Pilatus has received European and US type certification for its PC-24 business jet, and is preparing to hand over the first aircraft to New Hampshire-based launch customer PlaneSense.
The approvals come four years after the superlight twin was unveiled by the Swiss airframer – its first business jet programme after almost eight decades of producing turboprop-powered aircraft.
“Obtaining certification is our reward for so many years of untiring effort,” says Pilatus chairman Oscar Schwenk. “In 2013 we announced that the PC-24 would be ready in 2017, and now, shortly before the end of the year, we have achieved exactly that."
He notes that while project involved “considerable risk”, Pilatus “always believed 100% in the platform” and was “prepared to go all the way to the limits of what we can reasonably do to ensure its success”.
Schwenk describes the certification requirements for the the PC-24 – which Pilatus dubs a “super-versatile jet” due to its short-runway performance – as “extremely rigorous”.
The flight-test campaign kicked off in May 2015, and the three test aircraft have flown more than 2,200h, with Pilatus taking the aircraft “to the very boundaries of its limits and even beyond”, says the airframer.
Despite the challenges, an upbeat Schwenk says the PC-24 has “achieved or exceeded” the performance characteristics promised to its 84 customers. He cites, as an example, the aircraft’s maximum speed of 440kt (815 km/h), which compares with the “contractually agreed” 425kt.
The company has invested more than Swfr500 million ($502 million) in the PC-24 development programme and has spent a further Swfr150 million on a new assembly hall, surface treatment centre and milling machines in Stans, where eight PC-24s are currently being assembled.
In the USA – a market Pilatus expects will make up half of all PC-24 deliveries – the company has built a new completion and support facility at its Broomfield, Colorado base.
The airframer is planning to deliver 23 aircraft in 2018 – including three to PlaneSense.
The US fractional ownership company has ordered six of the $8.9 million, Williams International FJ44-4A-powered jets. The first example, which will carry the registration N124AF, will be flown to the USA in January for its official handover.
“It has to complete its technical acceptance phase, and there is still some customisation to do on the aircraft before we can formally accept it,” says PlaneSense founder and chief executive George Antoniadis.
Based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, PlaneSense is a long-standing Pilatus customer and is the largest commercial operator of the PC-12NG, with a fleet of 36 aircraft. Since starting operations in 1996, PlaneSense has taken delivery of 64 units, with the latest arriving in early December.
Antoniadis describes the PC-24 as “an intelligent, versatile and very well-built aircraft, in a class of its own”.
He says the company is “eager” to add the aircraft to its jet programme, for which the Nextant 400XTi light-twin is currently being deployed as an interim platform.
“Our pilots will begin training in January on the PC-24 simulator based at FlightSafety [International's] facility in Dallas,” Antoniadis adds. It requires US Federal Aviation Administration approval to operate the aircraft under both fractional ownership and charter requirements.
The remanufactured 400XTis will be phased out once PlaneSense has a built a critical mass of PC-24s, beyond its existing six orders.
Antoniadis is keen to expand the PC-24 backlog, and hopes to place a double-digit order as soon as Pilatus re-opens the orderbook. This could be as soon as the NBAA convention in October 2018. The first batch of 84 aircraft sold out within 36h of the airframer starting to take commitments in 2014.