For 50 years the Twin Otter has been the Land Rover of the air in Nepal, operating out of rugged dirt runways in the Himalaya flying boldly forth where no other plane dared to go.
But as the road network spread and airfields went out of operation, many predicted that the Twin Otter’s days were numbered. Indeed, Nepal Airlines, which once had 12 Twin Otters in its fleet now has only two airworthy ones left.
Despite this, airlines are still serving remote airfields with Twin Otters some of which are 35 years old, and the workhorses are still going strong.
Just as the the newest Land Rover SUV is a completely different machine from the vintage British Army Land Rovers plying as public transport from Dharan to Dhankuta, the Twin Otter has also got a makeover with a new model.
De Havilland Canada manufactured nearly 900 Twin Otters since 1964, but stopped making them in 1988. In 2007, the Canadian aviation maintenance company Viking bought the type certificate for the Twin Otter and restarted the production line with an upgraded version of the plane.
The airframe remains the same, it also carries 19 passengers. But while the older Twin Otters have analog dials, the DHC-6 400 Series has a full glass cockpit with modern avionics, a state-of-the-art Flight Management System, and an Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System. In fact, if it wasn’t for its distinctive overhead throttle control, the new Twin Otter cockpit could well be on an Airbus 320. The Series 400 also has more powerful PT6A-34 engines and 800 modifications to improve on the previous models.
One morning last week at Kathmandu airport, Capt Santosh Shah was preparing his Tara Air DHC-6 400 ‘Kilo Yankee’ for a flight to Lukla. Unlike older Twin Otters, here he was punching coordinates into a keyboard and selecting the route to Lukla from a preprogrammed list of flight plans. One of the four monitors came to life, showing what looked like a Google Earth image of Central Nepal showing waypoints Jiri and Lamjura en route to Lukla. The screen had everything: TCAS traffic warning, terrain warning, weather radar, wind speed.
“It is the same plane, but the instruments are much more advanced, and that makes flying it easier,” says Shah, who used to fly Yeti’s BAe Jetstreams on trunk routes but is even more excited about piloting the Series 400.
Tara has also given its Viking Twin Otters an attractive new livery in its green and gold colours. It has added the Great Himalaya Trails logo on the side as part of the co-branding exercise to promote quality trekking tourism in Nepal. Tara is adding another 400 Series aircraft soon and plans to overhaul its entire fleet of older Twin Otters with the new model.
Viking has sold DHC-6 400s in 25 countries since 2007, including a latest deal for 50 planes worth $7 million each to China this year.
Fly to trek
Great Himalaya Trails and Tara Air launch new promotional partnership
In a unique co-branding exercise, the Great Himalaya Trails (GHT) and Tara Air have decided to partner to promote quality trekking tourism in the Nepal Himalaya.
The GHT is a east-west network of trails across Nepal’s northern region which offers a cross-section of Nepal’s natural and cultural diversity (see map). It stretches from the base of Mt Kangchenjunga to the Api-Saipal Range and is 1,700km long, taking up to 120 days to traverse 10 high passes in the Himalaya.
Tara Air is a subsidiary of Yeti Airlines and operates short takeoff and landing (STOL) flights to most gateways along the Great Himalaya Trails including Taplejung, Lukla, Phaplu, Manang, Jomsom, Dolpo, Rara, Jumla and Simikot.
“The partnership between the GHT and Yeti Airlines/ Tara Air is a reflection of the private sector’s support to the GHT and its objectives,” said Wouter Schalken of Samarth-Nepal Market Development Program (NMDP) which coordinates the project with support from UKAid for trail development, training and promotion.
The GHT registers trails and lodges that adhere to quality guidelines on Safe Trekking, environmental impact standards as well as social objectives to ensure fair working conditions and wages and respect for all indigenous cultures.
“The GHT is a reflection of improved quality and diversity of Nepal’s tourism products,” added Schalken.
Tara Air, for its part, will be the official airline of the Great Himalaya Trails and will carry the GHT logo on all its new DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft.
“We are proud to be associated with GHT and hope to launch further support promotion efforts, restore visitor confidence and attract tourists from new markets to trek in Nepal,” says Umesh Rai of Tara Air.
Rai said Tara’s new plane provides improved passenger standards and increased safety specifications that form a real example of the quality of Nepal’s new tourism products.
Following the Annapurna blizzard last year and the earthquake, the GHT adheres to a Safe Trekking System and combines it with better quality accommodation and facilities. The GHT will also promote mountain biking, wilderness tourism, meditation, as well as a chance to explore Nepal’s ethnic and natural diversity.
Samarth-NMDP is also working on a program to reduce poverty by injecting trekking income directly into the village economy.
Produced by Ayesha Shakya
New planes, new hope Vijay Lama
The Great Himalayan Trail Robin Boustead
The great Himalayan traverse Kunda Dixit