Viking Air helps build its talent pool

Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Tour of Industry visits local aircraft manufacturing company

The production floor at Viking Air at the Victoria International Airport. Viking employs nearly 400 people on the Saanich Peninsula to build components of their Twin Otter aircraft.

The next few editions of the Peninsula News Review will highlight businesses on the recent Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Tour of Industry. Read about what they do, their challenges and success stories.

 

With around 400 shop floor, administration and support employees on the Saanich Peninsula and more than 570 overall, Viking Air is one of the larger manufacturing concerns going at the Victoria International Airport.

Their growth — an estimated 380 per cent in the last two years alone — is based on their acquisition of the Twin Otter series of aircraft from former owner, Bombardier. That company had it after it was created by De Havilland Canada in 1964. It ceased production in 1988, but Viking Air had been involved for years, building parts for the venerable Twin Otter.

Viking Air picked it up in 2004, built their first Twin Otter in 2010 and has manufactured a total of 13 as of this year — with more to come. They most recently rolled off their first of six aircraft built for the Vietnamese Navy.

The Twin Otter — and the upgrades made to the design by Viking — has proved a popular item for the company. Marketing manager Angie Murray told a recent tour of Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce members that they have an estimated $400 million in back orders.

“We just cannot build them fast enough,” she said.

Viking Air has been around the Peninsula for 30 years (and more than 40 overall). Where they once built parts, large and small, they’ve expanded to manufacture aircraft and employ a lot of people. To keep up with this demand, Viking Air teamed up with local high schools and Camosun College to create ‘Viking Academy’ — a school to train people to be able to work on the machine floor at their manufacturing site at the airport industrial area.

“We were looking to ramp up production at the time to meet demand,” Murray said, noting they needed qualified workers but were willing to train newcomers as well.

To date, Viking has had 95 per cent employee retention out of that program, helping create a worker base on the Island, where once Viking was facing a shortage. With more staff come other challenges, however. Murray noted they could use better transit services to their part of the airport grounds and agree more affordable housing in the region could help alleviate those and other problems.

“Transit is not great out here,” she said. “There’s not a lot of services coming to this part of the terminal. Even food services … when we release at noon for lunch, food places get full. Demand is high when local companies let out for lunch.”

She also noted that demand for more medical services in the Saanich Peninsula is high as well. Like with the lunch time scenario, when many workers seek clinic appointments, they run into long wait times.

Murray said Viking has experienced growing pains as a result of their success in recent years.

More than 200 people build wings, cockpits, seats and other components of the Twin Otter at their Peninsula location. Those items are sent to Calgary, where they are assembled and tested. They are then flown back to Viking’s main office at the Victoria Airport prior to delivery to the customer.

“In Calgary, there was a deep history with the Twin Otter,” said plant manager Todd Sjerven. “It has the facilities and it has the employees.”

To date, Viking Air has delivered 22 Twin Otter aircraft to places like the Maldives, Libya, Turkey, the Seychelles — with more to come.

Looking ahead, Viking Air is working on its plans for a Buffalo aircraft replacement program.

If successful in this bid, there could be more growth on the horizon for Viking Air.

 

Tour Mini Series

In Friday’s News Review: Streamlining has led to a diverse experience for VIH Aviation Group.

Involved with tourism, transportation, search and rescue and more, the helicopter company has sold the Bristow Group a $250 million minority interest in a subsidiary company.

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