Switzerland’s Pilatus Continues to Build on Reputation for Quality, Well-Crafted Aircraft

 

Pilatus is a very traditional Swiss manufacturer focused on craftsmanship that embodies the “made in Switzerland” reputation for quality. Unlike many aerospace manufacturers, Pilatus remains insular despite the high cost of labor in the country. This allows the firm a strong measure of control over its production and development.

Most recently the company certified and began ramping up production of its first business jet, the twin-engine PC-24.  The program was so popular when introduced in 2014 that its order book of 84 aircraft was filled in 36 hours.  With production ensured through 2020, Pilatus did something unheard of: it closed off orders.  The company wanted to focus on the product itself and get data on its operational performance for application in further improvements down the line.

With an estimated 23 PC-24s now in service, Pilatus is set to reopen its order book for the aircraft in 2019.  In preparation for the next sales round, the company has compiled a waiting list of potential buyers. When sales do resume, the PC-24 model available for purchase may have some new features and improvements based, at least in part, on feedback generated by the early operators of the aircraft.  The aircraft is once again expected to quickly fill production slots thanks to its quality and versatility.

In its traditional turboprop market, the company’s PC-12 remains one of the world’s most popular turboprop-powered aircraft.  The aircraft remains a solid seller for the firm in both North America and Europe, with production expected remain at around 80 a year over the next 10 years.  Again, the solid reputation of the aircraft leads to many repeat customers that desire the versatility and ruggedness of the PC-12 NG.

Marking the end of an era, the company has wrapped up production of the aircraft that solidified the Pilatus brand, the PC-6 Turbo Porter.  Pilatus intends to cease production of the PC-6 in early 2019, bringing to an end a production run of some 60 years for this unique aircraft.  The manufacturer has said that the PC-6 has come to the end of its product life-cycle, demand for the aircraft is dwindling, and the company’s production capacity has to be reallocated to other uses such as the PC-24.

In military markets the company is best known for its turboprop trainers.  For decades the company has produced a variety of primary training aircraft such as the PC-7 and PC-9, a variant of the latter of which enjoyed considerable success when it was adapted by Beech for the U.S. Joint Primary Aircraft Training System (JPATS) competition in 1995.

Today, the company is focusing on its latest trainer, the PC-21, which is a major competitor in the market for turboprop military trainers. Over the past few years, the PC-21 has won several competitions, proving itself to be a popular choice in the turboprop trainer market.  The company touts that the speed of the PC-21 and the aircraft’s rapid roll rate give it handling that feels much closer to that of a frontline fighter than any other turboprop trainer. This allows trainees to move straight to jet aircraft, a big cost savings for air forces in that they would not need a jet trainer as well.  Helping to improve its marketability, the plane features sophisticated avionics and training systems, a smaller noise footprint, and lower operating costs.  That said, this approach is a break with tradition and it may take some time before practical data supports the usage.

Thanks to the company’s strong management, tight controls and in-demand products, its outlook will remain stable for years to come.

 

About Richard Pettibone

A military history enthusiast, Richard began at Forecast International as editor of the World Weapons Weekly newsletter, eventually moving to the company's premier newsletter service, World Aerospace & Defense Intelligence (WADI). Richard is the current editor of the Defense & Aerospace Companies, Volume I (North America) and Volume II (International) services. The two books provide detailed analyses of major aerospace and defense contractors. As a contributor to Aviation Week & Space Technology's 2005 and 2006 Aerospace Source Book, he authored the Prime Contractor & Major Manufacturer profiles. Find out more at www.forecastinternational.com

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