Dubai Airshow shoppers looking to buy an aircraft made by a locally owned company need look no further than the Piaggio Avanti II. The eye-catching twin turbo-prop exudes the Italian style of its origins but Piaggio Aero Industries itself is exhibiting here under the auspices of its one-third shareholder Mubadala Development Co. of Abu Dhabi (Stand C510).
And Piaggio’s future seems destined to rise in the east, with India’s Tata group, the second of its three major shareholders, being lined up for a major role in its plans to develop a new business jet. These plans were confirmed by Piaggio CEO Alberto Galassi at last month’s National Business Aircraft Association Convention in the U.S., although the company will give no indication as to when this program may proceed and what exactly it will deliver to the marketplace. “The world is not ready for it yet,” Galassi said. “When the world is ready for it, we will be there.”
Galassi also commented that business aircraft manufacturers need to act to stabilize prices. “We need to convince customers that if they wait until next month, the price of the airplane will not necessarily be cheaper. There is a limit to the falling down, to the erosion of prices and it will end sooner [rather] than later.”
But in the meantime, Piaggio believes that the Middle East is prime territory for the Avanti II due to its relatively long range of up to 1,500 nm and its ability to take off and land on short runways of just 3,300 feet. Galassi told AIN that this region is still generating new orders at a time when demand for business aircraft has slowed elsewhere. There are already Avanti IIs operating in countries such as Kuwait and Jordan, and the air force of the United Arab Emirates has selected it to fill its requirement for a light multi-role aircraft. Piaggio has developed the Avanti to be suitable for a variety of utility roles, including high-density transport of military personnel, medical evacuation and reconnaissance patrols.
According to Galassi, Piaggio has suffered “very few” order cancellations and its backlog for the $7.195 million aircraft currently sits at 73. “The main effects of the economic crisis were requests from some customers to delay deliveries, something which was also due to the lengthening times needed to obtain finance from banks and leasing companies,” he explained. Accordingly, Piaggio has delayed plans to boost production rates beyond those of 2008, but, depending on any new business received in the final weeks of 2009, may yet decrease or increase planned output for 2010 by around 10 percent.
Early in 2010, Piaggio expects to start construction of a new final assembly plant in Italy, which it intends to move into by around mid-2011.
Piaggio is marketing the Avanti II as a highly pragmatic aircraft that can justify its existence as a business tool even in very tough times. The company, which is also part owned by Italy’s prominent Ferrari and Di Mase families, is considering some further performance improvements for the aircraft, such as more range and external noise reduction.
This month should see the delivery of the 200th Avanti.
The largest operator is U.S. fractional ownership group Avantair, which now has a fleet of 55.
In October, Piaggio announced the addition of three new independent authorized service centers in North America: Canada’s SkyServ in Montreal and Toronto, Banyan Air Services in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and West Star Aviation in St. Louis, Missouri.
Piaggio’s hope is that the global profile and contacts of its new major shareholders–Mubadala and Tata–will greatly expand the company’s sales horizons in emerging business aviation markets like the Middle East and Asia.