By S. Clayton Moore
Swiss aircraft manufacturer Pilatus celebrated its dramatic advance into the American market on January 14 as it rolled out its 500th PC-12 business aircraft in just 10 years, and also crossed the one million flight hour mark for the turboprop plane. The landmark comes as Pilatus, which has traditionally been rooted in military applications, has seen a dramatic surge in demand for the aircraft over the last two years.
“It’s a huge milestone,” said Tom Aniello, vice president of marketing for Pilatus Business Aircraft, Ltd. “Obviously, to deliver our 500th aircraft in 10 years is amazing. We delivered 73 aircraft last year in a program that normally delivers around 50. It’s unprecedented with any business aircraft manufacturer, whether you’re talking about Gulfstream or Cessna or Pilatus.”
The Jefferson County Airport-based company’s purpose is to serve and support the PC-12 program in North and South America, through a network of dealers in the United States, Mexico, Canada and most recently, Brazil. Established in 1996, it’s a wholly owned subsidiary of single-engine turboprop manufacturer Pilatus Aircraft, which was formed in Stans, Switzerland in 1939. In addition to marketing and servicing the PC-12, the operation’s 70 employees are responsible for completion of each North American PC-12 including paint, interiors and avionics.
The PC-12 is a versatile single-engine turboprop business jet with multiple configurations, including executive-level transportation, long-distance cargo delivery and even specialty missions such as reconnaissance for U.S. Customs and Immigration. Other users include the Royal Flying Doctors Service of Australia, the Red Cross and a number of Canadian commuter services.
Because the nine-seat corporate configuration is so comfortable, the PC-12’s size can be deceptive. In fact, the hard-working turboprop is 7 percent bigger than a King Air B200, with 330 cubic feet of pressurized cabin space, delivering comparable speed and other capabilities. Driven by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67B engine capable of 1,200 hp, the plane cruises at 310 miles per hour.
It has a maximum altitude of about 30,000 feet and a range of 2,400 nautical miles. It’s the top-selling turbine aircraft, outselling its closest competitors, the Caravan 208 and the King Air 200.
Each PC-12 costs approximately $3.3 million. The aircraft is an attractive option for business owners who want the range of a business aircraft without the costs of a jet.
“To get comparable room and speed, you can go to a King Air and have a second engine hanging out there, but that means much higher costs,” explained operator and pilot Dick Foreman, of Connecticut-based Richard A. Foreman Associates. “You can go marginally faster with a TBM 700, or still faster in a small jet, but you sacrifice a lot of space. You can look for an airplane that delivers as much for the investment as a PC-12, but you won’t find it. It’s not just flying. It’s flying first-class.”
While Pilatus hasn’t traditionally held the name recognition of Gulfstream or Cessna, the company is finding its quality is changing the minds of customers.
“I think perceptions are changing,” Aniello said. “This is a company that has traditionally been driven by military sales. It’s very different serving a government customer than a retail customer. In many ways, the expectations of the customer are higher and they’re certainly more immediate. There’s more focus on customer service and after sales support here than there is in the military mindset. We’re breaking boundaries with this organization.”
Pilatus customer support is rated extremely well by customers. Professional Pilot Magazine rated the local operation number one in product support for the past three years running.
The PC-12’s boom over the past two years has been a pleasant surprise for Pilatus Business Aircraft. In May 2003, only two PC-12s were leaving the factory per month, but the order situation changed abruptly soon after and production rose to two PC-12s per week.
In 2003, the PC-12 achieved a market share of 22 percent in its market segment, and with figures from the General Aviation Manufacturer’s Association due out by February, Pilatus anticipates an even larger return for 2004. Its current production schedule is sold out through the end of 2005 and sales are already pushing into 2006.
“September 11 changed a lot of things for a lot of manufacturers,” Aniello explained. “It almost had a reverse effect on our business. We were coming out strong by the end of 2002, and we ended up finding new markets. We’ve fared extremely well. As a company both here and in Switzerland, we’ve never suffered any layoffs. There seems to be a lot of future potential. I have no doubt that in less than 10 years we’ll be celebrating our 1,000th delivery.”
Scott and Carol Archer, who were present for the ceremony, purchased the 500th PC-12, with serial number 600. Scott Archer manages the Barclay Group, a full service commercial real estate company based in Scottsdale.
Also on hand to receive an award was Dave Domenico, president, Aviation Sales, Inc., based at Centennial Airport. The dealership is one of the most successful Pilatus dealers in the country. Domenico sold Archer’s plane and is responsible for sales in the southwestern United States.
Another guest joining the Pilatus staff was Ingnaz Gretener, who manages the general aviation arm of Pilatus’ Swiss headquarters. Also present were Phil Rosenbaum, president of the Pilatus Owners and Pilots Association, Debbie Woodward from the Jefferson County Economics Council, and Scott Prestidge, a field representative from Congressman Mark Udall’s office.
“We’re very proud,” Aniello said. “To be candid, the PC-12 program was never envisioned early on as being this big. Existing PC-12 owners are driving the increase in momentum and sales. They’re just so happy with their airplanes that they talk to their friends and everybody else about them. Word gets out.”
CEO Thomas Bosshard has been leading the company through much of its upturn since his appointment to head the U.S. operation in 2002. Previously with Shannon Aerospace in Ireland and Swiss Airlines in Zurich, he first joined Pilatus Aircraft in 1994.
“I remember when the whole program was started in the late 1980s and there was a lot of criticism around it,” Bosshard remembered. “Everybody asked why you would want to build this pressurized aircraft with only one engine. They said we would never sell more than 20 or 30. Now, 10 years later, with 500 aircraft in the air, it’s a much different story.”
For more information, visit [http://www.pilatus-aircraft.com/].