EBACE Convention News

Versatile PC-12 holds solid market niche

 - May 7, 2009, 11:22 AM

One year after the first major upgrade since its inception in the early 1990s, the Pilatus PC-12 NG remains the best seller in the pressurized single-engine turboprop class of aircraft which the Swiss manufacturer helped to create. Pilatus (Booth No. 7031 and on the static display) delivered 97 PC-12s last year, of which about three quarters were the New Generation versions.

The upgrade–based mainly on the new Honeywell Primus Apex flight deck and the more powerful Pratt &Whitney Canada PT6A-67P engine–has increased the PC-12 price from around $3.4 million to around $4 million for a typically equipped version. The new powerplant has improved climb performance and has increased cruise speed to 280 knots. The Honeywell Primus Apex avionics suite, although sophisticated, is also praised for its ease of use and it is well suited for single-pilot operation.

About two thirds of all PC-12 NGs are sold in the Americas, for the most part in the U.S. and Canada. Europe is the next biggest market, although the continuing ban on commercial single-engine IMC flights in this region undoubtedly inhibits some demand. Other good markets for the PC-12 are Australia, South Africa and some Asian markets, while the Middle East has shown relatively little interest so far.

Initially, the choice for a single-engine aircraft is motivated largely by the reduced operating costs it offers. However, over the years the PC-12 has found new friends for other reasons, the most obvious one being simplicity of handling for owner-pilots. About 40 percent of U.S. customers are owner pilots.

Another outstanding feature of the PC-12 is its operational versatility. With a large rear cargo door fitted as standard, the airplane’s cabin can be reconfigured at short notice from a nine-passenger interior to a light cargo transport, or various combinations of the two roles. Together with its rough- and short-field capabilities and up to one ton payload (with partial fuel), this makes the PC-12 ideally suited to send, for instance, an emergency repair crew with spare parts to a remote-site industrial installation, such as an oil field.

Serves EMS and Patrol Roles
Emergency medical evacuation and various patrol duties are also operations where the Pilatus single can prove its worth. The PC-12 is operated by several police forces, the Australian Flying Doctors and wildlife monitoring organizations in Africa.
However, the majority of PC-12s are delivered with a six-seat executive interior, plus two pilot seats (however, all PC-12s are certified for single-pilot operation).

Pilatus sales executives see the PC-12 NG’s position in the market as being between the more expensive twin-turboprop Hawker Beechcraft King Air 200 and smaller single-engine turboprops like the Daher Socata TBM 850 and the Piper Meridian. Very light jets are not perceived as competition because of their higher speeds. Direct operating costs for the PC-12 are about half those of a jet of similar cabin size, according to the manufacturer.

Even if cost remains an important sales argument for a single-engine turboprop, there is nothing cheap about the PC-12 on display here at EBACE, neither the plush interior, nor the BMW-designed flight deck or the workmanship evident throughout the cabin and airframe. The proven high reliability of the PT6A-67P engine adds to the attractiveness of the Swiss aircraft.

True Utility Aircraft
Pilatus has a long tradition in building utility aircraft and the PC-12 benefits from the manufacturer’s experience in this respect. The PC-12 NG can land on 1,830 feet of rough runway over a 50-foot obstacle at maximum landing weight, and needs only 2,650 feet for take off over a 50-foot obstacle at mtow. This is remarkable for an aircraft that cruises at 280 knots with an NBAA IFR range of 1,560 nm. The PC-12 is a true all-weather airplane, being certified for flying into known-icing conditions.

The versatility of the PC-12 NG may not be required for its use as a business aircraft, although its rough- and short-field capabilities on occasion allow it to get closer to its destination than might otherwise be possible. Also, because the cargo door makes it easy to load voluminous leisure equipment, ranging from skis to mountain bikes for weekend excursions, the PC-12 might appeal more to sports enthusiasts among business executives than the high speed and prestige of a jet.