Quest Aircraft is here at NBAA 2017 promoting the Kodiak utility turboprop single, 222 of which have been delivered since the airplane received FAA type certification in 2007. The company team is well prepped to explain why, despite appearances, the Kodiak and Cessna’s Caravan are not two peas in a pod. Said Quest CEO Rob Wells, appointed to the position in January this year, “They’re both niche aircraft, but entirely different.” One of the Idaho-based company’s most pressing priorities in the effort to expand the niche is to expose more people to flying the Kodiak, since the airplane itself provides a narrative more compelling than a brochure or sales pitch can convey. To that end, Quest launched a Kodiak amphibian sporting Aerocet carbon-fiber floats on a North American tour this past summer. (AIN flew the airplane in Central New York for a pilot report published in the September issue of Aviation International News.)
The Aerocet floats (amphib and now, certified this summer, straight floats) are opening a new market for the Kodiak that is “just coming into its own,” said Wells. The amphibs carry a significant price tag of $400,000, but overnight they have rendered metal floats pretty much obsolete by virtue of their quality, strength and lightness. Another cost of walking on water and runways is the pontoons’ bite out of payload: lighter as they may be, the Aerocet amphibs reduce full-fuel payload to just 360 pounds. But Wells is quick to point out that such a stat has little relevance to real-world ops; few if any amphib operators task their airplane with flying the 1,000 nm that full fuel would carry it, and he suggests that floatplane operators typically fly legs that are half the distance of those tackled by operators of wheeled airplanes.
The stable and predictable low-speed handling provided by the Kodiak’s wings, coupled with the relative lightness of the Aerocet floats, make it “a real head turner,” Wells said, adding that on straight floats with a moderate load the airplane can be off the water in 10 seconds. Over the past 18 months or so, Quest has repositioned the Kodiak in the market as not just a versatile utility tool but also as “the bridge between helicopter and business jet” for a wealthy individual or a company. Another marketing thrust emphasizes that the Quest aircraft was designed and certified recently, almost two-and-a-half decades after the Caravan.
The Kodiak received FAA type certification in 2007 but the production certificate was not issued until 2009, which goes some way toward explaining the relatively modest 10-year delivery tally of 222 aircraft as of August this year. “Production had its ups and downs early on, but it has climbed by 10 to 15 percent each year since then,” noted Wells.
In 2015 Setouchi Holdings, a Japanese company with interests in shipbuilding and transportation, bought Quest Aircraft from its then owner, who was shopping for more investment. Setouchi, already the regional dealer for the Kodiak, raised its hand, and not for just a piece of the company but the whole thing.
On Setouchi’s expectations, Wells had this to say: “Now that they have a really good understanding of the business, I think their expectations are pretty reasonable. They want to see growth but they’re intelligent about their approach to the business. We continue to be well funded. They recognize that, as with any business whether you’re making vacuum cleaners or cars, your product has to evolve, and they realize that means we have to continue to invest in product improvements. So in that respect it has been good. Probably the most important factor is that this is not a private equity firm. This is a long-term hold, and that’s what gives us stability.”
Is stretching the airframe in the cards? “Certainly that’s a possibility that has been explored, but are we at the point of announcing it? No. Let me put it this way: I don’t think we’d make it shorter. The logical thing to do would be to stretch it, but we’re not there yet.”
Any plans to align with the rest of the turboprop single industry and put on a Hartzell five-blade carbon-fiber prop? Lead demo pilot Mark Brown: “The props they have are for a different type of aircraft. A Kodiak isn’t high and fast like a TBM or a PC-12. We’re working with Hartzell to see how it can make small improvements to the Kodiak.” Wells added that “this is a 180-knot airplane, so you’re not going to deliver a lot more speed with more prop technology, and you could even lose some elements from the heart of what the Kodiak is all about.”
“There are a lot more TBMs and PC-12s out there than Kodiaks,” said Brown, “so when Hartzell thinks about doing an STC for those airplanes there are more airframes and a bigger boost to the bottom line. Give it some time and a bigger fleet of Kodiaks, and I think you’ll see some props and other additions come out in the aftermarket.”
The EASA certified the Kodiak this summer, “so we’re in the liftoff stage in the European market,” said Wells. Quest has booked “quite a lot” of sales there in the four months since EASA approval, and “the dealer there is really gung-ho about the Kodiak’s future. He’s in Germany and has the whole of Western Europe as his territory.” Over the past year Quest has established sales networks in South and Central America: “When you’re new in any market you have to get some traction, but what we’re seeing so far is encouraging.” An announcement about a South African dealer is imminent.