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It’s been a year of transition for Diamond Aircraft Industries (a.k.a. Diamond Canada) in London, Ont.
Just before Christmas 2017, China-based Wanfeng Aviation Industry announced it had completed the acquisition of the Canadian company’s Austrian parent, Diamond Aircraft Group.
The news came just one year after Wanfeng acquired a 60 per cent controlling interest in Diamond Canada at the end of 2016. As part of that deal, all rights for two aircraft models–the four-seat DA40 and the seven-passenger DA62–were transferred to London.
“Diamond Canada purchased the DA40 and DA62 programs from our Austrian colleagues,” explained Peter Maurer, the company’s president and CEO, in a recent interview with Skies. “That means Diamond Canada now owns the type certificates for those aircraft and is responsible for global sales and all in-service support.”
When the type certificates were transferred to Diamond Canada on Nov. 15, 2017, the DA62 and the DA40NG automatically attained Canadian certification.
“We can now make design changes to those aircraft,” continued Maurer, adding that Diamond Canada will be focusing on modifications that appeal to the North American market.
The DA40, Diamond’s best-selling aircraft, is targeted for some product improvements, although Maurer said the DA62 will stay as is for now.
“The DA62, we don’t see a need to make any design mods now. The aircraft meets anybody’s standard. It comes with all the avionics anyone would want and the comfort features.”
With three aircraft production lines now running in London (DA20, DA40, DA62), Diamond Canada is busily searching for good people to help the factory meet order book demand.
“It’s been an absolute growth year,” said Maurer. “2017 has been very challenging for us in terms of hiring the people we need. We’re behind our hiring plan. We have over 180 people now, but it’s not enough in terms of our sales.”
In total, he said the London factory will need about 300 staff by December 2018.
“A lot of people in aviation are looking for technicians and pilots. In our case, we’re also looking for production workers. They don’t necessarily need an aviation background. In essence, we look for people with a great attitude and we’ll teach them the skills.
“If we can’t find all the people we need, we’ll have to look at outsourcing some of the work or sharing resources with Diamond Austria.”
While the first DA40s completely produced in Canada have come off the production line–as has the first Canadian-built DA62–the London factory continues to operate at a lower production rate due to incremental ramp-up and staff shortages.
To complicate matters further, the DA62 is by far the most complex airplane Diamond has ever brought to market, necessitating more labour hours to build each aircraft.
“We are working with Diamond Austria to help us produce some of these aircraft because we can’t keep up with the demand,” said Maurer.
So far, Diamond has delivered more than 70 DA62 aircraft, which are proving to be popular primarily with private buyers.
“The aircraft is a 10,” said Maurer. “Universally, the feedback on the DA62 has been great in North America. We don’t have anyone saying they wished it did this or that.”
He said the new diesel-powered twin extends the piston market upwards with its impressive useful load and seven seats.
“I had a chance to fly in one of our DA62s from London to Ottawa. It took 90 minutes and we burned 23 gallons of jet fuel. Since it’s so fuel efficient, it needs to carry only a fraction of the fuel load that others carry. Full fuel payload on the aircraft is 1,004 pounds.”
The aircraft is also approved in Canada for flight into known icing (FIKI) conditions.
While 2017 was tough in terms of dealing with massive growth, Maurer said 2018 should be smoother as the company gets down to business.
“We want to focus on increasing our production rate. Of course, with that comes expanding our sales efforts, especially internationally. The focus is on selling worldwide.”
In keeping with this strategy, Diamond Canada has signed up a network of international partners to handle sales, distribution and support.
Meanwhile, Maurer said the company will be ramping up to full production targets in 2018.