Atol Avion takes flight again
Amphibious Light Sport Aircraft are reinvigorated in Finnish Lapland.
Consider this for a minute: Finland has some 188 000 lakes, the largest of which is Lake Saimaa at 4 400 km2. For Finns, these fresh bodies of water represent summertime, relaxation and a place for a reinvigorating dip after sweating it out in the sauna. But, they can also have another unexpected, yet very practical purpose: acting as an aircraft landing strip.
“Years ago when I was still flying long haul flights, quite a few of my colleagues started to buy seaplanes,” recalls pilot Anssi Rekula. “They told stories of how you can visit all your friends at their summerhouses. I had a four-hour drive to our summerhouse, but it would only take one-and-a-half hours by airplane. I started to think why not.”
Rekula approached Markku Koivurova, whose light aircraft manufacturing business Atol Avion was laying dormant. First emerging in the 1980s, the company had spent many years gathering dust in the hangar due to difficulties faced by the market during the Finnish recession of the early 1990s. However, once Koivurova was ready to commence Atol Avion’s second phase, not only did he agree to build a plane for Rekula, but he suggested that the experienced pilot and flight engineer join him as co-owner of the business.
With his long career as a Finnair pilot soon drawing to a close, Rekula found himself quickly on board. Much had changed in the aeronautical world and Atol Avion was now positioned most favourably.
Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) was first invented in the US some 10 years ago, enabling the transport of heavier loads than typical lightweight planes.
“They are really popular in Scandinavia and Europe,” Rekula observes. “That’s the fastest growing market right now.”
In order to meet this demand, Atol Avion has taken its former designs and modified them accordingly. Constructed from composite wood and carbon and glass fibres, the resultant ATOL 650 LSA is some 100 kilograms lighter than most on the market. This allows for two people to comfortably lift off – something that is rarely possible legally.
Rekula points out the authorities are seeking to crack down on overweight loads in future, due to the many light plane accidents that directly result from excess heaviness.
Atol Avion is thus poised to swoop in.
“Our plane is faster and a lot safer,” Rekula explains. “It also doesn’t have any dynamical drags like floats. It is made to operate on the water.”
Atol Avion is using Icon Aircraft as their industry benchmark, with the American company having attracted a swag of orders for their innovative Icon A5 light planes.
“Their goal is to make 500 planes per year,” Rekula states, with a smile. “Our goal is to make 40-to-50 planes per year. So, if we can take 10 per cent of their market we will be more than happy.”
He illustrates the scenario more succinctly.
“The American car industry has always been strong, but there have always been people who want to drive Volvo, Saab, BMW or Mercedes. We are offering a different approach.”
This approach is now rolling down the runway. ATOL 650 LSA’s maiden flight was successfully completed in April, and with five orders already in the pipeline and a crowdfunding round of 110 000 euros behind them the company is ready for takeoff.
“We are focusing on the global market,” Rekula states. “Our goal from the beginning was to make the best plane in its class. We feel we have achieved this.”
Text: James O’Sullivan
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