B.C.’s Viking Air is ready for its iconic seaplanes to take off in the Chinese market after Ottawa and Beijing signed a bilateral aviation agreement paving the way for airplane exports.
CEO Dave Curtis said the Vancouver Island-based company has spent the past 18-24 months trying to get its Twin Otter aircraft certified by Chinese aviation authorities before the agreement was signed in February.
“We really became paced by the government’s ability to get a bilateral agreement signed and until that happened, (Chinese authorities) weren’t prepared to look at the airplanes,” he said.
“Now we can actually sell and deliver product to China.”
But because Viking Air was working trade shows and making contacts in the Chinese market longer than any other Canadian firm, Curtis said the company is better positioned than any other manufacturer.
Viking Air is signing a China-based partner to assist with the marketing and resale of the seaplanes and Curtis expects to spend the next 30-60 days firming up agreements with potential customers.
After that, Viking Air will be ready to begin shipping the seaplanes across the Pacific.
“Over the course of the next six months, it will be pretty significant,” the CEO added.
And because the aviation infrastructure is still maturing in China, Curtis said the Twin Otter’s market potential is “huge.”
Unlike North America, where aviation falls under the oversight of civil authorities, it’s the military that regulates airspace in China. This makes it more difficult for smaller firms and amateur pilots to get clearance to navigate to different locations.
But in April, Beijing took steps to relax regulations on airspace below 3,000 metres.
“That’s right where the Twin Otter lives,” Curtis said, adding he envisions selling between 300 and 500 airplanes over the next decade.
The company estimates sales of about 25 planes a year would translate into $3.5 billion in export potential over 20 years.
But Curtis added Viking Air is not expecting a “free ride” now that the bilateral agreement has paved a way into China.
“China has some domestic product that will likely be competing in some (Canadian) markets head-to-head.”