Small Plane, Big Door: The New (?) Air Inuit Dash8-300

By Spyros Georgilidakis | February 23, 2022

Air Inuit recently took re-delivery of a Dash8-300 aircraft, after it got a big cargo door – that replaced a pre-existing cargo door! But why?

A Basler BT-67

It is a rare but recurring topic in aviation. Why do some really old aircraft remain in service? We know that cost is often a big part of the answer. That’s why we see some older airliners remain in use after their third decade. But how about the DC-3s, for example? Better yet, how about the Basler? How can it make sense to put more money into these WWII-era DC-3s, by giving them turboprop engines?

Strangely, the answer often is that these old workhorses can often do things that newer planes can’t. Or perhaps those newer planes can’t do these things without some modifications. And this is where Air Inuit and its Dash-8 with its new big door comes in. The problem here is that some aviation roles have too few operators, to justify the development of a new aircraft. So an older plane, fitting these niche roles, can stay on for a while.

Small Plane, Big Door: The New (?) Air Inuit Dash8-300
Photo source: Air Inuit

So a DC-3 cargo plane works for some roles because it ticks all the right boxes. These include getting in and out of small, unpaved fields, having a big WIDE cargo door and a decent range. Many planes can tick two out of three of these boxes. And by putting a big door on its Dash-8, Air Inuit created one that tackles all of them – sort of.


Fitness For Purpose

The Dash-8 wasn’t really supposed to be a rough-field aircraft. Its predecessor, the four-engined Dash-7 was the plane for that. But these turboprops are long gone – and in any case, they didn’t have a big-enough door, either. Years ago, Air Inuit used the Hawker Siddeley HS-748, which had a big door and wide-enough fuselage combination.

A Hawker Siddeley HS-748. The door isn’t huge, but the larger fuselage width helped with some loads. Photo: Kambui, CC BY 2.0

Air Inuit is the launch customer for this new door modification. The early design work involved Bombardier, with later technical support coming from Rockwell Collins (now Collins Aerospace). Ultimately, Air Inuit needs planes with such a big cargo door, to carry not just food and palletized supplies, but also ATVs and snowmobiles.

Air Inuit is serving a number of remote communities in Quebec’s Nuvanik region, where road access is limited or non-existent. Air transport is key, to these communities. We have seen a recent incident, involving an Air Inuit 737-200. That’s another older aircraft remaining in use – thanks to its ability to land on unpaved runways, with its gravel kit.

A 737-200 with gravel kit. Photo: BriYYZ, CC BY-SA 2.0

Christian Busch, Air Inuit President & CEO, said this about the first Dash-8 with its big cargo door modification:

The introduction of this innovative design to Air Inuit’s fleet is about more than the convenience and reliability the people of Nunavik have come to expect. It is about recognizing the specific challenges of the communities we serve, and finding an innovative new way to support the development of those communities. Hats off to our team and partners for achieving this.

Small Plane, Big Door: The New (?) Air Inuit Dash8-300
A “before” picture, showing the size of the existing Dash-8 door. Photo source: Air Inuit


Getting It Done – The Air Inuit Big Cargo Door STC

Air Inuit got funding from the Quebec Government, for the design of this big cargo door modification. The aircraft got its Supplemental Type Certificate on the 3rd of February. The new door’s dimensions are 2.74m x 1.73m (108” x 68”). At this time, it isn’t clear how many Dash-8s the airline will modify. The airline has 11 De Havilland Canada DHC-8-300 models.

Small Plane, Big Door: The New (?) Air Inuit Dash8-300
The “after” picture. Photo source: Air Inuit

The first plane to get the big door modification is C-GAIW, which Air Inuit began operating in 2015. It is a bit over 30 years old today – which tells us something. While the Dash-8 burns 30% less fuel than the HS-748, it isn’t a new aircraft. ATR recently introduced a dedicated cargo ATR-72-600F, with a large cargo door. But this aircraft doesn’t necessarily have the rough-field performance that Air Inuit needs.

ATR also announced the smaller ATR-42-600S for operations from short runways. But this doesn’t have a big cargo door, like the ATR-72-600F or the “new” Air Inuit Dash-8-300. We recently saw that Embraer perhaps could introduce a commercial variant of its C-390. This would come in handy in many of the places Air Inuit travels to. But it would probably be a better replacement for its much bigger 737-200s.

Flight testing. Photo source: Air Inuit

The high cost of brand new planes is likely out of reach of operators like Air Inuit, for such specialized environments. But the Dash-8 family should remain in operation for a while longer. So the airline, and perhaps others in the region, could have a viable option in this aircraft, for years to come.


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