INDIAN OCEAN REGIONAL
Air Seychelles buys 3 new Viking Twin Otter 400s supplementing 1 model 400 delivered in 2010 and 3 other older de Havilland model 300s
This popular carrier flies throughout Seychelles and other Indian Ocean locations with DHC-6s plus 2 Airbus A330-200s.
By Grant McLaren
Chairman Joel Morgan, CEO Cramer Ball, Viking Air CEO David Curtis, FA Natalie Elizabeth, FA Kymiko Meriton, FO Rieul Gendron and Capt Ronny Morel on the ramp at SEZ (Mahe Island, Seychelles) with Viking Air Series 400 DHC Twin Otter. FAs are holding a Coco de Mer and exotic flowers unique to this island nation.
The Seychelles, a 115 island country spanning an archipelago in the Indian Ocean northeast of Madagascar, is one of the most beautiful collections of islands in the world and a magnet for international tourism.
Aviation has long played a vital role in the movement of both local Seychellois and tourists throughout the island nation. For the past 30 years Air Seychelles—the national airline of the Republic of Seychelles—has operated DHC-6 Twin Otter Series 300 and 400 aircraft throughout this island chain, which features only 2 paved runways.
The carrier recently elected to upgrade its entire domestic fleet to Viking Air Twin Otter Series 400 aircraft. The purchase of 3 additional Series 400s (for mid-2015 delivery) is Air Seychelles largest-ever domestic aircraft order and provides "the right tools at the right time," says CEO Cramer Ball.
Air Seychelles currently operates 4 Twin Otters—3 high-time model 300s and 1 model 400 delivered in 2010. In addition, the airline has 2 Airbus A330-200s on international services from SEZ (Mahe Island, Seychelles) as far afield as JNB (Johannesburg, South Africa), AUH (Abu Dhabi, UAE), HKG (Hong Kong, Hong Kong) and other destinations on a code share basis with AUH-based Etihad Airways, airberlin, South African Airways, Czech Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways.
Air Seychelles has an employee base of over 600 personnel with a domestic operations team of about 60—including 23 pilots (12 of them captains)—managing Twin Otter ops. The Twin Otter Series 300 and 400 fleet racks up over 1000 flight sectors/month with cycles typically under 30 minutes.
"Today is a new chapter in our history," said Ball at the Series 400 signing ceremony at SEZ in October 2013. "This order cements our long-term future as well as ongoing career prospects for our pilots. Pilots on our Twin Otter fleet are all Seychellois and over the past year, 8 have moved up to training on the A330 fleet.
Integrated full-IFR Honeywell Primus Apex avionics suites, standard aboard the new Series 400, will give us a common fleet standard and a more seamless environment for pilot progression from our domestic to international fleets."
Air Seychelles Chairman and Seychelles Minister for Home Affairs and Transport Joel Morgan adds, "We looked at several options, including relifing our existing Twin Otter 300s, but came to the decision that investing in new Viking Air Series 400s was the best alternative considering our particular operating conditions. The future of interisland connectivity takes a great step forward with this commitment to renew our fleet. This new equipment will improve social mobility for both our citizens and tourists."
One-of-a-kind operating environment
Air Seychelles backs up interisland Twin Otter lift with a pair of A330-200s on international services. Company Twin Otter pilots routinely upgrade to this Airbus equipment.
FO Rieul Gendron began flying for Air Seychelles in February 2013 with 180 hrs TT—having completed flight training, and earning his commercial license in central California. Currently rated on Series 300 Twin Otters, Gendron looks forward to progressing to the left seat on a Series 400 at some point and later, perhaps, to the flightdeck of an Air Seychelles A330.
"Flying to the outer islands can present many challenges," says Gendron. "We have hard runways only at our 2 major island airports. The rest of our operations are to grass, gravel and narrow coral strips as short as 500 meters. Landing aids are minimal outside the 2 primary airports of SEZ and PRI (Praslin, Seychelles), there are no official GPS approaches and we only have lighting at 5 of our airports."
Capt Ronny Morel joined Air Seychelles in 2008 with 160 hrs TT and moved up to captain 3 years later with 1600 hrs TT. Morel now has 3500 hrs TT, flies the Series 400 and enjoys the operating challenges that go with the local environment. "We routinely operate to small island airfields with limited facilities in challenging weather conditions but the design and equipment on the 400 more than adequately overcomes these obstacles. I enjoyed the move up to the Series 400 with its FMS and Honeywell Primus Apex avionics suite and I found the FMS straight-forward to adapt to. The Honeywell Primus Apex avionics suite lowers pilot workload and improves ability to scan instrumentation."
While airport infrastructure is somewhat limited in the Seychelles, the benefits of flying versus sea alternatives are compelling. "A 15 minute flight from SEZ to PRI by Twin Otter takes over 1 hr by boat. The alternative to a longer 1 hr 10 minute interisland Twin Otter flight may involve 6-8 hrs of travel by sea," says Ball. "For much of the year the seas can be quite rough around here. We have tourists who go over to Praslin by boat and then decide they don't want to take a boat back. There are also many opportunities for ad-hoc charter and we run about 1 medevac flight every other week with our Twin Otters."
Building an airline
Management determined that no other aircraft type would suit the unique rough-and-tumble local interisland operating environment as well as the Viking Air Series 400 Twin Otter.
Air Seychelles was established in 1978 as a small domestic airline. Today, as the national airline of the Seychelles, the island carrier's route and codeshare network spans 4 continents, while continuing to support local travel and tourism within the island archipelago.
In January 2012 Etihad Airways signed a deal to acquire a 40% stake in Air Seychelles. Under this strategic partnership the 2 airlines have collaborated on a long-term business plan allowing Air Seychelles to renew its fleet. The carrier's motto is "Flying the Creole Spirit" and the business plan is to become the carrier of choice within the Indian Ocean.
Selecting the Viking Twin Otter 400
"Given the short legs and short/rough runways at most Seychelles island locations— together with a punishing saline and humid environment—there were not many alternative aircraft models to consider," says Ball. "Short, bumpy runways create a problem for many aircraft types. We really need fixed gear and STOL capability with capacity at least equivalent to the Twin Otter.