It’s a common sight in British Columbia, where much of the rugged and breathtakingly scenic coast is accessible only by floatplane. From its base in Campbell River, Vancouver Island Air (VIA) is among the specialized air carriers that can take you wherever you need to go in coastal B.C.
Bobbing at the end of the company’s dock is a Turbine Otter, manufactured in 1956. The vintage of the airplane may come as a surprise, but VIA finds the Turbine Otter to be the best choice for its operation. In fact, the installation of a new, more powerful and more efficient turboprop engine was just the recipe to update the venerable Otter.
Skies was invited to fly VIA’s latest variant of the Turbine Otter, and found that despite its age it represents the state-of-the-art in bush flying.
Besides, the Turbine Otter is virtually VIA’s only option.
Shelves are bare at the bushplane showroom
Options weren’t always so scarce in the bushplane market. There was a time when Cessna was cranking out tough little taildraggers, Pilatus was building the Porter, and de Havilland Canada understood that Canadian airplanes were designed to operate in Canada, where lakes and rivers outnumber runways by a fair margin.
Beavers, Otters and later Twin Otters are a proud legacy of the Canadian need to negotiate some pretty tough terrain.
Today, about 165 Otters are still flying, mostly in Canada and Alaska. One might assume that 60 years after manufacture the inexorable march of technology would leave the Otter utterly obsolete, having been supplanted in service by ever more modern and capable bush-specific designs.
Actually, just the opposite is true. Aircraft manufacturers discovered that there is more profit in building high-speed mailing tubes for whisking corporate executives around the globe than building a robust means of lifting recently dispatched moose parts from a remote lake.
Consequently, the bushplanes currently in service are typically long-in-the-tooth machines. Nevertheless, they’re essential. From my home in the British Columbia Gulf Islands, the friendly drone of a floatplane overhead is a nearly constant companion. Their average age is well over half a century.
Read the the rest of this great article at Skiesmag.com