The DeHavilland Dash 8 – 37 Years Of History

The De Havilland Canada (DHC) Dash 8 has become a key asset in the regional operations of airlines around the world. From Tanzania and Australia to Greenland and Canada, the twin-turboprop has firmly established itself as one of the primary choices for short-haul operations.

Porter Airlines offers complimentary drinks and snacks on all its flights. Photo: Porter Airlines

Did you know that this aircraft program has exchanged hands multiple times in its 37-year history? From De Havilland Canada to Boeing and Bombardier to Longview Aviation Capital, the Dash 8 has had quite an interesting history thus far.

Before going on, we should note that this won’t be a technical article discussing the aircraft. Instead, we’ll look at the bigger picture and how the program itself has developed and changed ownership over the decades.

1983: The first Dash 8s

The Dash 8 was originally designed by De Havilland Canada, a company founded in 1928 by the British de Havilland Aircraft Company. The Canadian Government subsequently took ownership of DHC in 1974.

According to BAE Systems, the very first prototype DHC 8-100 (C-GDNK) flew for the first time on 20th June 1983, entering service in October 1984.

“Its elegant appearance is highlighted by the High T-tail, which avoids the effects of propwash, and its elongated engine nacelles which also accommodate the rear-folding undercarriage.” – BAE Systems

Dash 8-100 horion Air
The first Dash 8, the -100 variant, was capable of carrying 37-39 passengers. Photo: G B_NZ via Wikimedia Commons

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1986: DHC sold to Boeing

In 1986, the Government of Canada privatized De Havilland Canada and sold its aircraft production facilities and product range to Boeing, a deal that was completed in 1988.

In 1985, the LA Times had reported that Boeing had agreed to pay C$155 million for the program, intending to make significant additional investments for ongoing product development and modernization of the de Havilland plant. In 2020 terms, that would be C$336.5 million, or US$246.5.

It was around this time that we saw the 56-seater Dash 8-300, first flying in May 1987. The Dash 8-200 would also be developed. This updated variant had the same seating capacity and dimensions as the -100. However, it offered a higher maximum weight and had a slightly faster cruising speed. This came at a cost to its range, which was about 9-10% less.

Shortly after, we would see a stretched -400, flying in January of 1998. The -400 was able to fly about 78 passengers and had a higher cruising speed and range.

Australian airline Jetstar has the Dash 8-300 as part of its fleet. Photo: Ev Brown via Flickr

Boeing looks to sell DHC

Boeing oversaw De Havilland Canada and its products for about five years, putting the program up for sale in the early 90s. The intention to sell was first announced in July 1990.

This was reportedly because the program never produced the profits Boeing had envisioned. Originally, Boeing saw its acquisition of DHC as a way to compete more directly with Airbus, using the “DHC name to strengthen its relationships with shared product customers,” according to BAE.

Modern Airliners notes that Airbus and Boeing were competing for a large contract with Air Canada. The deal was won eventually won by Airbus, which may have been one reason for the eventual sale.

Interestingly, Boeing filed a lawsuit against the Canadian Government, alleging that it was misled about the condition of de Havilland’s facilities at the time of the 1986 purchase. According to UPI, Boeing spent more than $400 million to improve de Havilland’s plant in Downsview, Ontario. Eventually settling the lawsuit, Boeing received about $97 million in settlement money.

Air Greenland Dash 8
The Dash 8-200 is part of Air Greenland’s short-haul fleet. Photo: Pixabay

1992: Bombardier buys DHC from Boeing

Before eventually going to Canadian company Bombardier, Boeing had initially agreed to sell the de Havilland program to Alenia of Italy and Aerospatiale of France. However, the deal was blocked by the European Commission on grounds it would hurt competitiveness in the European market. Furthermore, the proposed sale was rejected by Investment Canada, which considered it in opposition to Canadian interests.

In 1992, it agreed to sell DHC to a joint venture of Bombardier Inc. and the province of Ontario for $260 million or $475 million in 2020.

“[De Havilland Canada is] a leaner, betterequipped and more efficient organization…we are pleased to have aligned de Havilland with buyers who can protect the long-term interest of its customers, employees and suppliers,” – Bruce Gessing, Executive Vice President of the Boeing Commercial Airplane Group and chairman of Boeing of Canada via AP

WestJet’s regional division “Encore” uses the Bombardier Q400. Photo: WestJet

Quieter turboprops: Bombardier improves the Dash 8

Bombardier chairman and chief executive officer Laurent Beaudoin said the following at the signing ceremony with Boeing,

By combining their resources, skills and experience and building on their united strengths, Bombardier and de Havilland can look forward to achieving a strategic position in the aerospace industry.”

After Bombardier took over the Dash 8 program, it would make improvements to the turboprop aircraft. However, with Bombardier’s takeover, the product name would change, with the “Dash 8” being removed from the aircraft’s naming convention.

It would roll out the Q100/200/300 (Q-Series), which “provided operators further refinements which included the Active Noise and Vibration Suppression (ANVS) system for jet-like comfort,” the airline’s website states. The Q was meant to symbolize “quiet.”

Eventually, Bombardier would simplify its offering, narrowing it down to the Q400. It was announced in 2008 that the Dash 8 100, 200, and 300, the Classic Series, would no longer be produced. The last -200s and -300s would roll out of the factory in 2009.

This model turned out to be popular on city airport routes due to its low noise footprint on arrival and departure. Bombardier would go on to reconfigure the -400/Q400 to accommodate 90 passengers.

Here’s how Bombardier would market the Q400:

While it’s nimble enough for a steep approach, the Q400 aircraft is also tough enough to land on unpaved run­ways. It’s a certified performer at high altitude airports too, like that of La Paz, Bolivia, one of the world’s highest.”

The Q400 would be the main aircraft for Kenya Airways’ regional subsidiary Jambo Jet. Photo: Jambo Jet

The ‘Dash 8’ returns

While Bombardier would make improvements to the aircraft and secure orders from all over the world, it would not hang on to the aircraft forever. Bleeding money through its various commercial aircraft programs, Bombardier Aerospace decided to divest itself of its Q400 program, selling it to Longview Aircraft Company of Canada Ltd. in 2019.

Taking on the brand name De Havilland Aircraft Of Canada Ltd, the program would be a subsidiary of Longview Aviation Capital, which was the owner of Viking Air Limited. Viking Air owns type certificates for various DHC aircraft, including the Dash 7.

De Havilland
In 2019 Bombardier sold the Q400 to De Havilland Aircraft of Canada – a subsidiary of Longview Aviation Capital. Photo: De Havilland

With new ownership, De Havilland Aircraft Of Canada would restore the ‘Dash 8’ to the aircraft’s name. What was previously known as the Bombardier Q400 was once again the DHC Dash 8-400.

What’s next?

Since moving away from Bombardier, the Dash 8-400 has already had a few new updates. De Havilland Aircraft of Canada has developed a Service Bulletin and conversion kit for the -400, allowing the passenger aircraft to be utilized for cargo operations during periods of reduced passenger demand.

In news that’s more exciting for passengers, the company has designed a “Classic Overhead Bin Extension” to accommodate standard roll-aboard bags. This will reduce the need for gate check service and improve airline efficiency and passenger comfort.

How do you think the Dash 8 program will develop from here? Let us know in the comments.