De Havilland reborn in Downsview

One minute after midnight on June 1, De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd. officially emerged as the operator of the Dash 8 turboprop program, marking an historic moment in Canadian aviation history.

On July 26, De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited and Ethiopian Airlines celebrated the delivery of the 600th Dash 8-400 aircraft produced at the Toronto facility. The aircraft type was formerly known as the Bombardier Q400. Andy Cline Photo
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Victoria-based Longview Aviation Capital Corp., through an affiliate, announced last November that it would be acquiring the Dash 8 program from Montreal-based Bombardier Inc.

Longview’s affiliate subsequently disclosed its trade name: De Havilland. While the historic brand has a lower-case “d,” the relaunch went with an upper-case “D” – attention to detail that Toronto-based De Havilland wants to showcase as part of its broader efforts to promote Dash 8s.

What had been called the Bombardier Q400 is now known as the Dash 8-400, said Todd Young, De Havilland’s chief operating officer and former general manager of Bombardier’s regional Q Series program.

“Our prime focus right now is business continuity and stabilization because 1,200 people have been transferred from Bombardier to De Havilland,” said Young in an interview from his office at the production facility for the Dash 8-400 at the Downsview site in Toronto.

The transaction resulted in gross proceeds of $300 million for Bombardier.

Boeing Co. bought the original de Havilland in 1986 from the Canadian government. Boeing then sold it to Bombardier in 1992.

The new De Havilland is now providing after-market support for hundreds of Dash 8 turboprops still flying.

“We transferred employees at 12:01 a.m. on June 1, and we started supporting our worldwide customers. We ensured the transition was seamless to our customers and of course to our suppliers and employees,” said Young after he returned to Canada from promoting De Havilland at the Paris Air Show in June.

About 1,100 workers are based at the Downsview plant while roughly 100 employees are spread across five offices worldwide.

In Paris, Young posed for a photo with Longview chairman David Curtis and federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau to commemorate the occasion of De Havilland formally receiving the type certificates for the Dash 8 program.

“The type certificates identify who has the authority on the configuration and continuing airworthiness of that aircraft type,” said Young. “We went through an exhaustive process with Transport Canada and demonstrated that we have the skills and capability to manage the continuing airworthiness of the aircraft type. There are still in the order of 1,200 aircraft flying each and every day.”

De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited formally received the type certificates for the entire Dash 8 aircraft program, including the 100, 200 and 300 series and the in-production 400, at the 2019 Paris Air Show. From left to right are David Curtis, chairman of Longview Aviation Capital, De Havilland Aircraft of Canada’s parent company; Marc Garneau, transport minister; and Todd Young, chief operating officer, De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited. De Havilland Aircraft Photo

No decision has been made yet about whether to revive production of the 100, 200 and 300 series, but “it is on our radar,” he said.

More than 670 of the 100, 200 and 300 series were built, starting with the 100 in 1984. Production ceased for the 100 in 2005, while the 200 and 300 ended their run in 2009.

Six hundred Dash 8-400s have been built over the past two decades, and about 50 of the planes are on the order book. The Dash 8-400, the largest plane in the series, typically ranges from 74 to 90 seats in a regional setup.

On July 26, De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited and Ethiopian Airlines celebrated the delivery of a milestone Dash 8-400 aircraft. It is the 600th Dash 8-400 aircraft produced at the Toronto facility and also the 25th Dash 8-400 aircraft delivered to Ethiopian Airlines.

The current Dash 8-400 order book is enough to keep the Downsview assembly plant busy until mid-2020. Young expects to secure more orders on a regular basis to ensure the site is active until the sub-lease runs out in 2023.

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Industry observers say that eventually, the sprawling Downsview property would likely be redeveloped for residential and business use.

In the meantime, talks continue with the new landlord, the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, which bought the Downsview site from Bombardier in 2018.

“We would love to stay here,” said Young. “It would be fantastic to stay because there is so much history at this site, but we recognize and understand that we’re not the owners of the land.”

De Havilland has extensive contingency plans in place, in case there is a need to relocate to a different location in the Toronto region in 2023 or beyond, he said.

Longview, the parent of Viking Air Ltd., has an interesting background. Besides serving as Longview chairman, Curtis is also Viking’s president and chief executive officer.

Viking is best known for reviving production of the fabled Twin Otter in 2010. Boeing shut down manufacturing of the Twin Otter in 1988, but the rebirth captured the imagination of the aviation community. Preassembly of the Twin Otter takes place in the Victoria area, while final assembly is in Calgary.

Curtis said he is pleased help re-energize the De Havilland name as Longview envisages a healthy Dash 8 program over the long term, including in-service support.

Longview is owned by the family of Sherry Brydson, niece of the late billionaire Ken Thomson. In a news release from the Paris Air Show, De Havilland praised the vision and determination of Brydson and her husband, Rob McDonald.

Young, who worked at the original de Havilland early in his career, said he is looking forward to the years ahead.

“We’re really happy about the De Havilland brand. Our focus is to build a long and vibrant business for Longview,” he said.

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