De Havilland Set To Suspend Q400 Production

Canadian turboprop manufacturer De Havilland Canada is preparing to press pause on the Q400 project. The total backlog of Dash 8-400s at the present time is just 17 aircraft. Once those are built, no more will be produced unless further orders are received. With plenty of planes on the secondhand market and the lease on DHC’s factory up for renewal, could we be approaching the end of the Dash 8 project?

De Havilland Canada Dash 8 Q400
Could the sun be setting on the Dash 8 program? Photo: Getty Images

DHC to pause Dash 8 production

The Dash 8 turboprop has been a staple of the regional aviation market since its introduction in 1983. Starting life with De Havilland Canada, and later Bombardier, Longview Aviation Capital took the program on in 2019, reviving the De Havilland name. However, sales of the Q400 have been slower than that of its closest competitor, the ATR.

At the start of the year, just 17 Q400s remained on the books to be delivered. With no further orders in the pipeline, it appears De Havilland will push the pause button on the production of its high-performance Q400 for an unspecified amount of time.

Leeham News says that De Havilland has already notified suppliers to stop sending parts for new aircraft. This is in a bid to avoid selling whitetail aircraft – planes that are built but not sold to any customer.

Bombardier DHC Dash 8 factory
The lease on the Dash 8 factory is up for renewal in a couple of years. Photo: Bombardier

Worse than that, the current factory at Downsview, Toronto, is a leased facility. The lease is up for renewal in 2023, which could mean there is a question mark over the future of the program altogether. De Havilland told Simple Flying,

The pandemic has clearly created challenges for all of us in the aerospace industry, but in these challenges there are also opportunities.  We continue to sell and deliver Dash 8-400 aircraft, and to support the worldwide fleet of Dash 8 Series aircraft while taking appropriate measures to safeguard our people and our business. 

Our manufacturing operations have capacity to produce aircraft at our Downsview facility into 2023.  We will not be producing “whitetails” (i.e. completed aircraft ahead of confirmed orders) and market demand will guide our future production plans for the Dash 8-400 aircraft. 

While the very challenging market conditions being faced by the industry may lead to a pause in production this year, De Havilland Canada has not determined the duration of such a pause if one were to occur.

We are investigating various scenarios for the future with many stakeholders and we will communicate more openly on this topic when plans are approved and confirmed. We are committed to nothing less than re-positioning the De Havilland Canada brand to the forefront of the regional aircraft and Canadian aerospace industry.

De Havilland lost its biggest customer

The largest operator of the DHC Dash 8-400 was British regional airline Flybe. At the time of its collapse, it operated almost 10% of the global Dash 8 fleet, with 54 in service. Around the world, more than 500 Dash 8s have been delivered to customers. Only the -400 is in production at the present time.

De Havilland Canada Dash 8 Q400
Flybe was the biggest operator of the 8-400. Photo: Getty Images

To add to De Havilland’s woes, a number of its key Dash 8-400 customers have already laid a path to phase the type out. Austrian Airlines has begun replacing its fleet of 19 with Airbus A320s. 11 have already retired, with the other eight set to leave soon. Horizon Air, the joint second-largest operator, has shrunk its fleet from 56 to just 32, while Jazz has gone from operating 112 to 64 at present. 12 have left the fleet in 2020 alone.

Regional European carrier Luftfahrtgesellschaft Walter (LGW) had 20 of the type at the start of last year. It ceased operating in April 2020, with the Q400s passed over to Lufthansa. Some of the 20 have been stored or sold, while 13 remain parked and not in service.

Is the Q400 not a good plane for today?

The Dash 8-Q400 is actually a super plane for a post-pandemic world. Its low operating costs, ability to land pretty much anywhere and potential to turn a profit even with a low load factor makes it well placed to lift regional airlines out of the mire.

De Havilland Canada Dash 8 Q400
Despite a sluggish orderbook, the Dash is a great post-pandemic aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

The problem is, there are a lot of them around that aren’t being used. Leeham News says 186 of the type are currently in storage, some still with airlines but many without an operator. At present, DHC’s focus has to be on reactivating these stored aircraft, as it will be unlikely to secure any new orders until this has been done.

With airlines reluctant to undertake capital investments at the present time and a glut of used models available around the world, it’s likely to be some time before DHC sees its order book revived. Let’s just hope that happens before the factory lease expires in 2023; otherwise, this could be the beginning of the end for the Q400.