Estimated reading time 7 minutes, 36 seconds.
De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited (DHC) announced on Sept. 21 that it plans to build a new aircraft manufacturing facility as part of a 1,500-acre campus in Wheatland County, Alberta — just 30 minutes east of Calgary. The campus, to be called De Havilland Field, will feature an aircraft assembly facility, parts manufacturing and distribution centers, a maintenance repair and overhaul center, a runway, educational space to train a future workforce, general office buildings, and a De Havilland Canada aircraft museum.
The new facilities are expected to “complement” DHC’s current parts manufacturing facilities in Victoria, British Columbia, and its new engineering and customer support center of excellence in Toronto.
De Havilland Field will be the final assembly site for the DHC-515 Firefighter aircraft, which was launched in March, as well as the DHC-6 Twin Otter and the Dash 8-400 aircraft. (The Twin Otter simulator currently located near the Calgary International Airport will not move to De Havilland Field, as it would be difficult to move the electronics and equipment within the simulator, DHC said.)
While the company paused production of its Dash 8-400 during the pandemic, and is currently reviewing the Twin Otter to ensure it is “meeting market demand,” DHC acknowledged that it is working towards bringing those aircraft back into production.
Regarding the Twin Otter, the manufacturer is aiming to complete its review of the type by the end of 2022, “at which point we will be able to make a decision with respect to future Twin Otter production.”
As for the Dash 8-400, DHC noted that although air travel is rebounding and grounded aircraft are returning to service, the company will not begin reviewing the future of the Dash 8 until it has finished reviewing the Twin Otter. However, during the 2022 Farnborough International Airshow, DHC announced design weight increases and cabin enhancements for the Dash 8-400, which demonstrates the company’s commitment to support the worldwide fleet.
The new DHC-515 Firefighter, formerly known as the Canadair CL-515 program, is expected to begin deliveries to customers by 2025. The company said the upgraded aircraft is important for many countries, namely in Europe, that rely on aerial platforms to fight wildfires.
Davor Bozinovic, Minister of the Interior and Deputy Prime Minister of Croatia, congratulated DHC on the announcement of De Havilland Field, stating that Croatia “views De Havilland’s new aircraft production facilities as a sure sign of partnership when it comes to combatting the consequences of devastating forest fires.”
Bozinovic also shared that he hopes a purchase order for DHC’s latest firefighting aircraft is “soon to follow.”
According to the DHC, construction of De Havilland Field could begin as early as late 2023, and the first buildings could be operational by 2025. However, due to the sheer size of the site, the company expects construction of the entire campus could conservatively take 10 to 15 years to fully complete.
In the meantime, the airframer’s production facilities in Calgary are capable of producing Twin Otters and “a number of DHC-515 Firefighter aircraft” each year.
DHC said “as production needs grow, we will need to move production to De Havilland Field,” which will eventually become the company’s head office.
DHC said hundreds of workers will be required by 2024 to “ensure the campus is built per our aircraft demand.” In the long-term, the company expects De Havilland Field will create roughly 1,500 jobs once fully operational.
According to DHC, Wheatland County is an ideal location for the new facility, thanks to the nearby “world-class international airport that can support efficient parts distribution to our global customer base, [and] a large, young, and diverse labor pool in Alberta.”
However, the company acknowledged that, like many employers, it is facing “stiff competition for skilled talent.” To stay on top of the personnel shortage, DHC said it is rolling out recruitment and attraction strategies, and is working with the Alberta government “to ensure the skills we need are being developed in educational institutions in the province.”
Before plans for De Havilland Field can progress, the company must submit an application to amend the Wheatland County Area Structure Plan, which it hopes to do later this week. Re-zoning by the County is also required. Lastly, development of the new facility is subject to approval by Transport Canada and the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada.