Even as Italian manufacturer Piaggio Aero Industries reaps the benefits of a remarkable sales resurgence in the U.S., the company increasingly views its own backyard as fertile soil for future growth.
Piaggio recently announced the Avanti II’s entry into the European business aviation fractional market with an order for four airplanes by Luxembourg-based Jetfly, earmarked for delivery next year. The order marks the first time that Jetfly, an established fractional share provider that already operates five single-engine EADS Socata TBM 700/850s and six Pilatus PC-12s, has ordered twin-engine turboprops. In a sign of the operator’s rapid growth plans, it has also placed additional orders for TBM and Pilatus aircraft.
While Jetfly’s order marks Piaggio’s first incursion into the Euro fractional market, its presence in the U.S. has been boosted as well, with 60 percent of all Avantis in service today based in North America. A growing number of them are the new Avanti II model with upgraded avionics and more powerful engines. Piaggio’s original Avanti, now known as the Avanti I, was certified in 1990 and 104 copies were produced before the first Avanti II was delivered in 2005 with a price of $5.97 million.
The 2006 model was equipped with upgraded Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66B engines and three main updates: a 5-percent increase in maximum takeoff weight, 402- knot cruising speed at 30,000 feet (the first time a turboprop business aircraft has reached this speed and enabling Piaggio to claim the Avanti II as the world’s fastest aircraft in its class) and a redesigned Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 integrated cockpit.
Sales since the upgrades were introduced have surged, with the company reporting a complete sellout for this year and most of next year. Several deliveries have been booked for 2009, according to a spokesman, who said European buyers represent a larger slice of the sales pie than ever before.
Still, most of the Piaggios flying today are operated by Clearwater, Fla.-based fractional-ownership company Avantair, founded in June 2002. Operating in five states and employing approximately 270 people, Avantair is the fifth largest player
in the North American fractional aircraft industry and the only publicly traded standalone fractional operator. The exclusive North American provider of fractional aircraft shares of the Avanti, the company has ordered 58 copies worth more than $366 million–the largest order for Avantis ever. Last year Avantair signed a five-year agreement with Landmark Aviation to provide service, including C and D checks and heavy maintenance inspections for its fleet.
As of March 31, the latest date for which figures are available, Avantair managed a fleet of 33 airplanes able to fly nonstop from New York west to Chicago and south to Miami. It has a further 52 Avanti IIs on order and expects to operate a total of around 40 by the end of this year. The fractional operator also recently announced an order for 20 Embraer Phenom 100 very light jets, unveiled at the NBAA Convention two years ago.
The Avanti II differs from other turboprops in that it has two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66B engines facing the rear in a pusher configuration. The highly placed main wings are located behind the fuselage with small fixed-wings at the front. This setup allows a stand-up cabin with 69 inches of headroom and 72 inches width, larger than many midsize jets. The typical payload of the Avanti II involves six passengers and one pilot in executive configuration, but it has a maximum seating capacity for nine passengers and two pilots. The aircraft has a max range of 1,600 nm and can cruise at altitudes up to 41,000 feet. It can fly 1,440 nm with up to four passengers, 1,300 nm with five passengers and 1,000 nm with six passengers.
Piaggio Aero Industries not only produces the aircraft, but also manufactures parts for helicopter and fighter engines, with final assembly repair and overhaul taking place at its plant at Genoa Airport.