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Twin Otter praised
50 years later, Northern airlines still like aircraft for versatility and ability to appreciate in value

Karen K. Ho
Northern News Services
Monday, June 30, 2015

The Twin Otter may be almost 50 years old, but many Northern airlines consider it a crucial component of their fleets and don't plan on phasing it out anytime soon.

NNSL photo/graphic

Alasdair Martin, president of Air Tindi, stands next to a DHC-6 Series 300 Twin Otter at the company's float base in Yellowknife on June 24. Air Tindi currently has five of the aircraft. - Karen K. Ho/NNSL photo

That's the sentiment from companies like Summit Air, which currently has three of the DHC-6 planes in its fleet.

"They're just the workhorse of the North," Summit's chief pilot Kim Zenko told NWT News/North. "They can haul a good load, pretty much whatever you could fit in the doors in the old days."

Multiple companies cited the aircraft's ability to be put on floats, skis and large "tundra tires" enabling it to land on all types of place. .

"They're just such a flexible aircraft," said Air Tindi president Alasdair Martin . "We can land on strip, on lake, on ice."

Originally manufactured by de Havilland Canada and now by Viking Air, the 19-passenger plane will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. In fact, one of the largest operators of the aircraft is Kenn Borek Air, which has more than two dozen Twin Otters as part of its fleet, services around the territory and a base in Inuvik.

Used by many Northern airlines, including Adlair Aviation and North-Wright Airways, the Twin Otter plane also has the ability to transport passengers and many different kinds of freight in various configurations, especially to many smaller Northern communities or remote areas such as exploration camps.

"Anything you can think of that you might need out of Yellowknife," Martin said. "We take out ATVs, snowmobiles, food, lumber, camps, pretty much anything."

The option of removable skis, floats and tundra tires means the aircraft can also be used and landed all year round. And Adlair Aviation's business development officer, Bruce Jonasson, said the Twin Otters are very easy to maintain.

Martin said some of his company's pilots had been flying the planes for more than 20 years.

While the Twin Otter's consumption of jet fuel doesn't mean great numbers in terms of fuel economy, both Martin and Jonasson said its overall capabilities make that cost well worth it.

"There isn't generally an aircraft that can do what a Twin Otter can do," Martin said, who called them incredible, very robust and very reliable, even in extremely cold temperatures.

"If you have to land on a lake, frozen or not, it is the machine," Jonasson said. "Extreme versatility, in every way."

Zenko also pointed out that a Twin Otter is a lot cheaper than hiring a helicopter. "That's about the only thing that they really compete with," he said in regards to the aircraft's landing capabilities. "If you can't get in with a Twin Otter that's your next bet."

Companies who use the Twin Otter also have a financial incentive to keep their current planes running for as long as possible. Jonasson estimated since Viking started manufacturing the aircraft in 2007, the price of a new one is now $7 million, up from $450,000 in the 1970s.

"It's rare to find planes that appreciate," Jonasson said.

Still, he also said Twin Otters are far from perfect. For all that flexibility, Jonasson said they can be uncomfortable, noisy, drafty and hot.

"They usually stink of fuel or fish or whale meat."

But their near-endless ability to haul people, fuel, and items as large as drilling equipment is why Jonasson called them "the half-ton truck of the sky."

Zenko has moved some odd stuff, hauling everything from diamond drills, "buckets of crap," piles of lumber, as well "millions of sandbags" during the staking rush.

"It's the backbone of a flexible fleet," Martin said.

Zenko said many pilots started their careers co-piloting a Twin Otter, which meant a lot of hard work and heavy lifting. But the aircraft's also built a reputation for being easy to start even in the North's notoriously low winter temperatures.

"(There are) countless times where you were glad to hear that engine fire up," Zenko said.

Viking has planned a tour of Northern communities to celebrate the occasion to take place in July, including stops in Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk, Sachs Harbour, Fort Good Hope, Norman Wells and Yellowknife.

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