Italy’s Piaggio Aero has introduced a third cabin choice for its six- to seven-seat Avanti II twin-turboprop, and expects to almost double production this year by ramping up its manufacturing and outfitting processes.
The company is planning more improvements to the model and, in an effort to overcome the weakness of the U.S. dollar, is seeking new markets outside the U.S., which currently accounts for more than two thirds of all deliveries.
Piaggio last year announced its first entry into the European business aviation fractional market with an order for four P.180 Avanti II aircraft to Luxembourg-based Jetfly, airplanes that are earmarked for delivery this year and next year. It is the first time that Jetfly, a fractional operator that currently deploys five Socata TBM 700/850s and six Pilatus PC-12s in its program, has ordered twin-engine turboprops.
Meanwhile, Piaggio’s presence has been enhanced in the U.S. where more than 100 of the 165 Avantis produced are in service. A large proportion of U.S.-based Piaggio aircraft are with Clearwater, Fla. fractional ownership company Avantair, founded in June 2002. Operating in five states and employing around 300 people, Avantair is the only publicly traded standalone fractional operator and the sole North American provider of fractional shares in the Piaggio. Avantair currently manages a fleet of 49 Avanti IIs, with another 60 earmarked for delivery through 2013. The company in 2006 signed a five-year service agreement with Landmark Aviation that includes C and D checks and heavy maintenance inspections.
Piaggio’s original Avanti, now known as the Avanti I, was certified in 1990. In all, 104 copies were produced before the company was reorganized in its present form as Piaggio Aero Industries in 1998. The first Avanti II was delivered in 2005 at a price of $5.97 million. The new model came with upgraded Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66B engines rated at 1,630 thermodynamic hp, de-rated to 850 shp that face the rear in a pusher configuration. They are certified to reach an altitude of 41,000 feet and propel the Avanti II to a max speed of 402 knots at 31,000 feet, increasing Mmo to 0.70. The airplane has a range of 1,800 nm and can fly 1,440 nm with up to four passengers, 1,300 nm with five passengers and 1,000 nm with six passengers.
The turboprop also includes 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, enabling Piaggio to claim the aircraft as the world’s fastest aircraft in its class–and a redesigned Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 integrated cockpit with three 8- by 10-inch color liquid-crystal adaptive flight displays, two display control panels, one cursor control panel, an integrated avionics processor system and four data concentrator units.
The Avanti II is also equipped with a satellite based FMS-3000 flight management system and AHS-3000 attitude heading reference system. It also features an increase in maximum zero fuel weight from 9,500 pounds to 9,800 pounds, mtow from 11,550 pounds to 12,050 pounds and reduced empty weight, increasing the useful load by one or two passengers at longer ranges.
The highly placed main wings are located behind the fuselage with small fixed wings at the front, a configuration that enables a stand-up passenger cabin with 69 inches of headroom and 72 inches width. The upgraded cabin amenities include a remodeled lavatory and closet and an optional in-flight entertainment system featuring DVD, CD, satellite radio and moving map displays.
Piaggio Aero Industries not only designs, develops, constructs and maintains its aircraft, but also manufactures, under license, parts and engines through partnerships with Rolls-Royce, Turbomeca, Honeywell and Pratt & Whitney Canada to produce helicopter and fighter engines. Final assembly, flight-testing, repair and overhaul take place at its plant at Genoa airport in Italy, with structures and subassembly work performed at its Finale Ligure factory 45 miles away.
Modernization of the plant’s manufacturing capacity is under way, and a new facility is being built at Villanova d’Albenga Airport. But one urgent question still facing the company is how to further increase production.
Redesign of the Avanti II’s standard cabin layout with Nordam interiors brings to three the number of interior options available–two of them with seven-passenger configurations and one with six. Moving to one complete interior supplier, down from around 30 subcontractors, has reduced cabin fitting to three working days from more than 15 days and has freed up 12 of the 20 employees previously devoted to this task to work elsewhere on the assembly line.
Piaggio is extending capacity by ending its contract to produce the wings for Alenia’s C-27J military transport aircraft and is looking to subcontract some of the work, probably to Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, the new plant at Villanova d’Albenga will replace the Finale Ligure factory. Piaggio produced 25 aircraft in 2007, up from 18 in each of the previous few years. With improvements in production, it expects 34 aircraft to be built this year, 38 next year and 50 a year starting in 2010.