Daher’s Kodiak 900 Diverts from Its Utility Roots for Anticipated ‘Blue Space’ In the Market

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French aircraft-maker, Daher, has dressed-up and sped-up its rugged off-airport single engine turboprop Kodiak, pointing it at a vaguely defined “blue space” in the business-utility aircraft market. Whether the new Kodiak 900 can successfully fly into that space is a question only time can answer.

Daher, which also manufactures the successful TBM line of rapid single-engine business turboprops, debuted the short-takeoff-and-landing (STOL) Kodiak 900 at AirVenture 2022 at Oshkosh last month. According to Mark Brown, director of sales and marketing for the Kodiak line, the company sold out of 2023 Kodiak 900 production slots by the end of the week at AirVenture.

While he declined to provide an exact number, the sales likely represent a dozen or so aircraft, priced between $3.3 million and $3.5 million each. That, he says is on average over half a million dollars more per copy than the Kodiak 100 on which the 900 is based.

Over 300 Kodiak 100s have been sold since the design debuted in 2008 as the Quest Kodiak, an unpressurized utility-focused fixed-gear turboprop intended to take on the sort of rough logistics and humanitarian missions that Cessna’s 208 Caravan has long fulfilled. Daher purchased Sandpoint, Idaho-based Quest in 2019 and the Kodiak became part of its lineup as the 100.

Expanding the mission set and clientele for the airplane was something Daher sought to do from the outset Brown explains. The Paris-based company was aware that Quest already had plans for an upmarket Kodiak but Daher refined the concept, delaying the 900’s debut to ensure it aligned with the premium character its sister TBM line is recognized for.

Thanks to the significant capital access Daher has as an aerospace logistics provider in Europe, it was able to self-fund the 900. “Very few people knew about it,” Brown says. “The normal thing to do is to go out, launch the product idea, and take orders which help fund some of the R&D. We did that all in-house, quietly.”

While the relatively spartan 10-seat Kodiak 100’s unimproved and ultra-short runway capability (it can takeoff in 934 ft, land in 765 ft) is popular with air-taxi, recreational and leisure business operators, and humanitarian organizations, they also expressed a desire for more speed Brown says. A 200-plus knot capable turboprop with low direct operating cost and more cabin flexibility would suit their needs.

What began as an evolution of the Kodiak 100 design “geared toward special missions and fleet commercial sales” has evolved to encompass owner-operator preferences as well. “I say that the aircraft is in a kind of ‘blue space’ in the market,” Brown remarks.

Others might say the 900, particularly in the Executive Edition trim shown at Oshkosh, is in fish-nor-fowl territory between its slower workhorse 100 sibling and faster, higher-flying turboprop singles like Pilatus’ PC-12 or Daher’s own TBM 960.

In the interest of enhanced cruise speed, the 900 sports aerodynamic changes from drag-reducing wheel fairings and integrated cargo pod to an uprated 900 horsepower Pratt & Whitney PT6A-140A engine that yield a 30-35 knot faster cruise speed than the 100.

The new 210-knot cruise speed, increased interior volume and useful load (3,630 lbs) come at the expense of some STOL capability (the 900 can takeoff/land in approximately 1,500 feet) and possibly less inclination to beat up the more expensive Kodiak’s nicer interior and exterior. While Daher maintains that the 900 remains an option for fleet buyers from the military to federal/state agencies and special mission operators, Brown also refers to the 100 as the company’s “ultimate off-airport bush airplane”, suggesting it remains the rough and tumble worker of the two.

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He also describes the 900 as combining TBM and Kodiak DNA into one airplane. That might set it up for comparison with 40 to 100-knot faster retractable-gear single engine turboprops like the PC-12 or Daher’s own TBM 960. Brown says Daher doesn’t view it that way though he acknowledges that, “We didn’t know how our current [Kodiak 100] customers were going to feel about it. We didn’t know if it would capture a new market segment.”

Capturing any segment depends in part on price and a new 900 naturally exceeds the cost of used Kodiak 100s which can be found for between $1.3 million and $2.5 million. But the used market isn’t an issue Brown says, asserting that, “for the most part a new buyer is a new buyer and a used buyer is a used buyer.”

Daher was concerned enough about the 900 cannibalizing sales of the 100 that it informed recent Kodiak 100 buyers about the new model before its public debut at Oshkosh. “We feel like the Kodiak 100 buyer will stick with that product at least initially. The Kodiak 900 buyer is quite different,” Brown maintains.

Whether that buyer is different enough to pass on similarly passenger-oriented used or new turboprops like the PC-12 (which range between $3.5 million and $5 million) is another reasonable question. Daher says that the 900 is one-third to one-half the cost of new pressurized turboprop singles with maintenance and operating expenses “more palatable” to municipal operators or owner-operators.

“You can almost buy two Kodiak 900s and operate them for a year for the price of a new PC-12.” Brown says. He adds that the roughly $5 million ask for such aircraft also puts buyers into pure jet or TBM territory. Daher made some Kodiak sales to existing TBM owners in 2019 Brown acknowledges but contends that few will trade-in a TBM for the 900. TBM owners could consider using the new Kodiak as “supplemental lift” he concedes.

“They might use their TBM to go from New York to Florida and then they might use the Kodiak 900 to get from Florida to their Bahamas residence.”

That sort of mission set begins to sound more like passenger transport than the back-country adventure or service the Kodiak is known for. Given that Daher considers 400 nautical miles as the most in-demand segment length for the 900 (its maximum range is over 1000 nmi) it will get to its destination about 15-20 minutes before its 100 sibling or about 30 minutes behind a PC-12. The time saved or lost at that distance is marginal, making speed less of a differentiator than the strict utility the 900 has moved away from.

Brown says the most common question asked about the 900 at AirVenture was whether it will be available with floats like the 100. That is a question for the aftermarket he says since Daher doesn’t make floats. It’s an interesting question since it suggests that utility rather than speed remains more important to potential buyers or window-shoppers.

I asked Brown about the demographics of the buyers who sold out 2023 Kodiak 900 production, whether they are more institutional/corporate or owner operators as rumored? He hadn’t replied by press time but gave an example;

“If you live in the San Francisco Bay area and you have a weekend home in Lake Tahoe and a family of eight plus two dogs, what airplane are you using to do that mission?”

The 900 could surely do it but arguably so could a variety of other aircraft. Whether there’s enough blue space in the market for a multi-million dollar airplane that falls somewhere in between STOL utility and speedy transport missions is a riddle that won’t be solved for a few years yet.

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