After a long and careful thought, De Havilland Canada has selected a site near Calgary for its new facilities. Called De Havilland Field, the facilities will consist not only of aircraft manufacturing and assembly halls, repair centers, training facilities, and offices but also of its own runway and a museum. The first buildings should be operational in 2025, the airframer said on September 21. De Havilland Canada selects Alberta as new site.
De Havilland Canada has been looking for a new assembly site since 2018 when it was clear that the land lease contract of the historical site in Downsview (Toronto) held by Bombardier would be terminated in 2022. Downsview has seen the production of many De Havilland aircraft types and was used last for the Dash 8-400. In March 2020 and following the outbreak of the Covid-virus, DHC temporarily shut down the production of the Dash 8. It later said that production would be suspended indefinitely until the market situation for aircraft would become clearer.
After a three-month strike in July 2021, unions and De Havilland agreed on the resumption of the completion of already assembled but unfinished Dash 8s. No new aircraft were built in Downsview anymore and the production rigs were disassembled and stored for future use, Philippe Poutissou told AirInsight in an interview at the Dubai Airshow last year. He also said that various sites were under consideration, but that no decision had been made. Downsview was finally closed this summer with an emotional farewell event for current and former staff.
New site will employ some 1.500 staff
The new site will be in Wheatland County, East of Calgary in Alberta, and will employ some 1.500 staff. In a video that is for reference only, the site includes buildings for assembly, additive, composite, and other parts manufacturing, warehouses, offices, MRO facilities, a paint shop, a pre-delivery flight center, a training academy, and a customer support center. De Havilland Field will have its own dedicated runway and control tower.
The availability of a large and young labor pool has been one of the reasons for selecting Alberta. De Havilland Field will see the production of the newly launched DHC-515 firefighter aircraft, the DHC-6 Twin Otter, and the Dash 8-400. The existing site in Victoria (British Columbia) for parts manufacturing will remain open, as will the engineering and customer support center of excellence in Toronto, but the current assembly facilities in Calgary will be closed.
DHC says that it will start a full review of the current Dash 8-400. (De Havilland Canada)
Twin Otter and Dash 8-400 designs to be reviewed
The OEM says it is working on bringing back the Twin Otter and Dash 8-400 into production. De Havilland Canada will have to update its designs if it wants to remain competitive in the turboprop market. It says that is currently undertaking a “significant review” of the Twin Otter “to ensure our product is meeting market demand.” Work is expected to be completed before the end of the year. Once this is completed, the airframer will start its review of the Dash 8-400 “to determine the path to resuming production.”
Since suspending the production of the Dash 8-400, Embraer has announced its new 50-90 seater turboprop that will be officially launched at the 2023 Paris Airshow and should enter service in 2028. ATR has updated its existing range with the Pratt & Whitney PW127XT engine, of which the first aircraft will be delivered in November. The European airframer will launch its new EVO aircraft by late 2023 for entry into service in 2028-2029.
In the last year before the production was suspended, the 8-400 only won limited orders. Most of the Letters of Intent and MoUs for 37 aircraft that were announced at the 2019 Dubai Airshow have never been confirmed, so DHC has no backlog of undelivered aircraft. There is also a significant number of stored Dash 8-400s from airlines that retired over the Covid crisis or went bust but that could be remarketed, eating into the opportunities for new sales. At the same time, the Dash 8-400 is emerging as a platform for hydrogen-electric technology. Universal Hydrogen and ZeroAvia is developing a version with hydrogen containers in the back of the fuselage and has signed Alaska Airlines as one of the interested airlines.
Artist impression of the new De Havilland Field in Wheatland County. (De Havilland Canada)
Planning procedures will take months
Until the first aircraft leaves De Havilland Field, a lot of planning needs to be done. De Havilland Canada plans to submit the area concept plan and land use amendment for the 1.500-acre site to Wheatland County in September. This will be followed by rounds of public engagement and the council until final readings and a public hearing are expected not until spring 2023. “We hope to start construction shortly after the Area Structure Plan has been amended and the sites have been re-zoned which could be as early as late 2023”, DHC says on its website. “The full build-out of De Havilland Field will take many years and will be dependent, in part, on the growth trajectory of the company. Under a conservative scenario, we would anticipate an approximate ten-to-fifteen-year construction schedule for the entire campus. However, in the short term, we would expect that the first buildings could be operational by 2025.”
Start of a new chapter
In a media statement, De Havilland Canada CEO Brian Chafe says: “De Havilland Field will be the home of assembly and production of reliable and rugged Canadian aircraft that serve missions around the world. This is the start of a new chapter for both De Havilland Canada and Canadian aerospace and we are excited about beginning the process with Wheatland County to provide new aviation opportunities for Canada and Alberta.”
Premier Jason Kenney of Alberta said: “This is a huge announcement for the Alberta economy, a game-changing investment for Alberta manufacturing and our burgeoning aviation sector. Thank you to De Havilland Canada for your confidence in Alberta as the best place for this state-of-the-art plant that will employ some 1,500 people in good-paying jobs. Alberta’s economy is diversifying like never before, and with today’s announcement we have more evidence of the huge growth in manufacturing and aviation.”
Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
Richard is contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He also writes for Airliner World, Aviation News, Piloot & Vliegtuig, and Luchtvaartnieuws Magazine. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.