Pilatus Aircraft is likely to reopen the orderbook for the PC-24 business jet in 2019, but only once it has secured the necessary performance data from a broad fleet of in-service aircraft.
Oscar Schwenk, chairman of the Swiss airframer, acknowledges there is "huge" demand for the superlight twin from existing position holders and new customers, but says he will not bow to pressure and is happy to wait until the company is ready.
"We must give it time before we start on the next order round," says Schwenk. "We will gather feedback from a range of operators on how their PC-24 is performing, to see what, if any, steps need to be taken to iron out any issues with the aircraft. This will take several months, so it is likely that we will not start taking new orders until next year."
The feedback will also cover operations on unmade runways, as well as steep approaches into challenging airports. These extra performance features are part of the PC-24's post-certification test programme, now under way and scheduled for completion before the end of the year.
Pilatus began taking orders for the PC-24 in 2014 – a year after its launch – and the first batch of 84 units sold out within 36h. High demand for the Williams International FJ44-4A powered aircraft forced Pilatus to cap the orders of many buyers, including launch customer PlaneSense.
The Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based fractional ownership company – which is also the largest commercial operator of the PC-12 single-engined turboprop, with 36 examples – was grudgingly restricted to six units, but is eager to place a "double-digit" order in the next round, it says.
Since entering service on 1 April 2018, PlaneSense's PC-24, bearing the registration N124AF, has logged around 400h.
Pilatus has delivered four PC-24s to date from a planned output of 23 aircraft in 2018; handover of the fifth example is imminent.
"Production is sold out until September 2020," says Schwenk. "We will build 40 PC-24s in 2019 and 50 the following year, which will include aircraft from the second [order] phase."
PC-24 recipients so far have been private owners and commercial operators based in Switzerland and the USA, says Pilatus. It is now preparing serial numbers 105 and 106 for delivery in October and November, respectively, to Australia's Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). The aeromedical operator has an order for five air ambulance-configured PC-24s.
Pilatus is now installing the air ambulance interior for the aircraft, says Schwenk, which it has developed in partnership with local engineering and completions company Aerolite, with input from the RFDS.
The air ambulance variant represents only a handful of PC-24 orders so far, but Schwenk is confident its investment in the programme will pay off. "This is a growing niche," he says, "and the PC-24, with its many features – such as a large cargo door, roomy cabin and short-field performance – is a perfect fit for this market."