Celebrating Vietnamese graduates of Viking’s Twin Otter training program
By Paul Dixon
July 12, 2013, Victoria, B.C. - It was history in the making as the first graduates of a uniquely Canadian aviation project were recognized July 10 in a ceremony at Viking Air’s headquarters in Victoria, B.C.
By Paul Dixon
With a backdrop of a brand new DHC-6 Series 400 Twin Otter, eight young Vietnamese naval officers received their wings as the culmination of a journey that saw them travel halfway around the world to spend 20 months in an intensive program that put them through English language training followed by a 14-month flight training program.
It started seven years ago when Viking CEO Dave Curtis and his management team were, in his words, “just starting to put this plane back into production.” They were made aware that the Vietnamese navy was looking for an aircraft that could fulfill a wide range of missions, which to Curtis’ mind meant the Twin Otter. Early in 2007, the Viking team went to Vietnam and the deal was made for six new Series 400 Twin Otters to be built and configured for maritime patrol and surveillance duties.
The deal was much larger than simply the sale of six aircraft, as it includes the training of 40 Vietnamese naval pilots to operate the Twin Otters. The full package orchestrated by Viking includes English-language training through a special program at with Camosun College in Victoria and flight training through Viking’s subsidiary Pacific Sky Aviation. Heather Del Villano of Camosun College drew smiles and chuckles from the grads when she recalled that first morning in the classroom in Nov. 2011 when, “I looked at them and they looked at me and we all wondered just what we had got ourselves into.”
With a group that spoke little or no English, she realized that her mission was two-fold – they needed to learn the basic English language skills that would allow them to function in society, and even more importantly, they needed to learn the highly technical English of the aviation world.
Pham Vu Tran, speaking (in English) for his fellow graduates, admitted that it hadn’t been easy to come to a strange country, not speaking the language and having never touched the controls of an aircraft. Now, 20 months later and having successfully completed the program, they were eager to return home and put their skills to work to serve their country.
Rear Admiral Dang Minh Hai of the Vietnam People’s Navy was effusive in his praise of Viking for the training program and the quality of its aircraft. Remarking on his first visit to Canada, he described his impression of Canadians as “open-minded” and “easy-going” and drew the largest laugh of the day by complimenting Victoria’s “stable weather.” Hai lauded the Twin Otter’s durability and ability to fly in the challenging conditions and landing conditions of Vietnam’s many rivers, lakes and more than 3,400 kilometers of ocean coastline and underscored that this was the first time Vietnam had purchased aircraft from a western country. It was the first time naval pilots had received training outside of Vietnam.
“This graduation ceremony is a first step in the relationship between the navy and Viking Air,” said Hai. He also told the pilots to, “take what you have learned back to your country with pride.”
Commodore Bob Auchterlonie, commander of the Canadian fleet pacific, offered congratulations from the Royal Canadian Navy and told the graduates he was looking forward to seeing a Twin Otter flying overhead when he visits Haiphong later this year. The Twin Otter program now moves to Vietnam as Viking staff accompany the first aircraft and pilots as they return home. The pilot training program in Victoria will continue until 40 pilots are qualified to operate the six Twin Otters purchased by Vietnam, with final delivery in 2016.