Piaggio Aero president advocates a new Avanti

 - May 16, 2008, 11:28 AM

Piaggio Aero Industries, which emerged from receivership in 1998, found a new lease on life for its sleek P.180 Avanti business turboprop with the establishment of Piaggio America two years ago. A visit to the U.S. by Piaggio Aero president Piero Ferrari earlier this year brought fresh enthusiasm and a promise of new things to come. Speaking with AIN, Ferrari expounded on his expectations for the Avanti.

The Avanti made its maiden flight in September 1986 and remains a standard in radical design. Its “Star Wars” appearance is enhanced by a large aft wing from which twin Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66 engines are hung in a pusher configuration. Small canards on the nose and a T-tail add stability. The single-pilot certified airplane has a cabin seating six, a max cruise speed of 395 kt, service ceiling of 41,000 ft and max range of 1,700 nm. Despite the Avanti’s attributes, the Genoa, Italy-based company struggled in the late 1980s, and its most obvious client for the airplane was the Italian government.

Ferrari said that is past history. Today, the airplane’s major market is the U.S., where Piaggio America, based at Donaldson Center Airport in Greenville, S.C., is overseeing the interior completion, marketing and service and support programs for North America. There are 48 Avantis in service worldwide, and Ferrari noted that by the end of this year 32 will be flying for North American customers. The company expects to build 17 Avantis this year, five more than last year, and is hoping to build 22 next year.

He also noted that with additional tooling, Piaggio can easily increase production at its Finali, Italy plant, while still improving quality. “A new plant is also being considered. There is something very good at the heart of this company,” he concluded. “Even though the Avanti was designed 15 years ago, it remains the best-performing business turboprop in the world. And from this, we build for the future.”

Perhaps more important, Piaggio Aero is not content to rest on the renewed success of the Avanti. While upgrades in terms of avionics and electronics are planned for the Avanti, the company is also examining the possibility of a more dramatic development.

“It might be a jet version of the P.180,” said Ferrari. “If we do a jet version, it would have to perform better than our direct competitors–Cessna and Raytheon.”

He also said the company would “like to find a market and customer niche for a new, exclusive product.” Piaggio, Ferrari said, is considering the option of moving ahead with the Avanti upgrade, and at the same time developing a new airplane.

There has been talk in recent months of a fractional aircraft partnership involving the P.180, an idea that Ferrari espouses. “We believe a fractional partnership is an intelligent move for us and for our customers,” he said. “We need to work hard to find the right partner,” but “probably not in Europe.”

Growing Profitably

The growing profitability of Piaggio Aero Industries as a whole is a major factor in the company’s expectations for the future. In 2000 the company turned the corner and went into the black, with a profit of E95,253 ($83,689), and last year recorded a profit of E119,931 ($105,371). The profit target for this year, said Ferrari, is E1.51 million ($1.327 million).

Aware of Piaggio’s past reputation for poor service, Ferrari said the company is addressing customer support. This year, Piaggio expects to add three more service centers to bring the worldwide total to seven. “Because the U.S. is our number-one market, we are focused on improving service there.”

The U.S. effort includes a new field service representative in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and another eventually in Denver. Further, parts are now being stocked at the Greenville headquarters of Piaggio America and a “support summit” involving key personnel from Piaggio America and Piaggio Aero has been at work to establish duplicate inventory management systems in Genoa and Greenville.