When an airplane is designed for a particular purpose and performs to expectations, it’s a wonderful thing. When that performance brings relief to people after a natural disaster, it’s even better. That about sums up the use of the Quest Kodiak in Haiti, says Paul Schaller, president and CEO of Quest Aircraft Co.
“The Kodiak performed just like we expected it would,” he said when General Aviation News caught up with him at Sun ’n Fun in April.
As the name implies, the Kodiak was designed to be a rugged backcountry flying machine with short takeoff and landing capabilities— “sort of a flying sport utility vehicle and part truck,” Schaller said.
Responding to the relief efforts after the earthquake in Haiti gave the Idaho-built airplane a chance to shine, he added. “Right after the earthquake hit, the country’s infrastructure was in a shambles. Entire communities were destroyed and, although supplies could be brought into larger airports such as Port Au Prince, they couldn’t get the supplies to the outlying communities that needed them the most because the roads were destroyed,” he explained, noting that this kind of emergency is exactly what the Kodiak was designed for.
“We have some missionary aviation organizations that we work with,” he continued. “They marshaled their forces and made their planes available and took them down there. They brought in food, water, shelter and other things people desperately needed in remote locations where there was damage.”
Many of the Kodiaks picked up supplies from larger airports, then took them to the outlying communities. In many instances, there was no airport in the those communities. Often the Kodiaks landed on stretches of roads or in fields. “Other than by air, the outlying areas were pretty much unreachable,” said Schaller.
While the Kodiaks were busy bringing relief to Haiti, back at the factory in Sandpoint, Idaho, there was a sense of accomplishment, as employees and company officials watched the aircraft that 10 years ago was just an idea serve such a vital role in the relief efforts.
Certified in May 2007, the first Kodiaks were delivered to customers at the end of that year. So far, 50 have been delivered to customers all over the world, who use them in charter operations, small businesses, for personal use, skydiving operations, government, and humanitarian aide.
“We know what the Kodiak will do and so did the mission aviation guys who took them down to Haiti,” Schaller said. “They just worked the heck out of them They flew them all day long and, in some cases, all night long, and they performed really well and hauled just tons and tons of stuff.”
Echoing the Kodiak’s praises is Brian Shepson, chief pilot for Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF), who flew the Kodiak during that organization’s Haiti disaster response efforts.
“It was great to have the Kodiak there in Haiti, especially since avgas was very scarce in Haiti right after the quake, and the Kodiak uses much more readily available jet fuel,” he said.
“The Kodiak is just a great tool for disaster response work,” he continued. “It can carry a ton of payload — literally, 2,000 lbs. It’s also very big inside, making it easy to load and unload. It’s quite fast and performs nicely on the short dirt airstrips that MAF uses.”
Shepson said one of the most helpful features was the traffic avoidance system on the Garmin 1000 displays. “There was so much air traffic at the time of the earthquake — planes and helicopters everywhere,” he said. “Approach control and tower operations were severely limited since they were damaged in the quake. The ‘tower’ was just a couple of lawn chairs and a hand-held radio set up in the grass at the intersection of a taxiway and the runway. The Kodiak’s traffic avoidance system was critical. It made it so much easier to see other aircraft.”
The Kodiak’s versatility and ruggedness are big selling points, Schaller noted.
In April, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) became the latest organization to add the Kodiak to its fleet.
“They fly lots of airplanes in the bush and we are pleased that they saw the benefits of how the Kodiak might fit into their fleet,” he said, noting that the RCMP Kodiak is equipped with amphibious floats, which makes it truly a go anywhere, do anything airplane. “The RCMP has extensive experience operating aircraft in remote locations and under challenging conditions.”
The RCMP will use the Kodiak for aerial surveillance, border monitoring, general police work, and rescue support. RCMP’s aircraft is equipped with a roll-up door in addition to the standard cargo door, making it easy to drop supplies and equipment in both routine and emergency operations. The aircraft is also outfitted with an air-to-ground communication system.
During Sun ’n Fun, Schaller (pictured below) was cautiously optimistic about the future of the company.
“In 2008 we delivered eight aircraft, in 2009 we delivered 24, then the market caught up with us like it did with everything else, so we scaled back and right sized the company,” he said. “Currently we are producing two aircraft a month and we will stay at that level until we see the market starting to ramp back up. This show — Sun ‘n Fun — is the first assessment of that and it seems to be good so far.”
Schaller noted that the tooling is in place and, when the orders increase, the company could double its production rate in as little as three to six months for the Kodiak, which starts at about $1.67 million.