FARNBOROUGH: Interview with Alenia Aermacchi CEO Giuseppe Giordo

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Alenia Aermacchi is looking to make efficiency savings, improve its production processes and introduce new capabilities into its legacy products, while maintaining a strong commitment towards developing new manned and unmanned platforms in both the military and civil sectors says its chief executive Giuseppe Giordo.

Alenia Aermacchi has unveiled a multi-mission gunship version of the Spartan battlefield airlifter, dubbed the MC-27J, which you are developing jointly with ATK of the USA. What are the capabilities of this new development and what requirements is it designed to satisfy?

It is based on the C-27J Spartan tactical transport platform, which is optimised for austere and extreme environments as proven in over three years of operational deployments in Afghanistan, with mission availability rates in excess of 85% in the hands of Italian, Lithuanian and US crews. It has the capability to conduct a range of missions including ISR [intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance], C2 and gunship, thanks to the robustness of its structure, large and capable cargo compartment and easy integration of palletized packages. The MC-27J is centred on a roll-on/roll-off multi-mission solution, with very few airframe modifications to deliver significant capabilities. It will maximize the use of proven sensors, communications and weapon system, the latter primarily based on ATK's Mk44 30mm gun. Alenia Aermacchi is responsible for the systems integration and structural modifications, while ATK oversees mission and weapon systems design, integration and installation. We are confident the new version could be delivered in full configuration within 24 months from contract award, in order to intercept a worldwide market for around 50 medium-weight, multi-mission gunships in the coming 20 years. Moreover, we can convert current in-service C-27Js to the new version in less than 12 months, depending on the required level of system performance.

Are there additional deals for the C-27J tactical transport in the pipeline, following the recent US foreign military sales success with Australia?

The purchase of 10 C-27J Spartans by Australia to fulfil the requirements of Air 8000 Phase 2 will keep the current production line alive through 2016. However, we are confident there is a potential market for around 20 aircraft each in the Middle East and Central/Northern Africa, alongside the North America region with the Canada fixed-wing search and rescue [FWSR] requirement for up to 15 aircraft, which could extend the production run to 2018-2019. Moreover, the US Congress is telling the US air force to keep the C-27J JCA [joint cargo aircraft] in-service, suggesting they could acquire the agreed number of aircraft [38]. In parallel, we are focusing on finalising contracts for the aircraft's long-term logistic support packages, such as the already-signed Bulgarian and Lithuanian deals.

With Israel's mid-February selection of M-346 Master, the Middle East country is to become the third customer after Italy and Singapore to acquire the advanced trainer/lead-in fighter. What are the milestones that lie ahead for this aircraft in terms of production, development of a light combat version and the global marketing campaign?

Without going into details, I can confirm we are at an advanced stage of negotiation with the Israeli defence minister and local industry to conclude the deal for up to 30 M-346s with logistics and a ground-based training system [GBTS]. This is thanks to the support of the Italian government and industry, in one of the few examples of such a coordinated effort. Israeli industry is to provide systems for the aircraft's avionics and on-board training equipment, although the core will be supplied by Finmeccanica companies. Israeli industry will also be involved in the logistics and GBTS, which Alenia Aermacchi is to assure for at least 25 years. The Italian air force's T-346A production is progressing well, with the first two [of the first batch of six] aircraft already involved in the operational test and evaluation phase being conducted by the service. Alenia Aermacchi is also to fly soon the first of 12 aircraft for the Republic of Singapore Air Force. Thanks to the high output of the M-346 automated assembly line high, including the innovative wing assembly facility, we can easily fulfil future potential market requests. Today, we are centred mainly on the US T-X programme with the USAF-tailored T-100 version. We have already responded to a request for information, but a tender roadmap is expected to be better defined by US Department of Defense this winter. With a requirement for 350-500 aircraft and an extended GBTS, we are expecting to decide on potential industrial partnerships by the end of the year.

Alenia Aermacchi maintains a strong foothold in the combat aircraft sector with participation in both Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II multinational programmes, while investing and developing new capabilities in the unmanned air systems domain. Where are you focusing today and heading towards?

We are contributing to further develop the Typhoon multirole aircraft capabilities in order to enlarge the customers' portfolio, thanks also to Italian government support in emerging marketing campaigns. The F-35 Lightning II programme sees Alenia Aeronautica as the only second source for the wing design, sub-components production and assembly. A completely new wing assembly line is to be ready within this year at Cameri [Novara] near Milan, set aside the aircraft final assembly and check-out [FACO] facility, which is being completed by Alenia Aermacchi and Lockheed Martin to launch activities by next year on the soon-to-be acquired Italian aircraft. In the meantime, we are working in a provisional facility on the wings for the low-rate initial production [LRIP] Lot V international aircraft batch. On parallel, we are continuing to work in the UAS [unmanned air systems] domain, through both Sky-Y medium-altitude long-endurance [MALE] company's demonstrator, forming part of Piedmont region's airborne monitoring programme, and the multinational unmanned combat air vehicle [UCAV] nEUROn programme, which demonstrator is set to fly this year. In the short-to-medium term, we plan to develop a new surveillance MALE UAS based on the Sky-Y for dual-use applications. Last December, we signed a memorandum of understanding with Cassidian EADS company to jointly investigate the potential cooperation in the field of MALE and UCAV, with the objective to create a strategic partnership in the sector. However, we are fully supportive of an European alliance on the UAV/UCAV sector. Only a broad collaboration on this field will allow the European industry to keep much-needed skilled knowledge and technology capabilities.

Alenia Aermacchi's civil business is targeted for growth both in terms of new platforms and advanced aerostructures development and production. How is the company looking to remain competitive in the challenging regional airliner market?

The ATR joint venture between Alenia Aermacchi and EADS delivered its 1,000th regional turboprop last May, while in 2011, it notched up record sales for 157 planes to 18 customers. Today, ATR is delivering the complete "600 series" family, having recently obtained the EASA certification also for the 42-600 model. The regional aircraft market is destined to expand for two fundamental reasons: the lower operational costs and environmental impact compared to jet aircraft. We are convinced that there is an important niche for a new 90-passenger turboprop aircraft, which the two ATR shareholders are discussing to soon produce a business plan to develop the new aircraft for a 2019 entry-into-service. Alenia Aermacchi is leading the Superjet International [SJI] joint-venture responsible for Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Superjet 100 aircraft marketing, sales, and deliveries in the West, together with training and after-sales support worldwide. SJI also deals with the design and development of the aircraft variants, of which the business jet [SBJ] model is already under development. Two weeks ago, Russian airline Transaero signed a deal for six Superjet 100s with 10 options, confirming the commitment of the market to the aircraft, notwithstanding the tragic accident in Indonesia.

Alenia Aermacchi is also attempting to master the development and production of advanced aerostructures. How is the company is adapting to this new market?

Starting with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner programme, having left behind the problems experienced with the composite horizontal stabiliser, today we are supplying the composite fuselage sections 44 and 46 for the -8 model and in the near future, the same but longer sections for the -9, in both cases as sole source, together with the horizontal stabiliser for both models, as co-sourcing for the 787-9. Production is progressively ramping up from the current three-and-a-half to four shipsets per month, to seven by January next year and 10 in 2014. Mastering both composite materials technologies and production processing, we are in the right position to be a partner for large, innovative programmes such as the Bombardier CSeries aircraft family. Alenia Aermacchi is the sole-source supplier for the composite horizontal and vertical stabiliser, of which we have recently completed the first shipset, with a programme target of no less than 800 aircraft. We are also participating in the Airbus A321 and A380 programmes, production rates for which are also increasing, as well as maintaining an interesting position in engine nacelle production, having recently delivered the 5,000th shipset. Alenia is also providing the aluminium alloy fuselage section and the composite horizontal and vertical stabiliser for the ATR family, with the current 50 shipsets production rate to increase to 70 this year and 80 in 2013. This overall production ramp-up comes in a period of company restructuring both in terms of costs reduction and efficiency improvements, which is giving, so far, the forecast benefits.