Piaggio riding out turbulent skies

 - May 10, 2009, 5:32 AM

Piaggio Aero Industries’ new management team is still refusing to go public on long-rumored plans that it will launch a new jet program. At the same time, the Italian manufacturer has reported that production rates for the existing P.180 Avanti II twin pusherprop are holding up well in soft market conditions.

On February 3, Piaggio Aero shareholders appointed a new board of directors and chief executive officer Alberto Galassi. The company is currently owned by three major shareholders–the Ferrari and Di Mase families, Abu Dhabi Mubadala Development and Tata Ltd., a British subsidiary of the Indian Tata Group.

“We are convinced that the P.180 Avanti II is the ideal aircraft to maintain the productivity and efficiency levels that only business travels can provide, while keeping costs under strict control,” Galassi told EBACE Convention News. Deliveries for the current year should be close to those of 2008–about 30 aircraft. “We received only a few requests for delaying deliveries, but no contract has been cancelled,” he said.

In April 2006 Mubadala Development acquired 35 percent of the equity of Piaggio Aero and then in October 2008 Tata Ltd. bought a one-third stake. “The advent of such companies increases Piaggio Aero’s solidity and also represents a great opportunity,” Galassi said, claiming that their presence allowed the company to penetrate new important markets, such as the Middle East and India.

“The other element of interest is obviously related to new projects, but due to the changing overall economic situation our first priority is currently to keep the company solid and productive,” he said, cryptically referring to a jet development which existing Avanti operators have indicated is under discussion. Piaggio has acknowledged the work on unspecified new projects but said that further market research will be needed before a program launch can be seriously considered.
Meanwhile, Piaggio has improved the Avanti II production process and is looking at further technical improvements for the high-performance twin turboprop. “We worked hard on industrialization, introducing straight-flow lean production systems, and in six years we managed to treble production and to double it again in the last two years,” said Galassi.

Some improvements can still be made on the aircraft following a major series of upgrades introduced in 2005. “Broadband connectivity and an innovative flight entertainment system will soon be implemented,” Galassi explained, “and we are also considering further improvements.”

Performance is the magic word. “In terms of speed, range and climb our P.180 is equal or superior to jet-powered aircraft of similar dimensions, while our cabin is wider and the Avanti II fuel consumption is 40 percent lower,” Galassi said. “Business aviation is a must for companies which live by the hour, and it is more and more difficult for managers to use airlines, therefore business aviation allows an increase in productivity and will play a key role in exiting the current crisis. Our aircraft is attracting great interest from those customers who typically used bizjets and now are looking at decreasing their operational costs while maintaining comfort and performance.”

Another factor that Piaggio argues makes the P.180 a politically correct choice is its low level of engine emissions, which it claims to be 40 percent less than aircraft of similar size. The manufacturer is now obtaining the ISO 14001 environmental management standard, which will help make the Avanti II more environmentally friendly.

The Avanti’s flexibility is mirrored by the many different kinds of customers who operate it, which range from fractional ownership companies–with Avantair operating 54 aircraft that have flown more than 168,000 hours–to charter companies and private clients. “High efficiency, performance, comfort, low operational costs and elegance are the qualities that the various types of customers take into account,” said Galassi.