Voyageur unveils Dash 8-100 Package Freighter conversion

Voyageur Aviation Ltd. unveiled the world’s first Dash 8-100PF (Package Freighter) on April 20, 2017. The new aircraft, which is based on the legacy de Havilland Canada Dash 8-100, will be operated by Wasaya Airways, headquartered in Thunder Bay, Ont.

The Dash 8-100PF's cabin windows have been replaced by metal plugs to reduce weight and maintenance costs. Andy Cline Photo
The Dash 8-100PF’s cabin windows have been replaced by metal plugs to reduce weight and maintenance costs. Andy Cline Photo
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Scott Tapson, president of Voyageur Aviation, introduced the exciting new aircraft–which was designed, engineered and converted at the Voyageur Aerotech facility in North Bay, Ont.–to a crowd that included executives from Bombardier, Wasaya Airways and the entire Voyageur Aviation staff.

Wasaya plans to use the new Dash 8-100PF in a dedicated cargo role as a replacement for its elderly Hawker Siddeley HS 748s, some as old as 50 years. Besides the Dash 8s, Wasaya operates a mixed fleet of aircraft including the Pilatus PC-12 (6), Cessna C208B Caravan (5), Beech 1900D (8) and HS 748 freighters (3).

The airline’s plan is to rationalize its fleet down to two aircraft types, the Dash 8 and the PC-12.  The Dash 8-100PF will be instrumental to this plan, filling the top end cargo capability.

Wasaya Airways is 100 per cent owned by 12 First Nations: Bearskin Lake; Fort Severn; Kasabonika Lake; Keewaywin; Kingfisher Lake; Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug; Muskrat Dam; Nibinamik; Pikangikum; Sandy Lake; Wapekeka; and Wunnumin Lake.

The airline was founded in 1989 and has typically operated smaller aircraft types on scheduled and charter service to remote communities throughout northwestern Ontario, and soon Manitoba. Its bases are in Thunder Bay, Pickle Lake, Red Lake and Sioux Lookout. Wasaya serves 25 destinations in northwestern Ontario with 60 daily flights and employs more than 350 employees, of which over one third are of First Nations heritage.

“The addition of the Dash 8-100PF is an innovative game changer and an essential strategic advantage for Wasaya in our new business model,” said Michael Rodyniuk, president and CEO of Wasaya. “The Dash 8-100PF is built and converted here in Canada, designed for our rugged environment and perfectly suited to move cargo into and out of our remote communities with short, unimproved gravel airfields.

“The Voyager team has done an amazing job developing this cost effective program for us, taking the DHC-8-100 passenger aircraft and converting it into an effective cargo aircraft with great range, payload and operational efficiency. This aircraft gives Wasaya a unique competitive advantage, helping us in our mission to improve the quality of life for the people living in communities we serve by reducing the cost of delivering essential goods like groceries, fuels and building materials to the Canadian North.”

The conversion

Voyageur Aerotech’s Dash 8-100PF is a passenger to freighter aircraft conversion. It offers an economically sound option in the regional aircraft freight market.

Jazz is gradually retiring its fleet of Dash 8-100s, some of them the earliest ones built, replacing them with modern Bombardier Q400s. Many of those older airframes are consequently available for conversion.

An Extension Service Program is under way to lengthen the life of the Dash 8-100s, from an 80,000 cycle limit to 120,000. This will make the older airframes, among them the first built in 1984, an attractive and economical solution for many cargo operators.

Designed with a 10,000-pound payload, which can occupy up to 1,380 cubic feet, the Dash 8-100PF can move more cargo faster and at a lower unit cost than other comparable freight aircraft. Andy Cline Photo
Designed with a 10,000-pound payload, which can occupy up to 1,380 cubic feet, the Dash 8-100PF can move more cargo faster and at a lower unit cost than other comparable freight aircraft. Andy Cline Photo

The Dash 8-100 Package Freighter was first conceived in 2014 to answer a Request For Proposals from a Canadian cargo company (which never panned out). Voyageur decided to proceed with engineering the project about 18 months ago, and has been in discussions with Wasaya for about two years.

Designed with a 10,000-pound payload, which can occupy up to 1,380 cubic feet, the Dash 8-100PF can move more cargo faster and at a lower unit cost than other comparable freight aircraft, such as the Saab 340 and Embraer 120. The package freighter uses the original OEM 50 by 60-inch cargo door, which is ideal for remote operations with a cargo sill-to-floor level of only 40 inches off the tarmac.

Voyageur adds safety placards and high visibility markings on the inside of the door and within the cargo compartment to enhance safety. The class ‘E’ cargo compartment consists of a reinforced cargo floor which can accommodate 75 pound-per-square-foot loads, separated by 9G cargo nets between the six loading zones.

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The main modifications include a sealed metal cabin liner to mitigate potential fire damage. It has an advanced fire and smoke suppression system, which will detect smoke within a minute, and a ventilation system shut-off. The cockpit remains virtually unchanged with the standard legacy Dash 8 configuration, with only the fire suppression system controls and displays added. The cargo bay is equipped with new LED lighting. A cargo floor roller system is under study to fulfil future customer requirements.

The purchase of Voyageur Airways by Jazz parent company Chorus Aviation in 2015 has been a boon to Voyageur. It was renamed Voyageur Aviation Corporation, and is subdivided into three divisions: Voyageur Airways for worldwide airline, charter and air ambulance operations; Voyageur Aerotech for MRO and special mission conversions; and the newest division, Voyageur Avparts, to handle its extensive aircraft parts distribution, consignment and reclamation business.

Voyageur’s new partnership with Chorus has provided capital to allow the Aerotech division to focus on proprietary conversion projects, including the Package Freighter.

“The new cargo aircraft hits a definitive sweet spot in the regional aircraft cargo marketplace. The payload to operational cost ratio is extremely favourable,” commented Voyageur’s Tapson.”With a full 10,000-pound load it can boast an 800-mile range.”

The first Dash 8-100PF airframe was originally an Air Nova aircraft that was delivered in 1986. This particular aircraft has a special place in the heart of Chorus Aviation president and CEO, Joseph Randell. He was president of Air Nova when it was first delivered, and feels it is very appropriate that it has come full circle as such a key aircraft under the Chorus corporate umbrella.

The aircraft was transferred to Voyageur from Jazz on March 13, 2017, prior to flight testing in the Package Freighter configuration. It was painted at Muskoka Aircraft Refinishing in full Wasaya Airways colours in February. The aircraft is currently undergoing final regulatory approval from Transport Canada in anticipation of the awarding of a supplemental type certificate, and will be delivered to Thunder Bay in May.

The second Dash 8-100PF is presently under conversion at Voyageur, also destined for Wasaya by the second quarter of this year.

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