Piaggio Aero (Booth No. 1325) took a bold stance during the recession to broaden worldwide recognition of its P180 Avanti II twin turboprop, according to John Bingham, president and CEO of Piaggio America and chief marketing officer for Piaggio Aero. “It paid off for us,” Bingham told AIN. Potential buyers who might not have considered purchasing an Avanti have added the turboprop to their shopping lists, he said. “The brand is more known now. We’re seeing a good level of interest.”
There are more than 200 Avantis worldwide, split evenly between North America and the rest of the world. In the U.S., 55 are owned by fractional-share operator Avantair, which, according to Bingham, expects to add six to eight more this year.
“Its business is up,” he said, in part because the Avanti, which has a roomy quiet cabin and 400-knot top cruise speed, boasts operating costs much lower than those of comparable jets. Avantair flies each of its airplanes from 100 to 120 hours a month and shares operational experience with Piaggio. “They are a tremendous source of data to us,” Bingham said. Avantair has an order for 50 P180s.
Also during the recession, Piaggio Aero restructured its Genoa, Italy factory with lean-manufacturing techniques to increase production capacity. The company produced no whitetails, according to Bingham, but is ready to ramp up production quickly as demand strengthens. This year, Piaggio Aero will produce 20 to 30 Avantis, he said, and the backlog is 72 airplanes.
Piaggio Aero has also been busy building the Avanti brand in Southeast Asia, Australasia, South Africa and South America. “We’ve also had great growth in India,” he said, and the company plans to appoint a partner in Brazil in the next four to six weeks.
A barrier to sales of the Avanti for a time was the lack of service centers close to customers, but Piaggio Aero has grown the North American service network from five to 11 and will add another four this year. This will bring a service center within one-hour’s flight for all North American customers.
Investors Back Jet
It’s no secret that Piaggio Aero has been working on developing a jet, and this work has accelerated with the support of shareholders Tata and Mubadala. “Their support is unrelenting,” Bingham said, and will help the company to be more than a one-airplane manufacturer. Development of the P1XX jet is ongoing, he said, and the recession has allowed Piaggio Aero to hire some new talent to help bring that program to market.
Bingham emphasized that the P1XX is not a P180 with jet engines, as has been speculated in news reports. And the P1XX, like the P180, will be unique in terms of design and performance. “If you thought the P180 was good,” he said, “wait till you see the next one.”
A dedicated team is working on the P1XX program, and the jet design is well beyond the preliminary concept stage. Piaggio Aero has not yet decided when to launch the P1XX and is waiting for the right timing. The company plans to meet with focus groups of potential customers to refine the design.
The target market is much broader than just move-up P180 Avanti owners, Bingham explained. There is a clear market category that Piaggio Aero is pursuing with the P1XX, but the company is trying to provide an alternative to existing jets, not fill a new niche, he said. “It’s a healthy investment to bring a new aircraft to market,” he admitted.