If Viking Air’s water bomber conversion program gets off the ground as the company hopes, it could lead to hundreds of additional jobs at its North Saanich and Calgary facilities.
Viking’s Chief Executive Officer David Curtis says as many as 900 new jobs could be created once the company starts manufacturing brand new aerial firefighting aircraft, based on the models they acquired in 2016 from Bombardier. That’s on top of the 200 jobs the company and its partner Longview Aviation Asset Management (LAAM) announced earlier this week. Those jobs are for a water bomber conversion program that would see Viking Air modify existing aircraft.
And if that program goes well, Curtis said the business plan for building new aircraft could fall into place as early as this fall.
First things first, however, as Viking Air and LAAM ramp up hiring — a total of 100 at its North Saanich facility at the Victoria International Airport and 150 in Calgary — to get enough workers to begin modifying existing aircraft.
Curtis said their business plan for this stage of the program is complete and they have lined up a purchaser of the new components. He said he was not able to disclose the purchaser, but said that organization has acquired five of the aircraft.
“This represents significant changes to those (existing) aircraft,” Curtis said.
Older, radial piston engines will be replaced by gas turbine engines (or turbo-prop engines), reducing the aircraft’s weight significantly, enabling it to carry more water. And that’s only the beginning of the conversion work.
“It’s an update, re-work and update of the aircraft systems, avionics and electronics, while maintaining the original aluminum structure.”
To get enough workers, Viking Air is not only hiring new people but restarting its ‘Viking College’. It started in 2010 when Viking was increasing its production of its Twin Otter series aircraft.
“We felt it was an excellent way to pick up people’s learning curve.”
And like the increase in production of those Twin Otter aircraft, they’re looking at starting up the college again for the planned start of production of its CL-515 water bombers.
Curtis said they decided to make a case for building new planes because of the ongoing demand for aerial firefighting aircraft. As well, he said some countries, like France, do not accept ‘used’ aircraft. Curtis added that if the modification program is successful, and if their funding requests to the federal and provincial governments are met with positive results, they will take that experience and move into full-scale aircraft production.
To get there, he said Viking Air will need customers for the CL-515. That too, is in early talks, he said.
Those estimated 900 jobs, then, require a lot of moving parts to fall into place. Should they come about, Curtis said that’s only the direct jobs — the work could lead to more work in the supply end of the chain.