I read with great interest the latest news on the German 14 seat Dornier Seastar CD2 amphibious aircraft being built by Canadian based Diamond Aircraft for German based Dornier Seawings GmbH, as I was a young Marketing Manager for the program in 1990-1991 before it went it into liquidation after receiving German LBA VFR certification, and it has always been close to my heart as have seaplane airlines. The CEO/President of Dornier Seawings GmbH, is Dr. Albert Halder, who I remember was with Dornier Seastar GmbH with me in 1990-1991 as Technical Director is my memory serves me well, and knows the aircraft inside out for +28 years.
This is the 3rd Dornier attempt to get production of the Seastar going since the Seastar had it’s first flight in 1984 ! yes 32 years ago, and since then Dornier Seastar GmbH (Germany) failed in 1991, Dornier Seaplane Company Ltd. (Florida, USA) failed 4+ years ago and here we go again with Dornier Seawings GmbH (Germany and China). I have bee following this program since 1984 and I tried to talk to Joe Walker CEO of Dornier Seaplane Company Ltd, but after numerous emails and phone messages he was too arrogant to reply, and yet that effort was a disaster, and the problem till today for 32 years has been how yo sell an amphibious commercial operations when there are few a round (all seaplane not amphibious), and the concept and business model dies out back in the 1950’s.
The fundamental problem is “what market are you in ?” and the Seastar’s unique value proposition ha snot been identified, marketed and promoted, you can’t go to a company flying land based Twin Otters and try and sell amphibious operations before you sell the business concept first, and that takes lots of consultative selling with studies to show and demonstrate to prospects HOW they can greatly improve their business with a possible land to sea, or sea to land operation, that no one else can duplicate today.
This is important, because their are NO amphibious aircraft in commercial service, except a few Textron C208B’s and DHC-6’s on amphib floats, but almost all are going water to water, this Seastar can go airport to water, water to airport, a whole new business model that can great differentiate an operators business, and create new opportunities, especially in SE Asia, Australasia, Africa and South America, for tourism, and opening up remote communities that lack an airfield, etc.
You can READ more on seaplane airlines in my January 1, 2016 article on Consolidation in the Canadian Regional Airline Industry.
THE DORNER SEASTAR, NOW ON ITS 3RD ATTEMPT IN 32 YEARS TO GET COMMERCIALIZED. IT FAILED IN 1991 AS DORNER SEASTAR GmbH (GERMANY), THEN AGAIN AS DORNER SEAPLANES LTD (FLORIDA, USA) WITH PRODUCTION TO BE IN QUEBEC, AND NOW DORNIER SEAWINGS GmbH (Germany and China) WITH ASSEMBLY BACK WHERE THEY STARTED IN 1988, OBERPFAFFENHOFEN, WESSLING WHERE DORNIER LUFTFAHRT WAS BASED UNTIL IT’S DEMISE IN 2002.
The program has a long history that has not been kind to the Seastar, after the liquidation the aircraft has pitched to many potential buyers, from Malaysia, China and basically anyone who might be interested. There is a market out there for a 9 passenger amphibian and a 19 passenger amphibian, and I believe that the market could be as high as 800 aircraft on a 50:50 split worth up to $US 3.5 billion over 20 years for the right aircraft, price and marketing strategy.
The problem is that it will not come from any current General Aviation OEM, it will come from an upstart in places like Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, UAE that knows aviation, has a vision for a future aerospace industry and has aerospace experience and ability to source the funding, this is where also any future 10-50 seat aircraft will come from, not the west, but from the new emerging aerospace countries looking for a niche.
The aircraft is powered by a pair of tandem PT6A-135’s de rated to 650 shp each, it carries 2 + 12, so little too small for commuter operations and too big for Part 135 charter operations. The aircraft cruises at 180 kts, cabin is 348 ft3 in size, it can handle 2 feet of wave (not much) and has a useful load of only 3,000 lbs, which is a problem. The aircraft has some potential, but I know they have mustered only a few LOI’s in the past 8-10 years, so interest is not great. Not sure what the 2 Chinese state owned companies want with it, but then so many old programs go there to disappear in a black hole where nothing comes out.
Yes, China is very keen on seaplanes, as I have written about their order for 50 x Viking Series 400 Twin Otters and their 49% acquisition of Canada’s Harbour Air to bring to China the seaplane business model and also the fact the Avic Y-12E will soon be put on floats with a 100 EDO float order from AVIC a few months ago. The signs are there this is not going to go down well, without AVIC on board or some aviation experienced company, as so far NOTHING in China has come out from non-aviation companies that bought aircraft programs, NOTHING.
READ Blog of March 30, 2014 on Chinese acquisition of GA companies and programs.
On water, the tandem engine arrangement makes aircraft maneuverability very poor, we all know one needs torque on a twin in the water, right ? The other area of concern is the composite airframe as landing and taking off at 75 kts produces a severe beating on a composite hull, and even on composite boats, the hull deforms in time. The composite technology of 1990 is surely out of date, so I would hope they have new modern composite materials for the Seastar today.
Just quickly, this is good news for Diamond Aircraft in London, Ontario, one they get to build 10 sets of airframes and tooling for production and 40 employees will be added. The company has suffered tremendously in the past few years, having reached a peak of 471 aircraft deliveries ($185.0 million in billings) in 2007 (58 x DA-20, 232 x DA40 and 181 x DA-42’s), yet the company has never recovered.
It focused too much on the small D-Jet program, that was eventually cancelled, though President of Diamond Aircraft, Peter Maurer is looking to find new investors to resurrect it, after eating up lots of money (government and private) for development, though I think it should stay dead, as the market is NOT there anymore, the VLJ have been a disaster, and only Eclipse and Cirrus have managed to cross the finish line, but Eclipse is struggling with sales and the $2.0 million Cirrus Vision SF50 is still fighting through certification, and while a jet it only flies at a max. 300 kts, range 1,100nm and max. altitude of 28,000 feet is lower than high end turboprops , why buy a jet when it does not give you jet speeds ? anyway moving on.
In 2014, it delivered only 202 aircraft (-57% from 2007), (16 x DA20C1, 136 x DA40 and 50 x DA42) for billings worth $87.1 million (-53% from 2007), as especially DA-42’s deliveries are off, as it is also produced in Austria. What is worrying is the fact that DA40 deliveries are off 41% from 2007, and that Textron delivered 155 x 172S Skyhawks, and Piper delivered 45 x PA-28-181 Archer III’s and 8 x PA-28R-201 Arrows, aircraft that are +50 year old designs? and surely inferior products versus the DA40. This is clearly a marketing, positioning and sales problem that should be corrected, but isn’t, as marketing is not a priority, as I don’t see much of it anymore, too engineering oriented company, and not enough sales and marketing, a classic problem.
Not sure what happened to the Dornier Seaplane company that was suppose to build the Seastar CD2 min Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec then lead by CEO Joe Walker of Adam Aircraft (A700/A500) fame who claimed it would hire 250 employees and had 25 Letters of Intent. Some facility was built, I know there was talk of $30 million in local infrastructure development, but now the Dornier Seawings GmbH is back at my favorite airport, Sonderflughafen, Wessling, Germany where the old Dornier Luftfahrt GmbH (Do 228/328/328Jet) was based, but also on their web they have a Chinese address in Wuxi, China ?
It is sad that a true 9 to 19 passenger amphibious aircraft has not emerged in the market, as I have worked with a half a dozen seaplane airlines around the world, from USVI, Maldives, Thailand, etc. and the problem today is the lack of really good seaplanes and amphibious aircraft in the 9 to 19 passenger market.
The use of landplanes with floats is compromise in payload, speed and operational flexibility that works in some areas, especially in Canada, USA and the Maldives which are your 3 largest commercial seaplane operating countries in the world. In the Maldives, the DHC-6 Twin Otter is used, but incredibly payload limited to many further our resorts.
THE DHC-6-300 TWIN OTTER IS VERY POPULAR ON FLOATS AND IS TODAY THE BIGGEST COMMERCIAL AIRCRAFT THAT CAN OPERATE ON WATER.
The only other commercial amphibious program that is in progress is another attempt by a failed 1990’s resurrection, the 17 passenger Frakes G-73T Turbo Mallard, which I was involved with in 1993-1994 to try and resurrect its production in the Czech Republic. The Grumman G-73 Mallard is an old design going back to the late 1940’s, and only 59 were built, and 12 were converted by Frakes Aviation with PT6A-34’s, after the company converted 9 x Nord 262 regional airliners for Mohawk Airlines, replacing the Turbomeca Bastan VI C engine (1,65 esh) with the PT6A-45 engine, the conversion was known as the Mohawk. The Turbo Mallard can cruise at 190 kts, seats 17 passengers, useful load is 5,700 lbs and has a MTOW of 14,000 lbs.
The biggest operator of the G73T Turbo Mallard (photos above) for years was Chalks’s a Miami based airline formed in 1917 by Arthur “Pappy” Chalk and started first scheduled services in 1919 from Miami to Bimini (Bahamas), and was the oldest airline in the world until it had to close down in September, 2007. The airline had a host of owners after Pappy died in 1977, and in 1999 James Confacone, ex-Eastern Airlines pilot, bought the airline from bankruptcy for $925,000 and 2 aircraft, he added 5 more G73T’s and also wanted to buy the 14 x G111’s. On December 19, 2005 a Chalk’s Ocean Airways G73T flight 101 had a wing failure, all 20 died and eventually everything went bad for the airline and the G73T.
NORD 262 WITH TURBOMECA ENGINES (left photo) and the MOHAWK 298 CONVERSION OF THE NORD 262 BY FRAKES AVIATION
FRAKES AVIATION G-73T TURBO MALLARD (left photo) ONE OF 12 CONVERTED and the GRUMMAN G-73 MALLARD (right photo), ONE OF ONLY 59 BUILT.
I organized a project with Czech engineering companies to get the Grumman HU-16B Albatross re-engined with TPE331-14 engines for the 14 civilian utility certified Wright R-1820 radial engine powered G-111’s with 28 passenger seats, the owner at the time was United Capital had the money but the investment was too big for them, yet would have given them turbine powered 28 seat amphibians, just what the world needs today.
The request came from then Chalk’s President, Mr. Atwood, and it would have really given them a competitive advantage to take the business model to many places around the world, the market needs a 19-30 seat amphibious airliner, and I would really like to see if the out of production Bombardier CL-415 (above photos) could be converted to a passenger aircraft, it would be a great start, it is unpressurized already has 11+ seating in the back on Maritime Patrol versions and it performs very, should be no problem to carry 24-28 passengers, a Venezuelan CL-215 did it for years, which was once marketed as a 32-36 passenger amphibian the CL-215C Transport. Bombardier just ignored the potential of the aircraft as a passenger aircraft and missed out on a BIG market, too preoccupied by Challenger, CRJ, Q400 and it was just a side business for them for the past 15 years.
I am exploring the potential these days, as production has stopped and like the de Havilland line of DHC-1-2-3-4-5-6-7 type certificates sold to Viking Air the CL-415 product could be sold as Bombardier needs money these days badly. There were 95 x CL-415’s built between 1994-2015 (4.3 per year average) and 125 radial engine CL-215’s were built between 1969 and 1990 (5.7 per year average), so a total of 220 CL-215’s and 415’s between 1969 and 2015, which is an average of 4.8 units per year during those 46 years.
The interesting point is that early on in the CL-215 program, Canadair marketed a 32 passenger (plus 95 ft3 of baggage space) CL-215T Transport, which identical to the 215A water bomber except that the underfloor does not incorporate provisions for the water bombing system, instead it had large side doors and a row of windows along the fuselage, with a 424 inch (10.76 meters) long cabin and a height of 75 inches (1.9 meters). An all cargo version with roughly 1,300 ft3 of volume and a floor area of 220 ft2 with a maximum payload of 8,818 lbs.
A CL-415 regional airliner is doable and I am working on the feasibility study now, love to hear from interested parties.
GRUMMAN HU16B ALBATROSS, WITH 14 CONVERTED TO CIVILIAN CATEGORY AS THE G-111 AND HAS SEATING FOR 28 PASSENGERS
The HU-16B Albatross conversion to Standard category G-111s made them eligible to be used in scheduled airline operations. These aircraft had extensive modification from the standard military configuration, including rebuilt wings with titanium wing spar caps, additional doors and modifications to existing doors and hatches, stainless steel engine oil tanks, dual engine fire extinguishing systems on each engine and propeller auto feather systems installed. The aircraft had a MTOW of 37,500 lbs and 14,600 lbs useful load, with a max range of 2,478 nm and cruise of 108 kts. The G-111s were only operated for a few years and then put in storage in Arizona. Most are still parked there, but some have been returned to regular flight operations with private operators.
The Mallard Aircraft program is headed by Sam Jantzen for Joe Frakes the son of late Fred Frakes, who took the radial powered Grumman G-73 Mallard, and converted into the G-73T Turbo Mallard, of which 12 conversions were done, with most serving with Chalk’s and VISS (Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle) in St. Croix, USVI, until hurricane Hugo destroyed the entire fleet of 6 x G73T’s fleet on September 17, 1989.
THE REMAINS OF 3 VIRGIN ISLANDS SEAPLANE SHUTTLE (VISS) FRAKES G73T TURBO MALLARDS AFTER HURRICAN HUGO HIT ST. CROIX, USVI, SEPTEMBER 17, 1989, IN TOTAL 6 TURBO MALLARDS WERE DESTROYED, WHICH WAS 1/2 THE GLOBAL FLEET.
Just a note on this VISS (Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle), the airline was run by Dann Lewis who left late August to go run Pocono Airlines in New York (a Metroliner operator for TWA) and Dan Berkobin (from Wings in Philadelphia) became President September 1st, 1989, only to have the airline destroyed 16 days later, and I was looking forward to working with VISS as well.
Today there are very few large seaplane airlines around the world, Canada’s Harbour Air is officially “the world’s largest seaplane airline”, but other seaplane airlines worth noting are:
European Coastal Airlines (Croatia) with 3 x DHC-6’s
Hellenic Seaplanes (Greece) with several DHC-6’s
Maldivian Air Transport (Maldives) with 30+ x DHC-6’s
Kenmore Air (USA) + 25 seaplanes
Seawings (UAE) with 3 x C208 Caravans
Seaborne Airlines (USVI) with DHC-6’s
Seabird Airlines (Turkey) with DHC-6’s
Harbour Air (Canada) with DHC-3’s Turbo Otters mainly
With no new aircraft it will be very difficult for this market to gow, as Twin Otters are now almost 30 years out of production, and the Viking Air Series 400 Twin Otter is $US +8.5 million on floats, no way to make money for any private operator. The Chinese are going to put EDO floats on their Avic Y-12E this year as they ordered 100 floats from EDO, and expect a huge demand in China and SE Asia.
THE RUSSIAN BERIEV BE-200 JET AMPHIBIAN, 9 BUILT WITH 12+ ON ORDER (inc. 1 x Azerbaijan), MISSIONS INCLUDE PASSENGER, MARITIME PATROL AND FIRE FIGHTING.
One only has to look at the success of Madivian Air Transport in the Maldives, to see how much potential seaplanes/amphibians have in places like Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, India, Brazil, etc. The potential is huge, the problem is one of aircraft. The DHC-6 is too small with limited payload range, the market needs bigger aircraft, the only big amphibian is the Beriev Be-200 which has a lot of potential but the Russians have yet to show off its abilities, they need to set up an airline on the Black Sea and do some schedule flying with it.
The Be-200 can accommodate up to 74 passengers, and I do believe it has great potential, as today technology for all weather operations are possible (except for high sea states), but today GPS approaches into a seaplane base are possible, opens up lost of opportunities for operators and will give an operator a real competitive advantage to differentiate itself. The world is changing, it is time to seriously look at the viability of larger seaplanes/amphibians for sure.
I think it is worth keeping an eye on the Dornier Seastar, it has been “wondering” the world for 25 years since it first failed in 1991, seeking to find a home, I wish Mr. Conrado Dornier much success with it, he has never given up on it and maybe the 3rd time around will be a charm.
In closing, I want say a few words about how I got into aviation, and it was back in March, 1977 while vacationing in St. Thomas, USVI with my family and where Antilles Air Boats was operating with roughly 10 x Grumman G21 Goose (photo below left) amphibians and 6 x Grumman G73 Mallard amphibians at the time. The airline operated the last Sikorsky VS-44 flying boat (photo below right) from 1966 to 1969 and also bought 2 x ex-Ansett (Australia) Shorts S-25 Sandringham flying boats from 1974 (photo below center), after they were no longer needed to fly from Sydney to Lord Howe Island when a local airport was opened. The company was founded by a very distinguished American, Charles F. Blair Jr., a USAF Brigadier General, US Navy aviator, test pilot, Pan Am airline pilot owner of Antilles Air Boats and my hero.
I had the great fortune one day to meet General/Captain Blair overseeing a daily end of the days wash down of one G-21 Goose, and we talked, his openness, politeness and excitement for flying caught on, passing through Miami on our way back home to Canada, I bought my first aviation magazine, “Flying” and within a week I signed up for my first flying lesson at the age of 15. For the next 2 years we vacationed again in St. Thomas and I always stopped by the Charlotte Amelie Harbor Seaplane Base, but never had the opportunity to talk to ‘Charlie’ again.
This man had done itall, a role model, that I could never aspire to be, for he did everything and did it big. My love for seaplanes and amphibians has remained strong, it is why I got involved in several projects, from the Dornier Seastar, Frakes Turbo Mallard, G-111 re-engining and the Ross Aviation BN2 Islander amphibian project.
General/Captain Charles F. Blair Jr. died September 2, 1978 when his Grumman G-21 Goose lost an engine and crashed, a sad ending to great aviator at only 69 years old. He was survived by his 4th wife, the beautiful Maureen O’Hara, a famous Irish actress of the 1940’s and 1950’s, with films like “The Hunchback of Notre Dame-1939”, “How Green was My Valley-1941”, “Miracle on 34th Street-1947”, and many more.
She ran the airline for awhile after Charlie’s death, but in the end she sold it in 1981, having survived cancer in 1978 she was greatly affected by the loss a her dear friend, John Wayne in 1979 from cancer, and then in 1989 Hurricane Hugo destroyed her home on St. Croix as it destroyed VISS as well. She moved back to Ireland, and died just 10 weeks ago on October 24, 2015 at 95.
Note: The Sikorsky VS44 (an improved S-42, the famous Pan Am Clippers) is preserved at the New England Air Museum and the Shorts S-25 at Fantasy Flight Museum (Polk, Florida)
Thank you for reading my Blog, comments always welcomed.