Piaggio Aerospace's administrator has returned after a two-week holiday shutdown to begin the task of seeking a buyer for the business, stressing that the Avanti Evo orderbook is open and the P1HH HammerHead unmanned surveillance aircraft remains an ongoing programme.
However, the state-appointed overseer – which has an initial six-month term – has no easy task after the sole shareholder, Abu Dhabi wealth fund Mubadala, pulled out in November, following a decision by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to axe its order for eight P1HHs.
One HammerHead is believed to have been delivered to the Gulf state, with a further five examples in various states of assembly at the Villanova D’Albenga factory near Genoa. The UAE was due to have taken all eight aircraft by the end of 2019.
According to a source familiar with the situation, Abu Dhabi developed cold feet in late summer after Italy's new populist coalition government stalled on a $1.7 billion commitment to launch with the UAE the development of a new version of the HammerHead, the P2HH, and order 20 examples each for delivery from 2023.
Prospects for the business aircraft operation are also gloomy. After making just three deliveries in 2017, Piaggio shipped two examples of the P180 Avanti Evo twin-pusher in the first nine months of last year, according to General Aviation Manufacturers Association figures, with one more thought to have been added in the final quarter.
The performance was below Piaggio's forecasts. However, FlightGlobal understands that Mubadala's nervousness about the P2HH project caused the wealth fund to begin withdrawing investment from its Italian subsidiary in the second half of the year, prompting a slowdown in Avanti production.
However, a source says the administrator will be "presenting the message to the industry that the company is not bankrupt but continues to be operational, and looking at all areas where there is a market [for the Avanti Evo]".
There is also hope that new owners could resurrect the unmanned aircraft effort, even if a new order from Rome or Abu Dhabi remains a distant prospect. Leonardo, Italy's biggest aerospace and defence firm and a partner in the HammerHead programme, remains the most realistic suitor.
Neither Leonardo nor Piaggio would comment. Under Italian law, companies in bankruptcy protection can continue to trade for several years.