It has been a tough decade for Piaggio and the P180 Avanti. Deliveries of the iconic twin-pusher – which emerged in the late 1980s and is now in its third iteration, the Evo – have fallen from their market peak of 30 aircraft in 2008, to only two in 2017, due to a mix of broader economic weakness, muddled company strategy and customer apathy.

Piaggio chief executive Renato Vaghi says while the company "has been going through a very difficult period", the low output of the Evo in 2017 "is not a true reflection of how the aircraft is performing today".

The Italian airframer does not disclose backlog details for the type, and output is due to rise modestly, to six units, in 2018.

Vaghi says Piaggio bolstered its sales and marketing effort around a year ago, in order to expand the orderbook for the Evo, and to "inform the market that we are still open for business".

He concedes that the launch, in 2016, of Piaggio's latest industrial plan gave many customers the impression that the company was no longer interested in the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66B-powered Avanti, despite the Evo only entering service a year earlier.

Avanti Evo


Mubadala, the Abu Dhabi investment house that acquired full ownership of Piaggio in 2015, used the strategy to relaunch the Italian company, repositioning it chiefly as a developer of defence and special-mission variants of the P180. These include the P1HH Hammerhead unmanned air vehicle and the manned reconnaissance Multirole Patrol Aircraft.

"The perception was that we’d gone from being a business aircraft manufacturer to a developer of military and special mission platforms, and that was confusing and unsettling for some of our customers," says Vaghi. "It also discouraged new sales."


To reaffirm its commitment to the business aircraft market, Piaggio in December launched a new, five-year strategic plan, including what it calls "a production and commercialisation strategy" for the Avanti.

"We are fighting back with some very ambitious plans to grow the fleet," says Vaghi, "and Mubadala is very supportive of our vision."

Piaggio's sales and marketing campaign also includes widening the Evo's exposure through increased air show participation and demonstration flights.

Describing the Evo as a "niche aircraft", Vaghi says that as well as competing in terms of cabin size with many class-leading midsize jets, the twin-pusher will also outperform many light jets and "certainly turboprops" on range and speed criteria.

The company is also seeking to establish manufacturing partnerships in "high-growth areas" such as China, says Vaghi, where the Avanti is "ideally suited to serve the country’s remote communities".

The strategic plan also includes a "significant" campaign to improve the company's support and services offering. This includes a revamp of Piaggio's service centre network, which supports the global fleet of some 220 Avantis; improving the availability of parts, which has been a source of frustration to operators, and "reinforcing our team, to provide 24/7 maintenance provision", says Vaghi.

Avanti Evo

Piaggio Aerospace

"So far, customer feedback has been very positive," he adds.

Piaggio's sales efforts are starting to bear fruit. In late 2017, it secured five orders and four options for the Evo, and the sales momentum has continued into 2018. "We have 12 aircraft in the pipeline, and hope to sign off some new deals this year," says Vaghi.

The strategic reboot has also been welcomed by Piaggio's independent sales agents. Bespoke business aviation services company ConnectJets took delivery in February of the first Evo to be owned by a UK customer. It is now preparing to set up the country's first air operator certificate for the type, in anticipation of a surge in orders from local owners wanting to charter spare capacity to generate extra income.

Gabriella Somerville established the UK distributor in 2016, and despite a fairly sluggish start, she says business is starting to pick up. "I have sold two pre-owned Avantis and a single Evo so far, but I hope to close four more Evo sales this year."


Piaggio is planning to deliver around six Evos in 2018, along with the first Hammerheads, the initial example of which is scheduled to be handed over in the third quarter.

"As orders increase, we will gradually ramp up production," says Vaghi. Piaggio opened a clean-sheet manufacturing complex in Villanova D’Albenga in 2014, although teething problems with the Evo's final assembly line delayed deliveries of the first examples from the site until 2016.

Located around 56 miles (90km) west of Genoa, Villanova replaces Piaggio's almost century-old components and aerostructures plant in nearby Finale Ligure, as well as an assembly line at Genoa airport.

"We have the capacity to produce a total of 60 aircraft a year at this state-of-the-art complex, but it will take time to reach that number," Vaghi notes.

At the heart of the Avanti's growth strategy is product development. "Piaggio is always looking at ways to improve the aircraft," says Vaghi. Most recent enhancements include new cabin configurations for charter and VIP operators, and the option of carbon brakes, replacing the baseline model's steel units.

Further out, the manufacturer still has plans for a fourth-generation version of the type, which would feature new avionics and engines. However, Vaghi, says it has "no timeframe” for the launch of any such programme.

Source: Flight International