EBACE Convention News

With FAA ticket in hand, Avanti II speeds to buyers

 - November 29, 2006, 9:54 AM

Piaggio Aero Industries (Booth No. 1644) is accelerating production of its P180 Avanti II twin pusherprop after finally completing certification by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration at the end of March. By early April, 103 Avantis had been delivered (mainly the original Avanti I version, and with 61 going to U.S. customers and 42 to Europe) and just over 100 more are on order, with the backlog stretching into 2008. Some slots have already been allocated in 2010.

The Italian airframer expects to produce 24 aircraft this year, rising to 30 units next year. Last October it had set a target to produce 26 aircraft in 2006 and 36 in 2007. Last year output was 14 units–two fewer than it built in 2004. The Avanti’s advanced aerodynamic design makes for a complex manufacturing process.

As of last month, two examples of the new Avanti II had been delivered and three more were undergoing completion in the U.S. The aircraft are flown across the Atlantic in basic green configuration for completion at one of three approved centers: Jet Aviation in West Palm Beach, Florida; Jet Works in Fort Worth, Texas; and Stevens Aviation in Greenville, South Carolina. Of the undelivered orders, 70 percent are for U.S. customers and 30 percent are for Europeans.

Approval by the European Aviation Safety Agency was received back in early November 2005, and FAA had been expected to endorse this just two weeks later (as it should be able to do under the terms of its bilateral agreement with EASA). Piaggio board member Alberto Galassi has complained that the U.S. agency inexplicably delayed certification and appears to have insufficient resources to handle business aircraft approvals. He said the delay cost Piaggio five or six deliveries that could otherwise have been made to U.S. customers during January.

Meanwhile, Piaggio is continuing with certification efforts for the introduction of the new 850-shp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66B engines (flat-rated from 1,350 shp), which promise 10 knots faster longer-range cruise speed (380 knots) and an increased Mmo from Mach 0.68 to 0.70. Maximum cruise speed at 28,000 feet is 398 ktas.

The company now expects the first Avanti IIs powered by the new -66B turboprops to be delivered, later than expected, in early 2007. All 2006 deliveries will feature the original -66A engines and free retrofit upgrades will be available to operators.

The 2006 price for the Avanti II is $6.195 million for the aircraft powered by the current -66A engines. Piaggio has yet to announce the price for the version equipped with the new -66B engines.

According to Massimo Isidori, Piaggio’s senior vice president commercial, the value of pre-owned Avanti I aircraft is holding up well. A 2003 model with about 1,000 hours logged recently sold for $5.3 million.

Piaggio is also looking to boost its production capacity by relocating its factory at Finale Ligure to nearby Albenga Airport in 2008. Both locations are about 45 miles from the final assembly line in Genoa. The new purpose-built factory should be much more efficient and is close to the highway network. The Finale Ligure plant is awkwardly situated in between the beach and the crowded town center.

By September, the first new level-D full-flight simulator for the Avanti II is to be available. It is to be installed at the West Palm Beach, Florida Learning Center of FlightSafety International, which is handling all training for the aircraft.

Piaggio’s largest Avanti customer is the U.S. fractional ownership operator Avantair. At the NBAA convention last November, the Caldwell, New Jersey-based firm placed a $230 million order for 36 Avanti IIs, deliveries of which are to begin next year. The company already operates 20 Avanti Is and expects to receive 13 more before the Avanti IIs arrive. According to Isodori, Avantair is selling a lot of shares and is now pushing for more deliveries and at a faster rate.

Deliveries in Europe include 31 aircraft to Italy, three each to France, Germany and Switzerland, as well as one to Poland and another to the Netherlands. In addition to corporate and executive charter applications, the Avanti is also in government service in various roles such as forestry and coast guard patrols, law enforcement and emergency medical operations.

European Avanti operators have five service centers to turn to in Europe: Jet Aviation in Dusseldorf, Germany; Rijnmond Air Services at Rotterdam in the Netherlands; Aerodienst in Nuremberg, Germany; and Uniair at Paris Le Bourget and Toulouse Blagnac airports in France. In the U.S. there are six authorized service centers: Jet Aviation at West Palm Beach; Stevens Aviation at Greenville; Aeromech in Lakeland, Florida; Jet Works in Fort Worth; TurboProp East at North Adams, Massachusetts; and Mather Aviation in Sacramento, California.