Italian maintenance and modification specialist Aeronavali's long association with Boeing and former McDonnell Douglas products mirrors that of Alenia Aeronautica, its parent within the Finmeccanica family. But the balance could be shifting, as uncertainties surrounding Boeing 767 freighter and tanker programmes coincide with talks on joining Airbus A330-200F and A380-800F freighter programmes.

Headquartered in Venice, and with facilities in Brindisi and Naples, Aeronavali performs passenger-to-freighter conversions for the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and Boeing MD-11. Last year, the company was named the exclusive provider of Boeing's 767 Special Freighter conversion, but the two companies have yet to secure a launch customer for the aircraft.

The Naples centre will modify three of the four KC-767s ordered by the Italian air force, but the larger Alenia/Aeronavali stake in the overall Boeing 767 tanker/transport programme is at risk following US Congressional action to prohibit the US Air Force from leasing KC-767s. It remains to be seen whether the USAF will proceed with a conventional procurement of KC-767s or open its tanker requirement to competition.

The KC-767 programme is key to the continued health of Aeronavali's military business, which includes work on Boeing 707 tankers, Lockheed Martin C-130 transports and NATO's Boeing E-3 airborne early warning aircraft.

Historically, 70% of Aeronavali's sales have been generated by civil contracts, but the 25% reduction in revenues following the 11 September attacks changed that. "Our revenue is currently 50:50 military and civil. We would like to change that to 65% civil," says chairman and chief executive Pompeo Sorice. The company is hoping for a strong air transport recovery in 2005 and aims to maintain its 25% share of the world widebody freighter-conversion market.

Aeronavali's goal is to increase output beyond the 2001 figure of 18 converted aircraft by expanding the Naples facility with two yet-to-be-built modification lines, taking capacity to 22 aircraft conversions a year. Sorice says this could happen within the next two to three years, market conditions permitting.

The company also performs maintenance and freighter conversions on the ATR 42 and 72 regional turboprops. But Sorice does not expect this work to ever rise above 10% of revenues. Instead, the company's focus is on maintaining its market share in widebody civil and military conversions, and what Sorice calls "greater value-added areas".

These include cockpit upgrades and expansion of its parts-provision business beyond the supply of components for DC-10 and MD-11 cargo conversions worldwide.

As for the future, Sorice does not deny the possibility of Aeronavali working with Airbus, but says it is a "big if" that depends on its parent company, Alenia, deciding to become a risk-sharing partner in the proposed A330-200F and already launched A380-800F.



Source: Flight International