Piaggio delivering first Avanti II

 - October 30, 2006, 12:03 PM

The Avanti II won EASA certification in October, and delivery of the first new-version aircraft was scheduled for shortly after the Dubai Air Show (November 20 to 24) to an unidentified Swiss customer.

On the outside, the Avanti II is identical to the original, the main improvements being the Collins Pro Line 21 flight deck certified for Category II ILS approaches, and an increased mtow combined with a lower empty weight, giving the Avanti II a significant payload/ range and flexibility increase. Standard mtow remains 11,550 pounds, but an increase to 12,050 pounds is now an option.

The Pro Line 21 flight deck includes the FMS 3000 flight management system, dual AHRS and the GPS-4000A for en route navigation and nonprecision approaches.

The slightly revamped interior will contribute to the reduction in the II’s empty weight, which translates to a zero-fuel weight of 9,800 pounds versus the previous version’s 9,500 pounds. The new maximum IFR range with four passengers is now 1,793 nm, about 200 nm more than the original offered.

Piaggio offers the Avanti II with several interior configurations, the most popular a club-seating arrangement with a two-seat starboard side bench and single side-facing seat and a galley on the left side. The Avanti II is certified for single-pilot operation and can carry up to nine passengers. The 2005 price of a normally equipped Avanti II is $6.27 million, up from $5.97 million.

The II’s thermodynamically more efficient PT6A-66B engines will add about 10 knots to the airplane’s cruise speed at altitudes between 30,000 and 41,000 feet, but this powerplant will not be available for early Avanti IIs, which will come with the current -66 version. However, all Avantis can benefit in the future from the improved engine, as upgrading will be possible during major maintenance downtime from next year on. Both versions are flat-rated at sea level to 850 shp from 1,639 shp thermodynamic.

From the outset in the 1980s, the Avanti was designed to offer exceptional fuel efficiency, and the current high cost of jet-A can only help the airplane’s prospects in the marketplace. With its unusual fuselage shape and wing configuration, the Avanti II cruises at just shy of 400 knots and burns about 30 percent less fuel than a jet with a similar cabin size. The Avanti is also agile and easy to fly. Test pilot captain Danielo Gazzola demonstrated an impressively smooth steep approach at Genoa airport in Italy. The airplane is certified for approaches at up to nine degrees.

Production Challenges

Piaggio Aero Industries has a staff of 1,340 working at Genoa, Finale Ligure, Naples, Nice and at the U.S. subsidiary at West Palm Beach, Fla. The Avanti II is the company’s most important program and occupies about 60 percent of the employees. The rest work on maintenance and subcontracted airframe and engine manufacturing for OEMs such as Dassault, Pratt & Whitney and Lockheed Martin.

Despite its considerable industrial means, Piaggio has so far been unable to ramp up production to pull down an order backlog for 70 Avantis. The manufacturer had announced a goal of building 20 Avantis in 2003 but delivered only 12. The company announced the same target for last year and this year, and each year fell short (16 aircraft last year and just five in the first nine months of this year). Piaggio remains determined to step up production and plans to deliver 26 aircraft next year. The target for 2007 is still set at 36 Avanti IIs.

New Factory in Albenga

Piaggio is reviewing its relationships with some of the smaller suppliers that have not delivered on time and will also implement plans to move its second plant from Finale Ligure to Albenga Airport by 2007. The Finale plant, located on a narrow strip between the beach and a steep mountain slope, lacks space for expansion and reorganization. Having both main plants (Genoa and Albenga) on airports will also ease logistical problems.

Today, Piaggio produces airframe parts and subassemblies at both the Genoa and the Finale plants. Production of the Avanti airframe is complicated, because the shape of the fuselage more closely resembles that of a water drop than a cylinder. Most parts of the fuselage skin are complex curved. While this airflow-friendly shape contributes to exceptionally low drag, it also prevents the company from stretching the design.

Final assembly takes place in a large hangar at the Genoa plant, which can accommodate up to 12 aircraft with the necessary rigs and tooling. After mating of the wings and fuselage, full assembly of each airframe takes another two to three months. Airplanes for the U.S. market are delivered with a green interior and a white external finish for completion in the U.S. Avantis for other markets are completed entirely at Genoa.

The upgrade of the Avanti after a production run of just 100 airplanes in about 15 years stems not so much from a need to improve the airplane but from the OEM’s desire to take advantage of progress in electronics and structural techniques achieved during the last decade.

Piaggio’s U.S. subsidiary in West Palm Beach, headed by Tom Appleton, provides support for owners in the U.S., where more than half of all Avantis are sold.