastern Metro Express) from Atlanta,Georgia to Panama City, Florida and back to Atlanta. I had over 3,000 hrs Pilot in Command in the Dash 8. I loved that airplane, fun to fly, lots of power!

    • Neat.

      Power is good in remote areas due short strips, and in BC due mountain obstructions to climb beyond with an engine out.

      But number of sales in remote areas is small due population, somewhat more when no roads as on Haida Gwai island and in much of the north where tribal settlements are scattered. Fast is good there too as distances are substantial.

  6. “Longview is part of the Thomson Reuters family money, providing some deep pockets.”

    Caution re that remark.

    AFAIK the owner of Longview is a descendant of the Thompson newspaper family, with her own money, which might besides Longview include one-quarter of the big company: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Woodbridge_Company. I don’t know if that is in addition to Longview or not, I suspect is.

    Whether or not other members of the family would help her with big investment is a big question, digging and guessing needed. Siblings may or may not get along – for example, Martha Billes had to fight to control Canadian Tire. Control of Longview is a question if investment added.

    The name Longview comes from taking a long-term view, but now deep pockets are needed. Including moving the dHC facility somewhere as Bombardier sold the land and only gave dHC a lease duration of a very few years.

    In a presentation a couple of years ago an executive of Longview/Viking Air said the company does not have money for a clean sheet design.

    Given Brydson’s past, I predict dHC will be interested in the fool'[s game of alternative fuels, but that takes even more investment.

    IIRC Leeham has suggested that Embraer wants to build a new turboprop larger than what they built in the past which was the 30 pax size Brazilia. I speculate, repeat speculate, they might consider buying dHC to get into the 50-100 pax range. Everything else being equal Canada may be a good production location given currency exchange and future of that.

  7. “We have multiple opportunities to share resources, expertise and capacity with our LAC sister companies,” DHC says.

    Parts manufacturing and product support of course.

    And already having an assembly facility in Calgary AB, where the Twin Otter 400 is assembled, and I think the training simulator is. But that’s a big move from ON.

    There is money in Calgary. Present government unlikely to invest, even though desperate for diversification given state of petroleum industry due low prices and eco-blocking, which of course would probably run afoul of trade rules. I don’t know if buying a facility would do so. For Thompson money, I speculate it would go into bare facilities (land and buildings).

    And gosh, while I am speculating, perhaps Mitsubishi could use a turboprop as an adjunct to turbofan airliners if that ever gets going. Didn’t it buy the CRJ operation from Bombardier? (That was located near Montreal, not a location desired by many residents of ON, though how they view Calgary is probably mixed.)

  8. Recovery of market is hard to predict.

    Many people have been driving instead of flying. which affects the short-haul market for turboprops. (Harder to drive in the hinterlands, though roads are opening every year – not only can you drive to Inuvik NWT you can continue on to TukToyaktuk now. But that’s not many airplanes.)

    The fool’s game of COVID-19 passports may or may not help airline traffic, there are serious questions including fakes. 30 travellers entering Canada caught with suspected fake COVID-19 test results: CBSA – National | Globalnews.ca (I do not know what incidence rate that gives). Who will ensure accuracy and authenticity? A stamp in a regular passport can only be by passport issuing offices or port of entry authorities, I presume. Perhaps when vaccination gets to level needed for ‘herd immunity’ the fool’s game will be abandoned, though the question of significant mutation is open due to little experience yet. Depending on vaccination leaves out those who already had immunity from something, and those who got it recently from being sick but not enough to be a ‘case’ on record. For those who were significantly ill, will a doctor/hospital statement suffice to show immunity? Or certificate of test for [antibodies]?

  9. For shorter routes, your own vehicle is the competition to airliners.

    Southwest is pitching convenience into Myrtle Beach for golfing. (IIRC has also been a good place to listen to RnR performances (that’s the music that some of us heard from 1954-1964), well many young people like it too, it has melody not the caterwauling I hear on store PA systems today) :-o).

    One route that dHC might look at as instructive is YVR-YKA before and after the Coquihalla freeway opened. That made a day drive round-trip for business feasible, though perhaps a long day. Kamloops and Kelowna (to which a fork of the Coquihalla was later opened) were busy routes for Pacific Western, which started late flights at discounts to handle weekend VF&R demand.

    OTOH some oil patch people liked PW’s 150nm shuttle so much that some who had just escaped a burning 737 in Calgary were found in line for the next flight to Calgary. ! (There’s a mostly straight freeway between the two cities, albeit in those days the Industrial Airport was close to downtown. Oilfield supply industrial area is well south of the city, so driving or nearby Edmonton International Airport is more viable.)

    Of course feeding into a big airport to catch a long flight gives demand for turboprops, Lethbridge-Calgary an example in those days, with short Dash 8 and smaller aircraft.

    (History trivia: Time air flew Shorts 360 on that route as well, today Longview/Viking Air own the rights and certificates to Short Brothers airplanes, perhaps for parts sales.)

    • Well, what size of passengers?

      Rather much difference between most people in SE Asia and most people in Canada-US.

      (That’s why the Mazda 5 stretch of the Mazda 3 can have three rows of seats, take middle row out for tall people. There are many short people in Canada and US but not the majority. )

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