GE Aviation-owned Dowty Propellers has returned to full production of composite propeller blades following a 2015 fire that destroyed its original manufacturing facility in Gloucestershire, UK.
The company makes propellers for the Bombardier Q400 as well as military transport aircraft, and has now reached its highest-ever output from an interim facility, also located in Gloucestershire.
Following the fire the company re-thought its production processes and installed new equipment to streamline manufacturing– lessons that will be applied to a new, purpose-built facility scheduled to open in 2019.
It was also able to continue its support services from a nearby MRO facility that was unaffected by the fire. The long-term service market for the Dash-8 is promising, with According to Aviation Week’s 2018 Fleet & MRO Forecast predicting maintenance demand on the aircraft will total $12.9 billion between this year and 2027.
In one sense the timing of the fire was fortuitous, coming during a lull in demand for the Q400.
Bombardier delivered 29 Q400s in 2015, at the end of which barely a year’s worth of production was left in its backlog.
At the end of 2017 the order-book had grown by 13 aircraft to 43 units, but that still seems a small amount to justify the unwavering commitment of Dowty’s parent to restoring operations.
“One example of the GE support was that within three working days after the fire, we had new accommodation for personnel at a nearby sister GE site,” said Oliver Towers, president of Dowty Propellers.
“Thanks to the support we received, and the initiatives taken by the Dowty Propellers team, we kept our operator customers’ fleets flying without interruption, and the aircraft build lines flowing.”
Instead of hopes for a turnaround in the Q400’s fortunes, GE may have been focusing on its military contracts, as well as keeping half an eye on a potential new turboprop program from ATR.
Rumors about a new 100-seat turboprop were scotched in January, but the ATR market is worth gaining a slice of.
The Franco-Italian manufacturer has almost twice as many commercial turboprops in service as Bombardier, while its backlog is almost 250 aircraft.
The six-bladed propeller on ATR42/72 aircraft is currently supplied by French company Ratier-Figeac, which is part of UTC Aerospace Systems.