Chief executive Alberto Galassi is adamant that the Italian manufacturer, backed by its Indian and Emirati shareholders will "wait until the time is right".

The company that is part owned by luxury carmaker Ferrari and bears its prancing horse logo on the aircraft, is learning lessons from the automotive industry and, Galassi says, from the mistakes of others.

"We are waiting because we want to wait. Who wants to hear about a new airplane, take orders and then wait 10 years for delivery. You don't see Ferrari announcing a new model and then spending years developing it. Ferrari designs the car, builds it and then launches it. I want us to be close to first flight and with the latest technology before we tell people about it."

Stories that Piaggio has been planning a jet version of the Avanti have been rife for nearly four years, but now Galassi says the plans are in place.

Ferrari F1 drivers Felipe Massa (L) and Kimi Raikk
 © Piaggio


"We have our shareholders [Abu Dhabi's Mubadala and the Anglo-Indian Tata Group] in place and we have our shareholders' commitment," Galassi says. "Both the chairman of Mubadala and Mr Tata have had input and made us think again about the size, the range and the type of aircraft we need for a global market. Their involvement is about a lot more than cash. They both bring a passion for aviation and that shows in what we are doing.

"I promise you one thing, this is a beautiful aeroplane. You would not expect anything more from Italian style and Ferrari. It costs the same to design an ugly aircraft as it does a beautiful one. So we have the beautiful one."

Piaggio is gearing itself up for the expansion. Building work will start in the next two months on a Greenfield 130,000m2 (1.4 million ft2) engineering and subassembly facility at Villanove d'Albelga, which will replace the ancient 70,000m2 plant at Finale Ligure. An area at the main facility at the Genoa headquarters that used to house the P66 line is now empty and Galassi confirms that the new aircraft will be assembled in Genoa.

Until the new aircraft is unveiled, Piaggio is stepping up efforts to market the twin-pusher Avanti II and brings an aircraft fitted with the new Nordam interior to Geneva.

Sales have increased dramatically since the Ferrari family became involved in the Piaggio business. Only 32 of the Avanti I aircraft had been sold in the 14 years before the carmaker's family trust under the leadership of Piero Ferrari stepped in. The upgraded Avanti II with Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics and Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66B engines, certificated in 2006, has seen demand leading to aircraft number 200 now on the line in Genoa. Production stepped up to 30 units a year and will remain there through 2009. Plans to increase production to 38 have been shelved during the current global financial crisis - but one thing that will not be cut back is the $7.19 million price tag.


"Manufacturers should not be cutting price," says Galassi. "That is another thing we learned from the automotive industry. If you have a quality product you should not discount. You can never get the price back. This industry needs to stay firm and hold its nerve. It will come back and people will pay the right price. It is a business tool and a necessary one. It is not just a rich person's play thing.

Piaggio interior
 © Piaggio

"Enzo Ferrari taught me one thing - always manufacture one less than the customers want, that makes them want it all the more. Business aircraft are the same."

The team at Piaggio is very confident that current market conditions play into the hands of the Avanti. "We have the right plane for the wrong times," says Galassi. "At a time when executives are nervous about being associated with jets, we can provide a jet performance at a fraction of the cost that pleases the shareholders and doesn't diminish from the levels of comfort or practicality that executives need.

"If the case for business aviation existed before, then it exists now. I don't like seeing the attacks on the jet manufacturers. It is like a witchhunt. Companies that used jets for long haul flights, say across the Atlantic, should continue to do so."

The Avanti's cabin is similar to that of the Dassault Falcon 50 and has the feel of the midsize jet about it. The pusher engines are so quiet that it sounds quieter than a jet, and certainly quieter than other turboprops. The fuel savings are as much as 40% over a jet aircraft of similar size.

"Our operating costs are less than for an entry-level jet," says sales director Fabio Sciacca. "We can also operate in smaller fields and tougher runways."

The Piaggio link with the Ferrari brand has extended as a sponsor of the Formula One racing team. Indeed the driver's championship trophy acts as a vase in the Piaggio boardroom. Former world champion Michael Schumacher was a great fan of the Avanti, Felipe Massa even more so as he has become a customer of the manufacturer. "With a range of almost 1,500 miles it is ideal for getting between race tracks," Sciacca says.

And if Galassi - backed by their passionate investors - has his way, Massa and team may soon be able to travel the world with the new Piaggio jet.

Source: Flight Daily News