Patience, diligence and a lot of hard work paid off Thursday as Viking Air handed over the first of six Twin Otter aircraft to the Vietnamese navy in a ceremony at one of its hangars at Victoria International Airport.
It's taken more than three years and more than a few leaps of faith for the first aircraft - white, blue, yellow and red with a small version of the Vietnamese flag on the tail - to be ready for delivery.
"It's a very big day for us," Viking CEO Dave Curtis told a small crowd that featured several members of Vietnam's naval brass, ministry of defence staff and Vietnamese navy pilots who are in Victoria being trained to fly the aircraft.
In an interview, Curtis noted delivering on a deal that started in 2008 plants a flag for his company.
"This is huge for credibility," Curtis said. "Anybody, whether they are connected with aviation or not, would think doing a contract with the government of Vietnam would probably not be the easiest thing ever done. And it wasn't. It was tough. But at the end of the day being able to execute and deliver for Viking is huge."
Curtis noted it took a tremendous amount of trust on the part of the Vietnamese government to shake hands with Viking in the first place. "It took a long time to put the deal together. When you think back in 2008 and 2009, we hadn't delivered a single airplane. The trust they had in this little Canadian company was a big deal," Curtis said. He noted it took several delegate visits to Victoria to see the production line and hard work on the ground in Hanoi, both from his own staff and Canadian government agents to get the deal done.
Viking brought the Twin Otter back into production in 2009, after acquiring the rights to manufacture the de Haviland aircraft, and delivered its first one in 2010. The aircraft first hit the skies in 1965 but production was discontinued in 1988.
The six DHC-6 Twin Otter Series 400 aircraft will be equipped for amphibious operations and form the Vietnamese navy's first fixed-wing-aircraft unit. The planes are worth about $5 million each.
They will be used primarily for search and rescue and to patrol more than 3,400 kilometres of coastline. Viking said it was the first "western-built aircraft" ever acquired by Vietnam.
A Vietnamese admiral here to take delivery of the aircraft told a press conference it was also a big day for Vietnam. Viking and the Vietnamese Navy declined to give the name of the admiral for security reasons.
"It's part of our very important project," the admiral said through a translator. "Vietnam has a lot of rivers, lakes and long coastal line, so that this specific product is very suitable and has many functions and will be helpful in our conditions."
Curtis said now that the first of the order for Vietnam is complete, there will be a regular delivery of a plane every four or five months until the order is complete. At the same time, pilots from Vietnam will continue to do technical and flight training at Viking's sister company, Pacific Sky Aviation. Eight pilots are here now with another 12 arriving in July. Canadian pilots will also return to Vietnam to continue training.
Viking has a backlog of orders for the Twin Otter that carry the company through until the middle of 2015. "We're now building a plane every 15 days," said Curtis. An aircraft at the back of the hanger on Thursday was going through the final steps before delivery to Indonesia. It is the company's 24th new Twin Otter.
"We have a regular drum beat, so now we have to find our balance between what the market will take and what we need to produce," he said.
Viking employs 400 people in Victoria with another 150 in Calgary.
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