Piaggio considers frax role for Avantis

 - March 26, 2008, 11:00 AM

Piaggio Aero, the Italian maker of the sleek P.180 Avanti, is engaged in “some very positive” discussions that would create a fractional-ownership fleet of P.180s.
Steve Hanvey, president and CEO of Piaggio America and a board member of parent company Piaggio Aero, told AIN the Genoa-based aircraft manufacturer has been approached by a number of fractional operators, “including some in Europe.”

The seven-passenger twin-turboprop Avanti, with a cabin shorter but otherwise as spacious as a midsize business jet’s, has a max cruise speed of 395 kt, max range of 1,700 nm, service ceiling of 41,000 ft and list price (typically completed) of $4.9 million, and “is an ideal candidate for fractional ownership.”

Depending on stage length and altitude, the P.180 burns about 25 percent less fuel than the King Air B200 and 50 percent less than the Citation CJ2. The 41,000-ft service ceiling of the Avanti is 6,000 ft above that of the B200. The 1,700-nm range is about 300 nm better than that of the CJ2. At 395 kt, the max cruise speed of the Avanti is just 15 kt behind the CJ2’s.

By way of illustrating his point, Hanvey said that on a recent trip from Wichita to West Palm Beach, Fla., a P.180 made the nonstop flight in just under three hours, flying at 420 kt groundspeed. And, he added, “At 41,000 feet, we were in smooth air over a storm front that covered most of the Southeast.”

The Avanti flew for the first time in September 1986, and despite a reputation for speed, ease of handling and the reliability of the twin Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66 turboprops, it did not sell well and the company subsequently struggled.
Piaggio survived receivership and possible bankruptcy in November 1998 when it was reorganized as Piaggio Aero Industries. A majority interest went to Aero Trust, a British-based fund managed by the Royal Bank of Canada and representing three prominent Italian families–Buitoni, di Mase and Ferrari. The P.180 Avanti was relaunched worldwide in 2000. About the same time, Piaggio America was formed as a North American regional sales, service and marketing office for the Avanti.

Improvements since 1992 have done much to further enhance the Avanti’s performance, including more fuel capacity, which increased the max range; more robust landing gear to permit rough-field operations; a new Universal Avionics UNS system; and two increases in mtow (now 11,550 lb).

Aware of concerns about service and support for an Italian-made product being marketed in North America, Piaggio has launched improvements in that area. There are now four Piaggio-approved Avanti service centers: Stevens Aviation in Greenville, S.C., and Denver; Jet Works in Fort Worth, Texas; and Aeromech in Lakeland, Fla. According to Paul Woodard, manager of marketing and technical sales, there are plans to open a fifth in the western U.S. “in the near future.”

The company has also placed renewed emphasis on its Piaggio Personal Touch program, which guarantees an Avanti owner equivalent air transport at Piaggio’s expense if the customer’s P.180 is down due to parts failure and parts cannot be delivered within a reasonable period of time. There is also a Web site (www.piaggioamerica.com) with a link for use by Avanti owners that will take them directly to service and parts.

Today the North American Avanti fleet stands at 20, and by year-end will balloon to 32. Globally there are 48 Avantis in service. If Piaggio’s plans to enter the frax market are successful, that number could quickly rise. Piaggio plans to build 17 Avantis this year, five more than last year, and expects to produce 22 P.180s next year.