Swiss airframer Pilatus last year achieved a sales record for its PC-12 single turboprop aircraft, logging 80 orders. After a dip in sales to 46 units during 2002, the business/utility PC-12 has enjoyed increasingly strong demand, reaching the pre-2002 level of 71 deliveries again in 2004.
In response to rising demand, this year’s production will be stepped up to 90 PC-12s, which is the current capacity limit of the program’s major subassembly suppliers. Despite the increased output, all PC-12s due to come off the line through mid-2007 are already sold, with production allocated to distributors until the end of next year. The 600th PC-12 was delivered to a U.S. customer in January and the worldwide fleet has now completed well over a million flight hours.
With these impressive figures, Pilatus claims not only to dominate the pressurized single-engine market, but to produce the best-selling executive turboprops–both singles and twins. An average of 80 percent of all PC-12s are sold with a six-seat executive cabin configuration and a fully enclosed toilet. A commuter version for up to nine passengers is also available, and all PC-12s come with a large cargo door, allowing both versions to be quickly configured for combined or cargo-only transportation. According to the manufacturer, it is this versatility, together with excellent workmanship, support and economy that are the keys to the PC-12’s worldwide popularity.
An upgrade, announced at last November’s NBAA show in Orlando, Florida, and delivered since January of this year, includes a maximum takeoff weight of 10,450 pounds, increased from 9,920. This allows for a payload of up to 4,130 pounds for a typically equipped PC-12 in executive configuration, and improved payload/range flexibility. However, in countries that are member states of the European Aviation Safety Agency, which includes most of Europe, the mtow remains limited to 9,920 pounds.
The upgrade also includes new winglets which reduce drag, improve crosswind control and provide generally better handling for the pilot. The winglets are derived from technology developed for the high-performance PC-21 trainer.
Flettner tabs on the ailerons are another element of the PC-12 upgrade. They reduce roll control forces by more than 60 percent at all speeds. Other airframe improvements include LED lighting in the cabin and on the flight deck, and new crew seats that can be more flexibly adjusted.
Being exhibited alongside the PC-12 here at the EBACE show is the PC-6 Turboporter single-engine utility short takeoff and landing aircraft, which flew for the first time in 1959 and is still in production. The current version is powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-27 flat rated to 550 shp. It carries up to nine passengers plus pilots on short trips, or six on longer trips. The two large sliding doors on both sides of the fuselage can be opened in flight and make the PC-6 ideal for parachuting or cargo dropping.
The versatile Turboporter needs just 646 feet to take off at mtow and stalls at 58 ktas with flaps. Pilatus plans to deliver five of the aircraft this year. Of the more than 500 Turboporters flying, quite a few are equipped with floats or skis, while others serve for fire-fighting, aerial surveillance and medevac operations in remote locations and other special missions.
In addition to its manufacturing activities, Pilatus also provides extensive maintenance at its three service centers in Switzerland. The centers are located at its main factory in Buochs, the second is housed at Altenrhein in the east country and the third is here in Geneva, where a staff of 120 are employed at the OEM’s Transairco subsidiary, its largest maintenance shop.
While all Pilatus maintenance shops maintain the PC-12, Transairco’s main business is servicing Dassault’s line of Falcon jets–an activity it specialized in when it was acquired by Pilatus in 1997. Transairco has also successfully participated in the Falcon 20 TFE731 retrofit program, and it is the sole European member involved in the Blackhawk King Air XP retrofit program.
Sales of PC-12s and PC-6s in central and eastern Europe are direct from the Pilatus factory; those in southern Europe and North Africa are conducted by Transairco.
Until recently, sales and product support for Scandinavia and southern Africa were handled by ExecuJet Aviation, but in February Pilatus and ExecuJet parted company because the latter is now a key partner in the rival Grob SPn utility twinjet. Pilatus has said it will progressively appoint new distributors in those sales territories, while assuring continuous support of the PC-12.
With the PC-12, Pilatus appears to have a winner for many years. While the company prepares its new military trainer PC-21 for the market, work on a companion or a successor to the PC-12 will certainly remain at a low level. But when Pilatus Aircraft CEO Oskar Schwenk presented the PC-21 in 2002, he said the Swiss group’s next major project would be another general aviation product. Will it be a jet, a twin turboprop? Pilatus has remained tight-lipped about the subject.