Piaggio studies jet design options

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Italian manufacturer looks for risk-sharing partner to develop new aircraft, while P180 orderbook blossoms

Piaggio could launch its first business jet as early as this October’s National Business Aviation Association show in Orlando, Florida. Senior board members at the Italian manufacturer have confirmed that two concepts are being studied – one a similar size to its six- to eight-seat P180 Avanti II twin-pusher turboprop; the other larger, in the mid-size category.

p180 avanti w445
© Piaggio Aero

 Piaggio has an orderbook of 100 for the upgraded P180 Avanti II

The Genoa-based company, whose owners include the head of the Ferrari family, plans to team with a major risk-sharing partner to develop any new aircraft, and the board will decide shortly which, if either, concept to back, says board director Alberto Galassi. “We have two ideas on the table,” he says. “It will be one or the other.” Galassi describes one of the concepts as “the beautiful one…it gives you a big emotion”; the other “makes a lot of sense”.

Working with a risk-sharing partner on any new project is “mandatory”, says Galassi, but an announcement about the new aircraft could be made before a partner is signed up. “[Having a contract in place] is a wish,” he says. “But we don’t want to postpone our decision.”

The risk-sharing partner could be offered equity in Piaggio Aero. The company’s owners last month bought out the Italian government’s 21% stake, and there have been reports that the crown prince of Abu Dhabi is among those interested in acquiring equity in Piaggio (Flight International, 7-13 March). However, Galassi says: “We believe the company deserves a strategic partner, but we are not looking for cash.”

Any new aircraft will not be as radical as the P180, which was widely considered to be ahead of its time when it was launched in the late 1980s. Its slow initial sales, together with a plunge in Piaggio’s defence business at the end of the Cold War, were behind the company’s collapse in the mid-1990s. A consortium headed by Piero Ferrari, the vice-president of the performance car maker, bought the assets of Piaggio in 1998. “We will not put the company at risk again for a new generation of aircraft,” says Galassi.

Although Galassi will not elaborate on potential partners, those most likely would be Alenia, Embraer and Dassault. For Embraer and Dassault, jointly developing a mid-size jet with Piaggio would help them fill a gap in their range: in the Brazilian manufacturer’s case between the Phenom 300 and Legacy and in Dassault’s below the Falcon 50EX.

Reports that Piaggio was using market research firm Forecast International to evaluate the business jet market surfaced last year (Flight International, 19-25 July).

The fortunes of the Avanti – Piaggio’s only aircraft in production and the fastest business turboprop on the market – have been reversed in the past few years. The Avanti II, which has a new Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 flightdeck, received US certification last month and the company has an orderbook of 100 aircraft. Production will increase from 14 in 2005 to 30 in 2007.

Piaggio is carrying out studies with Rockwell Collins into offering a Pro Line 21 retrofit package for the 100 or so original Avantis in service.

MURDO MORRISON / GENOA