Piaggio Aerospace is keen to establish Australia as a base for Oceania and the wider Far East, its chief executive Renato Vaghi says.
The Italian-based manufacturer, which is wholly-owned by United Arab Emirates (UAE) government investment vehicle Mubadala Development Company, is returning to the Australian International Airshow at Avalon after a four-year absence.
It will have a P.180 Avanti II twin-engine turboprop belonging to an Australian-based private owner on display during the week-long event.
Also, executives from the company will seek to highlight the potential of Piaggio’s two in-development military programs – the P1.HH Hammerhead unmanned aircraft system and the Multirole Patrol Aircraft (MPA).
Vaghi says Piaggio has undergone a major transformation since Avalon 2013 as it sought to establish a footprint in the military sector and update its evergreen P.180.
“The reason to be back is that the point where we are in our history we are actually significantly relaunching our commercial platform the P.180, and of course to promote our new defence product that are still in the development phase but we believe have a very high potential,” Vaghi tells Australian Aviation in an interview from Rome ahead of the Avalon Airshow.
“We believe Australia has a lot of potential that was unexploited in the past. For many reasons, one being that our presence in Australia was probably below the level needed to develop the product awareness that we need to have there.”
On the military front, Vaghi said the HammerHead, which comprises a remotely piloted aerial vehicle, a ground control station and integrated navigation and mission system, was on track for delivery of its first operational systems in 2018 and the completion of its development program in 2019.
Meanwhile, first deliveries of the MPA were expected to begin in early 2020.
“Both platforms have already flown,” Vaghi said.
“The HammerHead I think completed tens and tens of flight hours and the MPA has logged a few tens of hours in the development of phase.
“When all these developments are complete we will have a range of defence products as well as P.180 which is being significantly upgraded.”
In March 2016, Piaggio announced the UAE Armed Forces was the launch customer of the P.1HH HammerHead with an order for eight of the type.
The total contract value was 1,327 million UAE dirham (A$470 million), Piaggio said at the time.
The HammerHead was ostensibly competing with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper and Israel Aerospace Industries’ Heron in the unmanned military aircraft segment.
On the civil side, Vaghi said the latest incarnation of the P.180, the Avanti EVO, stacked up well against similarly sized aircraft such as the Beechcraft King Air and Embraer Phenom 300, among others.
To that end, Piaggio is hoping to capture a slice of the replacement aircraft in that market segment, as well as encourage air ambulance and aeromedical operators to consider the P.180 Avanti EVO for their future fleet needs, noting the widespread use of the type for that purpose in Europe.
“I personally see many advantages for us in replacing ageing aircraft, not only in VIP and charter services but also in medivac and ambulance operations, where the P.180 has got significant advantages to the competition,” Vaghi said.
The P.180 Avanti EVO seats between seven and nine people, has a range of about 1,500nm and a top speed of 400kt. It is powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66B turboprop engines.
Vaghi said Piaggio was considering Australia as a base for its business in this part of the world.
“We want to use this Avalon Airshow and the engagement that will come from our participation there to see if this idea can fly,” Vaghi said.
“The big advantage that we see is Australia is close to a lot of countries in the Far East where we already have interest or that we are engaging in dialogues that might bring a lot of new business.
“This participation is, we hope, a door opener. We want to make sure that this participation is not just a one-off event but is something that sets the base for a more permanent presence in Oceania.”