GECI plans VIP Skylander as 100th F406 is constructed

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France’s Sky Aircraft is planning to offer a VIP version of its SK-105 Skylander twin-engined commuter turboprop and expects the variant to account for up to 10% of the aircraft’s total sales.

The GECI Aviation subsidiary has chalked up 16 orders to date for the aircraft, which is primarily targeted at cargo operators and regional airlines.

“A VIP Skylander is designed to operate from short, rough airstrips and will appeal to companies or governments which are based in, or need to travel around, countries where the transportation infrastructure is poor,” says GECI chief executive Serge Bitboul. “We expect the VIP market will account for between 50 and 70 Skylanders in total,” he adds.

Sky Aircraft cut the metal for the first Skylander last year at its base in Chambley-Bussières in north-east France after making major design changes, to increase the economic speed, improve take-off and landing performance, and offer greater range with maximum payload.

Powered by two 1,100shp (820kW) Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-65B turboprops driving five-blade Hartzell propellers, the high-wing, unpressurised Skylander can seat up to 19 passengers and carry up to 2t of freight. The aircraft is also designed for air ambulance operations.

Four Skylander prototypes will be constructed and ground- and flight-testing are set to begin this year leading to first deliveries to ACT Airlines of Turkey in 2012. The VIP is due to enter service the following year, Bitboul says.

Meanwhile, fellow GECI subsidiary Reims Aviation is assembling the 100th F406 twin turboprop from its base in nearby Prunay. The aircraft – scheduled for delivery at the end of the year – is the first of five on order with an unnamed Chinese charter operator, which also has a memorandum of understanding for five more of the types.

Reims has taken 17 orders to date for the F406 and is in talks with a number of customers for the sale of up to 70 more aircraft.

“We plan to increase production from two aircraft last year to six in 2011, 10 in 2012, 12 in 2013 and 14 in 2014,” says Bitboul.

The special missions market accounts for around 55% of F406 sales with airline and charter operators soaking up the remainder. To support its expanding customer base GECI is boosting its product support network with new offices in Kuala Lumpur and Brisbane planned.

“We hope to open a base in the Middle East and will make a decision on its location in the next few weeks,” says Bitboul.