EBACE Convention News

Piaggio Confirms Jet Ambitions

 - November 29, 2006, 10:07 AM

Piaggio Aero Industries is preparing to launch a new jet program before the end of this year and is debating which of two designs to develop. On April 19, the Italian firm laid the financial foundations for the anticipated product launch when it announced that Mubadala Development, an investment company owned by the government of Abu Dhabi, is purchasing a 35-percent stake in its business. Piaggio previously said it would not proceed with the new aircraft development until it secured a new strategic partner.

“The concept is almost frozen. It will not be another entry-level product and it will be something different, something that you cannot buy elsewhere,” Piaggio director Alberto Galassi told an April 3 press briefing at the company’s Genoa headquarters. He implied that one of the two prospective jet designs is about the same size as the company’s P180 Avanti twin pusherprop, while the other is slightly larger. Galassi said Piaggio had previously evaluated several prospective risk-sharing partners.

Piaggio chairman Piero Ferrari confirmed that the company’s plans for a new jet are this far advanced. However, he insisted it will not launch the program this year and could wait until early next year to confirm the details–playing down expectations that October’s NBAA convention in Orlando, Florida, will  be the venue for the launch.

Galassi told reporters Piaggio will keep in mind the certification problems it has experienced with the Avanti II as it plans its new jet. “If we try to reinvent the wheel then the cost will be too high and next time we will certainly select suppliers more carefully,” he added, without naming specific problem suppliers.

Pressed for more hints on the likely characteristics of the new product, Galassi ruled out entering the very light jet sector and said the jet will not overlap with what the Avanti offers. He said the two designs being considered are “very different” from each other. “One is beautiful, giving you a big emotion, and the other makes a lot of sense,” he said, making it clear that he favors the former and intends to convince the other Piaggio Aero board members to back it.

In Galassi’s view, Piaggio should follow the philosophy of its Ferrari sister company by offering products that are fundamentally different and which the customer cannot buy elsewhere. “We can’t beat Cessna [with its broad range of very functional jet products], so we have to use guerrilla warfare and do something different,” he said. “Don’t underestimate the role of ego in aircraft customers; many of them simply want to arrive at the airport with something that gets everyone’s attention.”

Ferrari said the new jet could form the basis for a new Piaggio family or join a family of aircraft already offered by a strategic partner. Mubadala is a finance house with no experience in aircraft manufacturing, so it is unclear whether Piaggio may seek to involve another strategic partner or to ally itself with another airframer.

Under the terms of the deal, Mubadala will receive three seats on Piaggio’s seven-member board of directors in return for buying  both new and existing shares in the company. The families of Piero Ferrari and Italian businessman Jose di Mase will hold a 55-percent stake in the company, the remaining 10 percent held by banks and other small shareholders.