Piaggio P180 Avanti II
Half sci-fi starship, half workaday twin-turboprop, the Piaggio Avanti II combines the remarkable looks of its predecessor with higher speed, better load-carrying and new cockpit avionics.
The fuselage is unchanged. It is still sleek and aerodynamic. As befits a plane built in Turin by a company part-owned by the Ferrari family, it is curvaceous and striking. The fuselage looks like a dolphin. The cockpit windows look like a supermodel’s sunglasses.
The wings are almost at the back of the plane. Two Pratt and Whitney turboprop engines face rearwards which makes the plane look more like a jet from certain angles. This is more than Italian flair: it means a quieter cabin and better views from the windows. The configuration is unique among business aircraft and looks genuinely futuristic.
Owners enjoy the attention that the Avanti gets everywhere it goes. “Unusualness counts for a lot in a world of very samey aircraft,” says one Avanti pilot, “we’re constantly being badgered by crew from other aircraft who want to have a look and take pictures.”
Inside the Avanti
The interior features a two pairs of fore- and aft-facing fully-adjustable seats, with fold out tables, arranged in a conventional club four. Oppose the entrance door at the front of the plane is a sideways-facing double divan. Next to the door is a single, sideways-facing non-adjustable seat and a small cabinet which can be used to store refreshments. All seven seats are certified for take-off and landing. At the rear is a conventional walk-in lavatory.
The four main seats recline and swivel. They are comfortable and compare well to seats in other business aircraft. The three bench seats are less comfortable and do not have any kind of table. It is possible to replace the single divan and cabinet with a conventional seat or to replace both divans for a more luxurious six-seat configuration. For passengers who don’t need the extra seat or refreshment cabinet, this may be preferable.
The centre aisle gives six feet of headroom thanks to a slight step between the walkway and the platform on which the seats are anchored. The result is a cabin that feels similar in size to mid-size jets and bigger than other turboprops. Compared to comparably-priced light jets, it is a pleasure to be able to stand up straight. A luggage area, which is not accessible in flight compares well with the trunk of an SUV. It is accessed from a hatch at the rear of the aircraft, behind the engines.
The original Avanti is quiet on take off and in flight because, like a jet, the engines are at the rear of the plane and so less noise is transmitted into the cabin. The new model should be the same. The aerodynamic shape reduces wind noise and overall noise levels are kept low by acoustic insulation throughout the cabin.
The Avanti, updated
The upgraded Avanti II was launched at the NBAA conference in Las Vegas in October 2004. The Collins Pro-line 21 avionics suite in the cockpit gives pilots the latest ‘glass cockpit’ displays and enhanced situational awareness. Uprated PT6-66B engines give more power and an extra 16 knots maximum speed. Endurance is 1,600nm at a speed of 395 knots at 41,000 feet. Maximum zero fuel weight has increased by 300lbs and maximum takeoff weight has increased by 500lbs which allows for greater load-carrying capability and greater endurance. The manufacturer has also redesigned the closet and lavatory to give more space. Inflight entertainment comes from a new, optional DVD/CD player with satellite radio and moving map.
Chequered past to chequered flag
The plane first took to the skies in the early nineties but Piaggio struggled to win orders and eventually went into liquidation in 1998. However, it was rescued by investors, including the Ferrari and Di Mase families and since then it has prospered. Piaggio America aims to sell twenty aircraft a year in North America. To enable this expansion the company has added service centers, increased the stock of spares and linked up with Stevens Aviation in Greenville, S. Carolina for interior completions. A level D flight simulator, located at FlightSafety in Palm Beach, Florida, should be fully operational in the new year.
Given the family connection, it is not surprising that Ferrari has two aircraft and Maserati one. The Italian government (an investor in the company) also operates the type in the VIP role. However, more Avantis have been sold in North America than in Europe. Here they tend to appeal to mid-size companies, such as large automobile dealerships and regional banks, that are using the aircraft regionally and for occasional transcontinental flights (requiring only one stop). The plane is certified for single-pilot operation and some are owner-flown, but according to Jim Holcombe, CEO of Piaggio America, “we’re dealing with flight departments more and more. What we’ve seen is that even the entrepreneur owner-operators have a professional pilot to fly with because it is such a high-performance aircraft.” Besides buyers of whole aircraft, there are two fractional operators with Avantis in North America: Avantair in Fairfield, New Jersey, which recently ordered 29 new Avantis, and Avia Aviation in Calgary, Canada.
Jet speed, Mid-size space, Turboprop price
Pricewise, the Avanti II is positioned above entry-level jets. However, it offers very similar range, speed and altitude performance. In practice over one or two hour flights, the difference in arrival times between the Avanti II and most jets will be measured in minutes. In terms of the interior it has the same cabin cross-section as mid-size jets, like the Hawker 800XP, despite costing half as much to buy. It is cheaper to run too thanks to fuel efficient turboprop engines. Compared to its nearest turboprop rival, the Beech King Air B200, it is nearly 25 percent faster but quieter and more spacious inside.
First deliveries of the new model are expected at the end of 2005 and production is sold out until 2008. Priced at $6.195m the Avanti II is selling well. In fact, says Nicoletta Roselli, Manager of Marketing and Sales Support at Piaggio America, “our biggest problem is to meet demand.”
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