While the business aviation market continued to suffer the effects of the global financial crisis and defence markets in North America and Europe faced the onset of government belt-tightening, Swiss stalwart Pilatus chalked up a record year in 2010.
The privately held company - one of Europe's last remaining independent airframers - marked its highest-ever revenue and operating income at SFr688 million ($767 million) and SFr88 million, both up by more than 11% on 2009. Incoming orders and backlog both fell "substantially", to SFr355 million for the year and SFr689 million as of year-end, but the company invested SFr49 million in research and development, maintaining a run of strong growth in that department going back to 2006 .
In sales, 2010 started with momentum, following the late-2009 signing of Pilatus's biggest-ever order, for 25 PC-21 trainers from the United Arab Emirates; the first of these aircraft made its maiden flight before the close of 2010, with deliveries set to go ahead this year.
Last year, the Swiss air force ordered two PC-21s and associated training systems to add to its fleet of six, which it uses as a precursor to Boeing F/A-18 training.
But while business and general aviation sales - of the PC-12 model - made up a smaller share of total revenue than it did in 2009, down to 49.4% from 71.6% the previous year, reflecting the volatility of military sales - this sector showed momentum despite what chief executive Oscar Schwenk describes as a "very difficult for the business aviation sector".
Schwenk notes: "The economy has not yet recovered fully in the USA, which is the main market for the PC-12NG, but in spite of this Pilatus delivered 79 PC-12s, and crossed the magical boundary of 1,000 PC-12 deliveries in June 2010."
PC-12 crossed the "magical" 1,000 deliveries mark in June 2010
And, he adds: "Two of our very first PC-12 customers bought new PC-12NGs in 2010."
Looking forward, Schwenk plans to hire more workers to handle development of a new business/general aviation model, the PC-24, which will be revealed in detail in 2012.
Meanwhile, he calls for "confidence" in facing what will be "a rather more difficult" 2011: "We have a limited volume of orders in hand, and there are no clear signs of the economic upturn required to trigger new orders. Development work on our new aircraft will also swallow many millions of Swiss francs for a good time to come before we see any return on our investment. "But nothing is worse than fear and pessimism."
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