Piaggio Aero is developing two extended-range versions of its P180 Avanti II for the surveillance market - a growing business it sees as compensating for stagnating executive aircraft sales. It hopes to have the variants in service by 2015.
Although it is still working on details, the Italian company plans to install upright fuel tanks at the rear of the cabin in the space occupied by the lavatory and wardrobe on the VIP version of the six-seat twin-pusher turboprop. It will also extend the wing, together with the vertical tailplane and the canards at the front of the fuselage, although the fuselage will not change.
One version will add 400lb (180kg) of additional fuel and about 250nm (460km) to the aircraft's 1,470nm range. A second variant will allow for 800lb of extra fuel, adding 500nm.
Piaggio also has the option of uprating its 850shp (630kW) Pratt & Whitney Canada PT-6A engines, which have been flat rated from 1,600hp. Two systems suppliers have been selected - Saab and Selex Galileo.
Chief executive Alberto Galassi hopes to announce a launch deal for what he calls "the first child of a new family" at February's IDEX defence exhibition in Abu Dhabi.
The company, majority-owned by Abu Dhabi's Mubadala and India's Tata, has struggled to sell VIP versions of its midsize business aircraft in recent years. Deliveries of the twin-pusher turboprop fell to only 11 aircraft in 2010, recovering slightly to 14 last year.
However, Piaggio has been encouraged by interest from the government and parapublic market, which has been increasingly viewing the P180 as a more fuel-efficient alternative to jets and larger aircraft for missions such as marine surveillance and flight inspection, says Galassi. He expects special-mission aircraft to make up about half of all P180 deliveries within a few years.
"Although it has been designed as a business aircraft, it is a very flexible platform suitable for many applications, including long-endurance patrol as well as defence and surveillance," he says. "We are expecting a big demand in coming years."
At last November's Dubai air show, Piaggio signed a deal for five special-mission P180s with JSC Flight Inspections, the Russian agency which carries out airborne inspections of the country's ground-based air navigation equipment. The first has just been delivered and negotiations are under way for a follow-up order of up to 50 more aircraft.
Piaggio has also just handed over the last of three specially configured P180s to Italian agency ENAV, which carries out similar missions in that country as well as for Kenya, Libya, Malta and Romania. The aircraft is fitted with 20 additional sensors and a cabin console built by Oslo-based Norwegian Special Mission.
As well as flight inspection aircraft, the Italian military and other agencies fly a total of nine P180s in maritime and territorial surveillance configuration. A further 18 are in service as air ambulances.