Viking Air Ltd. is laying off 212 workers and halting production of its Twin Otter aircraft in North Saanich and Calgary for three months beginning at the end of July.
“This is temporary. It is not a permanent layoff. We are just taking time off on our production side,” company president Dave Curtis said in an interview on Tuesday.
The 90-day pause in production starts July 28, and will give the company time to line up more sales, Curtis said. “We think that there are deals that we are going to close.”
Curtis expects the potential sales will likely take 60 to 90 days to complete.
Viking has 420 employees. Of those, 320 are in North Saanich and 100 are in Calgary.
Layoffs will affect 136 unionized production workers in North Saanich and 76 in Calgary.
Jeannie Blaney, Unifor Local 114 union representative, said the layoff will be hard for people. “However, the company is going to be keeping [our] core benefits.”
Staff were informed of the layoffs on Tuesday, allowing 60 days notice.
The North Saanich-based company manufactures a new generation of the renowned Twin Otter aircraft at its production site near Victoria International Airport and in Calgary.
So far, it has built 120 Twin Otters and delivered the aircraft to about 30 countries.
Twin Otters were originally built by de Havilland Aircraft, which turned them out from the mid-1960s until 1988. Viking revived the aircraft, putting an updated version on the market at a base price of $7 million and delivered its first in 2010.
Viking said some of the factors slowing the market are the decline in growth in the Chinese economy and difficulties selling into the Russian market.
Twin Otters are widely used in mining and energy and the downturn in those sectors has hit Viking Air sales.
Even so, Curtis is optimistic the company will sell another 200 airplanes. Last year, the company built 18 Twin Otters.
Viking is diversifying, Curtis said. It bought the manufacturing rights for Bombardier’s waterbombers last year.
“We have a huge amount of opportunities around the water bomber and we are going to be working pretty hard to bring work back to Canada that is currently not here. That is going to help stabilize our workforce and diversify the production side of things. We are doing all these things at the same time.”As well, a new sister company, Longview Aviation Asset Management, will provide Twin Otter customers with leases and financing options. Curtis likened the service to what can be found at vehicle dealerships. It has six new Viking Twin Otters in Calgary.
Viking slowed production of its planes in spring 2015 and laid off 116 employees (100 from North Saanich) when sales slowed and some customers were not paying for planes they had ordered.
At that time, the company reduced the speed of production to turn out a new plane every 15 days, rather than in 10 days.