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Aviation: Piaggio goes into administration

One of the world's oldest aircraft manufacturing firms has effectively declared itself insolvent by filing for "special administration" after encountering financial difficulties. Now noted for producing the elegant and distinctive Avanti executive turboprop twin featuring pusher propellers and a small canard wing under the nose, Italian-based Piaggo Aerospace has flown into trouble after a cash injection and a restructuring plan failed to turn the company around.

Rinaldo Piaggo was established in Genoa in 1884 and initially produced ships and railway vehicles. It moved into aviation when it started building aero engines and aircraft at the end of World War One. Senior Piaggio passed away in 1937 but after World War Two his son Enrico, who had created the Vespa scooter, reinvigorated the firm. The motorcycle and aviation businesses were separated in 1966, and Piaggio celebrated the 100th anniversary of its official founding earlier this year.

Over the last century, the firm has designed and built a range of distinctive range of products including single-engined fighters, amphibians, light trainers, military utility and liaison aircraft, and twin-engined jets and turboprops. Piaggio Aerospace also has an aircraft engine manufacturing arm that produces components for other companies in the sector including Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce. Quirky features such as pusher propellers have featured in a number of its aircraft designs, including the P136 sea plane and the P166 light transport. Over the last few years its output has been focused on the P180 Avanti executive twin-engined turboprop, which first flew in 1986.

Oozing Italian style - the P180 Avanti. (Piaggio Aerospace)

The latest version, known as the Avanti Evo, went into service in 2015 and is marketed as the fastest mid-size corporate twin turboprop. It is capable of flying at 400kts, 100kts faster than an equivalent Beech King Air 200 and equal to some small corporate jets. The Avanti's distinctive looks always draw attention, as does the noise generated by the unusual configuration of the engines and propellers. Piaggio recently began offering the P.1HH Hammerhead, an unmanned aerial sensor platform based on the Avanti. The drones have been ordered by the United Arab Emirates Air Force (six) and a slightly larger P.2HH by the Italian Air Force (ten), but none have been delivered to date.

The P.1HH UAV has sold but none have been delivered. (Piaggio Aircraft)

A 35% share in the firm was acquired by AbuDhabi-based Mubadala Development Company in 2006, while Indian conglomerate took a similar stake two years later. In 2015 Mubadala became the sole shareholder in the business. The new owners put EUR255m into Piaggio and released a five-year plan for reform last year, which envisaged break-even in 2019 and profitability by 2021. However the order for the P.2HH platform is now in doubt, and output from the Piaggio factory waned with only three P180s having been delivered to customers this year. The company has now been declared insolvent and as yet it is unclear whether it can be saved.

Text © The Aviation Oracle

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