Swiss business aircraft takes off in the US
The PC-12 business planes made by Swiss aircraft manufacturer Pilatus are selling like "hot cakes", according to staff at the company headquarters in Stans.
Figures for the PC-12 reached new heights in 2005, with 63 of 80 sales being made through the company's United States subsidiary in Colorado.
"I think the plane's popularity is down to its economics and versatility," Fred Muggli, head of marketing for Pilatus, told swissinfo.
"The acquisition cost and direct operating cost is outstanding."
Indeed when swissinfo recently flew, or rather was flown, in a PC-12 around the rugged scenery in central Switzerland – including Mount Pilatus – the plane was impressive.
Requiring only a 700-metre take-off to clear a 150m obstacle, the PC-12 has been snapped up for SFr3.5 million ($2.9 million) by customers ranging from flying doctors in Australia to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, although the majority of planes are privately owned.
It is currently the best-selling business aircraft of its kind on the market and the 500th PC-12 was delivered at the start of the 2005 financial year. The plane is single engine and is turbine powered.
Not having much direct competition helps of course.
"For the PC-12 there is really only one rival: the King Air," Oscar Schwenk, president of Pilatus, told swissinfo. The King Air is a twin-engine turbine-powered aircraft.
The flight is quiet and, until we hit some turbulence, smooth.
The PC-12 has two seats in the cockpit, six behind, a lavatory, a maximum range of more than 4,000 kilometres and a maximum cruise speed of 270 knots (500km/h).
However, despite assurances from our pilot that the PC-12 is a dream to fly and unquestionably safe, relying on one propeller could be a psychological issue for some people.
"There was certainly some resistance to the concept at the beginning," admitted Muggli. "Many people believed such a big aeroplane with one engine would never sell the way it is."
He explained that the company convinced people otherwise by, among other strategies, participating in all the major air shows – "if you sit in the plane, you don't need much convincing".
Pilatus has certainly come a long way since 1939, when it was formed in Stans, the capital of canton Nidwalden, to service the Swiss Air Force.
The company still has its headquarters in Stans and has four independent subsidiaries in Altenrhein and Geneva (Switzerland), Broomfield, Colorado (US) and Adelaide (Australia).
The majority of stock is held by a group of Swiss investors.
The PC-12 makes up almost 70 per cent of Pilatus's sales, compared with 13 per cent for training aircraft.
"We are in an extremely lucky position," Muggli said. "We're really selling the PC-12 like hot cakes right now – we could have more planes, but it's not our plan to increase production in the near future."
On Thursday Pilatus received some good news, when the Swiss government authorised the purchase of six PC-21 training planes for the Swiss Air Force.
Schwenk admits that "exceedingly slow" political decision-making processes is one of many factors, including a weak dollar and political instability – Schwenk says the September 11 attacks "hit Pilatus very hard" – that are outside the company's control.
But he says they pose no risk to the company's future.
"We are a sustainable company; we think long term," Schwenk said, predicting that in ten years China could be a strong general aviation market – "but the infrastructure is not there yet".
He also believed the US would continue to be the strongest market for the PC-12 programme for the next five years.
Schwenk added that the Swiss army contract was very important as a sign that the PC-21 is a good product. "The Swiss Air Force has a very high reputation among national air forces."
swissinfo, Thomas Stephens in Stans
Pilatus is the world leader in the manufacture of single-engine turboprop aircraft and the only Swiss company to develop, produce and sell aircraft and training systems all over the world.
The company launched the development of a completely new training system, the PC-21, in 1999.
The Pilatus PC-6, PC-7 and PC-9 models are in service in numerous countries' armies.
The company, based in Stans in canton Nidwalden, employs around 1,100 workers in Switzerland.
Pilatus figures 2005 (2004):
Total sales – SFr466 million (SFr464 million)
Aircraft sold – 89 (83)
Ebit – SFr34 million (SFr7 million)
Investments in R&D – SFr17 million (SFr42 million)
Employees – 1,330 (1,284)
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