Viking studies E-coat process for new Twin Otter

By Mary Kirby

Canada's Viking Air is considering using E-coat in its basic production process for the new DHC-6 Twin Otter Series 400 as a means of boosting the corrosion resistance capabilities of the aircraft.

Originally developed for the automotive industry, E-coat is "a hybrid between electrostatic spray and powder coating", says Viking VP of business development Rob Mauracher.

"We're testing samples right now to see how they hold up in a salt water regime and that's part of our decision-making for whether to go with it in the new aircraft."

Should Viking opt for an E-coat process, it will become the first aircraft manufacturer to do so, according to Mauracher.

Some 600 Twin Otters are in operation all over the world, and about one third of these operate in highly-corrosive salt water environments.

Viking took this into consideration when it resurrected production of the 19-seat de Havilland Canada aircraft in 2007. Among the over 200 changes being made to the design is the inclusion of more drains and the use of different corrosion prevention materials.

Additionally, the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-34-powered twin-turboprop boasts a new Honeywell Primus Apex integrated avionics suite. "We've taken away a whole myriad of connections where wiring could cause corrosion. All of those systems that have caused maintenance issues in the past [on aged Twin Otters] have been removed because in a corrosive environment, every one of those wires has the potential to become corroded and cause a maintenance event."

The Viking executive says that if an operator takes a new -400, and follows a strict regime of fresh water wash, the aircraft will hold up well in harsh conditions. He notes that there is a three-year warranty attached to the aircraft.

Mauracher points out that there are other differences "across the board" in the new -400 compared to older Twin Otters, including "on the maintenance side, on reliability, and on all the things that enhance the flying experience".

Viking has already secured -400 orders from carriers that operate in salt water. One of the largest seaplane operators in the world, Maldivian Air, has ordered two of the type, says Mauracher.

Viking's backlog totals about 40 and that takes the company well into 2011 in terms of production. The airframer is on track to deliver its first -400 to Swiss charter operator Zimex Aviation in August.

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