Italy's Piaggio Aero is looking to build its presence throughout Latin America by securing Brazilian certification for the Avanti twin-engine turboprop and appointing dealers throughout the region.

Piaggio America's executive vice-president marketing and sales, John Bingham, says the manufacturer will exhibit at the Latin American Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition (LABACE) for the first time in mid-August as part of an effort to begin marketing in the region. He says Latin America, in particular Brazil, represents a huge untapped opportunity for the Avanti that Piaggio has never explored.

Bingham says Piaggio has begun the process of certifying the Avanti in Brazil which should open up sales opportunities throughout the country. Bingham is also now looking to appoint a Brazilian agent.

"Brazil represents a huge opportunity for us," Bingham told Flightglobal during AirVenture 2009 in Oshkosh. "It's an aviation focused market. People like to fly planes."

He adds the Avanti is particularly well suited for flying in the Amazon but it should be well received across the country by both the owner-flown community and corporations.

Bingham points out that when he worked at Cirrus Aircraft, Brazil quickly became Cirrus' biggest export market. In only three years Cirrus deliveries to Brazil soared to 70 aircraft per year from a base of zero. "I think the same opportunity exists for Piaggio. The plane is very well suited for the market," he says.

Piaggio will also use LABACE to look for agents in Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela. Bingham says Piaggio is also seeking an agent in Central America, most likely Panama.

Bingham points out that Piaggio has delivered Avantis to several international markets outside North America and Europe including the Middle East and Asia but currently has no representation in Latin America. "We never showed the aircraft there. We never marketed it there. We'll open up the market there," he says.

He says Piaggio is also planning to bolster its presence in Asia by exhibiting over the next several months at several Asian air shows for the first time.

This year Piaggio will produce about 30 Avantis, with the US accounting for half the deliveries and Europe, Middle East and the Far East accounting for the other half. In addition to Latin America, Piaggio is now trying to expand its business into Australia, South Africa and Southeast Asia. Bingham says Piaggio has been able to keep production steady - it also produced about 30 aircraft last year - despite the economic downturn.

"There's a lot of gloom and doom in the industry, a lot of cancelled programmes. We think there's been a rebirth of Piaggio," Bingham says.

He adds Piaggio is hoping to eventually increase production to 50 aircraft per year and its expansion into Latin America could help provide the sales to make this a reality. Bingham says Piaggio recently introduced new lean manufacturing techniques which allow it to produce up to one aircraft per week.

"If demand was there we have the ability to put that in place," he says. "We now have the ability to grow as the market grows. We didn't have such flexibility before."

Piaggio has traditionally had a very large backlog with customers waiting two to three years to receive their aircraft. Bingham acknowledges there are now some near-term slots but so far customers have only been deferring deliveries and not cancelling orders altogether.

"If ever there was a correct time for this aircraft this would be it," Bingham says, pointing out its superior operating economics compared to similarly sized aircraft.

He says the current economic environment is prompting many companies to start using turboprops more and some Avanti customers have even parked their jets. He also points out US fractional ownership company Avantair, which will soon take its 50th Avanti, has been growing at 18% during the recession. "They haven't had a down month. Their business is up," Bingham says.

Source: Flight International