Dominique Spragg, Viking’s Vice President of Strategic Planning is a hands-on kind of guy. While this usually means frequent trips to China and Russia, regions where Spragg is tasked with expanding the Twin Otter Series 400’s presence, he relishes the opportunity to really immerse. In 2013, just such an opportunity presented itself – a Series 400 was due to be delivered to northern Russia, and Spragg jumped at the chance to see it there in person.
While for many busy executives this might mean taking a commercial flight to meet the Twin Otter, Spragg signed-on for a more front-seat approach and joined six other Canadian and Russian colleagues in an epic 22-day journey from Victoria, BC Canada to the Russian Arctic – in the due-to-be-delivered Series 400.
“It was a real eye opener. We were sleeping in shacks on the edge of the Arctic Circle – it was incredible,” reminisces Spragg. “The meals were colourful; every village had a different type of fish, so we started buying cases of fish to trade at the next stop.” In addition to his cultural immersion, Spragg also saw the tangible evidence of the country’s strong aviation tradition.
“The aviation infrastructure was well developed in the Soviet-era and we saw evidence of the Antonov 2’s legacy at almost every airstrip,” says Spragg. But with only 200 of the once 17,000 plus Antonov 2s still in service, and the large number of undeveloped airstrips crisscrossing the country, the need for an aircraft that thrives in the challenging conditions present in traversing Russia’s 17 million square kilometres is very real.
Viking has already seen success in Russia, with six Series 400s delivered to Vityaz Avia for service in northern and far eastern areas. More recently, RN-Aircraft, a subsidiary of Rosneft, a publically traded petroleum company, signed a deal that will see 10 Twin Otters support their regional commuter, corporate shuttle and cargo operation functions. Rosneft chose the Series 400 specifically for its ability to operate efficiently and perform in extreme conditions on unprepared grounds; traits that, along with appropriate landing gear for water, snow, tundra and tarmac, are allowing the company to supplement its current helicopter fleet with the Twin Otter.
In fact, the Twin Otter Series 400 has proved so ideally suited to the country’s needs that Viking’s first Russian customer, Vityaz Avia, has joined the Viking Global Sales Network. It was Vityaz Avia, along with Spragg and Viking president and CEO Dave Curtis, that put together the Rosneft deal, which required 18 months to navigate. “This deal has proven the Twin Otter is a legitimate choice in Russia,” says Spragg.
While no dedicated Twin Otter facility currently exists in Russia, Viking is in discussions with Vityaz Avia to provide customers with maintenance and service offerings in country; in the meantime, Viking’s global field service team (which logged time in Russia last year), along with Viking's Global Customer Support group are able to assist with in-field needs.
Spragg sees continued success in Russia coming from Viking’s track record for providing customization and support needed by each customer. “If we do a bang-up job of supporting the customers, the Series 400 will no doubt be successful in Russia.”
While unlikely to deliver Rosneft’s new Twin Otter from the passenger seat, Spragg is continuing his hands-on work through return trips to Moscow and Vladivostok to champion the Twin Otter. And while these commercial airline jaunts may not be as colourful as his previous Series 400 foray, they do provide him with the face-to-face time needed to really get to know the customer.