EBACE Convention News

Business, military products keep Pilatus flush with orders

 - May 11, 2007, 5:52 AM

For the first time in many years, Pilatus Aircraft has full order books for both
its general aviation business unit–with the PC-12 executive/utility single engine turboprop–and its government business unit–with the new PC-21 military trainer. The company’s third area of expertise, maintenance, has been downsized after the recent sale of its Transairco subsidiary, which should permit it to concentrate on its core business of airframe manufacturing. The Swiss group plans to build an additional assembly plant at its headquarters in Stans to allow it to increase PC-12 production beyond its current capacity of 90 units per year and to launch series production of the PC-21.

The PC-12 is the best-selling turboprop aircraft in its class and has kept this leading position for several years. Annual deliveries of the model have nearly doubled from 46 in 2002 to 90 last year. The company delivered its 700th PC-12 just last month.

Although production is practically sold out until the end of next year–the backlog stood at 149 units in mid-April–Pilatus is working on a new-generation PC-12. Improvements include a more powerful version of the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-67 engine, the -67P, with 15 percent more thermodynamic power versus the current 1,605 hp. Power will remain flat-rated to 1,200 hp for takeoff, but the higher thermodynamic power will result in improved climb performance and higher speed at cruising altitude. For example, cruise speed at 21,000 feet will increase by 13 knots.

Another major improvement is the addition of a state-of-the-art Honeywell Apex avionics suite with four large displays in an upgraded flight deck designed by BMW Group Designworks USA. The list of planned improvements also includes a dual-zone environmental control system for increased cabin and flight deck comfort, a fully automatic pressurization control system maintaining appropriate cabin pressure without intervention from the pilot and a fully redundant power generation and distribution system.

A prototype of the upgraded PC-12 is flying and Pilatus expects certification by the end of this year. The company plans to build 35 current PC-12s next year, followed by 55 new-generation versions.

The current version’s maximum takeoff weight–as certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency–has increased from 9,920 pounds to 10,450 pounds. In fact, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approved the higher weight figure early last year. The takeoff weight of the new-generation PC-12 will remain unchanged.

Overall, Pilatus (Booth No. 700) delivered a total of 102 aircraft last year. In addition to 90 PC-12s, it handed over seven trainers and five PC-6 TurboPorters to customers. The versatile Porter first flew in 1959 with a piston engine and is now in its 46th year of production as a turboprop aircraft. Last year, the company delivered a PC-6 equipped with a state-of-the art Leica camera system to Latvia as a government survey aircraft, as well as several refurbished PC-6s.

Besides the new PC-21 single turboprop trainer, for which it holds 25 orders, Pilatus also maintains the older PC-7 and PC-9 in production, mostly as replacement aircraft for some 30 air forces already operating these trainers. A few of the fighter-like PC-7 tandem two-seaters are owned by private flying enthusiasts.

Pilatus announced consolidated sales of CHF 571.5 million ($454 million) for last year. Of this total, 43 percent were generated by the U.S. sales organization. Geographically, 51 percent of sales came from the Americas, 30 percent from Europe, 9 percent from Asia, 7 percent from Australia and nearly 4 percent from Africa.

Sales by business units show a share of 64 percent for the PC-12, 19 percent for trainers, 15.8 percent for maintenance and 1.2 percent for subcontracting. Pilatus employees numbered 1,399 worldwide by year-end 2006, of which 1,169 were working at its headquarters. With the Transairco sale retroactive to January 1, this year’s head count decreased by 115, but Pilatus is hiring additional personnel in Stans to facilitate an increase in airframe production.

When, early last year, Pilatus terminated its agreement with ExecuJet Aviation to sell the PC-12 in certain markets, there was a suggestion that a successor or companion aircraft to the PC-12 was in an early stage of evaluation. The company did not confirm this and is offering no information about any such project. However, at the 2002 rollout of the PC-21 trainer, then CEO Oskar Schwenk predicted that the next rollout would be a civil aircraft. As Pilatus seems to follow a pattern of creating one entirely new aircraft per decade, it is unlikely that more details on the next model will emerge for several years.

The Case for Single-Engine Fractional Ops

Manufacturers of single-engine turboprops–mainly Pilatus, Cessna and Socata–have lobbied for many years in favor of commercial single-engine operations under instrument meteorological conditions in Europe. The U.S., Canada, Australia and other countries long ago allowed commercial SEIMC, but some European Union member states still resist and Europe remains a patchwork continent in this respect.

However, according to the legal interpretation of some operators, EASA considers fractional owners as private users when they fly in their fractionally owned aircraft and therefore deems them exempt from the restriction. Despite the fact that fractional ownership leader NetJets Europe still operates under commercial rules in Europe, Pilatus customers Lions Air of Zurich, Switzerland, and JetFly in Luxembourg have successfully set up fractional ownership programs with single-engine aircraft.

According to these operators, the average cost of a single-engine, single-pilot flight hour with a turbine aircraft is roughly half that of a twin turboprop or light jet flown by two pilots.