“People sometimes ask me what the biggest perk of being president is. No. 1 is the plane. ”
Its futuristic lines seduce, its rate of climb and speed exhilarate and its operating economics spell savings. The Piaggio Avanti vastly outperforms all other turboprops and noses past some light jets. It’s a 400-knot rocket with a near stand-up cabin that has the cross section of a midsize jet. There’s comfortable seating for six passengers aft of the cockpit and the airplane has a seats-full range of 980 nautical miles. Fly with two fewer passengers and range increases to 1,300 nautical miles. Considering that the design of this twin-engine turboprop pusher is 30 years old, this is nothing short of amazing. The fact that barely 200 are flying after all these years is perplexing.
While now made in Italy, the Piaggio Avanti is very much a child of Wichita, Kan. A supplier built the first 12 fuselages there and a lot of the thinking that went into the Avanti, including the design of the wings, is distinctly American. An Ohio State aerodynamicist did it. The Avanti began as a collaboration between Piaggio and Gates Learjet in 1983. Look closely and you can see the Lear influence: the rake of the windshield, the fins below the tail section, the cramped cockpit, even the passenger cabin. It’s the handiwork of legendary Learjet interiors guru Benn Isaacman.
Financial problems forced Lear to exit the partnership in 1986, but the project continued. The aircraft received certification in 1990. Piaggio had no idea what it was getting into and by 1994 it was insolvent. The Di Mase and Ferrari families (yes, that Ferrari) moved in to pick up the parts and pieces and subsequently brought in two substantial partners with deep pockets: India’s Tata and Mubadala of Abu Dhabi. Now the company is so flush it is moving into a new factory and even developing a jet.
Avantair, the Florida-based fractional-ownership and jet-card company, operates 56 Avantis and Avanti IIs, the world’s largest fleet. (Avanti IIs were produced after 2005 and feature a more modern-looking interior, newer glass-panel avionics, tweaked engines and a maximum takeoff weight that is 500 pounds heavier.) Avantair customers love the airplane, said CEO Steve Santo. “With all the amenities that this aircraft offers, it provides unmatched value, cutting-edge design and safety, and a unique and unparalleled appearance; it truly stands in a class by itself.”
The Avanti is the sole survivor of a trio of fast pusher turboprops developed in response to the energy crisis of the 1970s. It was in some heady company: the Learfan and the Beechcraft Starship. All three aircraft were unconventional, but only the Avanti had the right mix of the new and traditional to make it into sustained production.
Start with the look. The Learjet DNA was infused into a design that is serious Buck Rogers. Given the lack of visible rivets, the aircraft’s slick skin appears to be composite; it’s actually aluminum that is attached to the Avanti’s structure from the inside out, making it smoother and more aerodynamic. This approach also prevents warping and the unsightly ripples often seen on most aluminum fuselages. The short forward anhedral wing attached to the nose works in concert with the very thin and relatively small main wing aft of the passenger cabin to cheat drag. The bottom of the fuselage actually performs as another lifting surface and contributes about 20 percent of the airplane’s lift.
The main wing is mounted halfway up the fuselage and its aft location places both the twin Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66 engines and the five-blade Hartzell propellers well behind the passengers. This keeps the cabin uncharacteristically quiet for a turboprop–on the inside. Cabin noise averages around 68 decibels at cruise power, depending on where you sit, or about the same as on the inside of a luxury sedan.
Exterior noise is another matter. While the Avanti is about as noisy as a B200 King Air, as measured in decibels, the rear-facing propellers produce a pitch that some find incredibly irritating. The anti-noise brigade at the Naples, Fla. airport has made the Avanti a pet project. At the airport in Santa Monica, Calif., a city notorious for its hostility to business aviation, it’s banned altogether. Historically, Piaggio has been slow when it comes to product improvement, a legacy left over from its troubled financial past, but the company is testing propellers that should cut noise by an estimated five to eight decibels and mitigate the issue.
Last year, Piaggio Aero general manager Eligio Trombetta announced that the company was working on the propellers and a variety of other improvements for the aircraft, including anti-skid brakes, a better environmental control system and a digital cabin-management system. He said these features would be available for existing aircraft as retrofits. A more durable tire design may also be in the works. As of this writing, Piaggio hasn’t revealed a timetable or prices for these improvements, and they need to be considered carefully in the context of aircraft present value: a used 2002 Avanti fetches about $2.15 million, according to pricing service Vref.
At that value, certain updating, including refreshing the avionics, doesn’t make sense in Santo’s opinion and the market seems to bear him out. Jet Works Air Center in Denton, Texas, an authorized Avanti service center, developed a retrofit package to install Collins Pro Line 21 avionics, the same that fly on the newer Avanti II, in Avantis. So far, just one taker.
Jet Works also installs the interiors on new Avantis after they come over from Italy.
While you could install the more modern-looking Avanti II interior in an Avanti, Jet Works president Trey Bryson said the estimated cost of doing so is $300,000 to $600,000. However, you can refresh the Avanti’s interior with new fabrics and leathers for around $80,000 to $100,000 and install the AirCell ATG 5000 Wi-Fi system for approximately another $200,000. New paint runs about $60,000. The leading edges of the Avanti’s wings are painted and that is the area that traditionally wears first. Avantair and some other operators have addressed this problem by using clear aerodynamic tape on the leading edges to protect the paint. The tape must be periodically replaced and knocks off three to four knots of speed.
However, the Avanti’s best feature, its cabin size, needs no updating. There’s room to stretch out in the 73-inch-wide cabin and, at 69 inches tall, it is much easier to walk through than a King Air.
The lav has a sink and a privacy door. There’s not much in the way of a galley–just beverage and snack storage drawers. The pressurization system maintains a sea-level cabin through 24,000 feet.
The airplane can operate in and out of 3,500-foot runways but, to take some stress off the brakes and tires, I would opt for at least 4,000 feet. The Avanti can be flown single-pilot, but the aircraft’s jet-like performance demands the attention of a two-pilot crew. Avantair flies its aircraft this way and so should you.
Almost 25 years after its introduction, nothing on the market matches the Avanti’s unique combination of performance and panache. It’s comfortable, sleek and powerful. Piaggio Aero has increased its network of authorized service centers and is working on product improvements that will keep the airplane functionally relevant. The styling is timeless.
|–||Height: 5.8 ft|
|–||Width: 6.1 ft|
|–||Length: 14.9 ft|
|–||Volume: 375 cu ft|
|–||Door height: 4.4 ft|
|–||Door width: 2.0 ft|
|–||Internal: 16 cu ft|
|–||External: 44 cu ft|
|Typical seats crew/passengers: 2/6|
|–||Takeoff: 11,550 lb|
|–||Basic operating: 8,000 lb|
|–||Usable fuel: 2,802 lb|
|–||Maximum payload: 1,800 lb|
|Range (IFR NBAA 200nm reserve)|
|–||Seats full: 980 nm|
|–||Ferry range: 1,440 nm|
|Rate of climb|
|–||One engine not operating: 756 fpm|
|–||Max: 390 kt|
|–||Long range: 310 kt|
|–||Both engines: 41,000 ft|
|–||One engine: 24,900 ft|
|Hourly direct operating costs|
|–||Fuel ($6.86 per gal): $932.96|
|–||Maintenance labor (at $90 per flight hour): $141.70|
|–||Parts, airframe, engine, avionics: $126.63|
|–||Inspections, component overhauls, life limited parts: $190.60|
|–||Engine restoration: $292.02|
|Landing and parking fees: $12.33|
|Crew expenses: $67.54|
|Supplies & catering: $49.08|
|Total variable flight costs per hour: $1,812.86|
|Average speed: 342 knots|
|–||Cost per nautical mile: $5.30|
|Annual fixed operating costs|
|–||Crew salaries (estimates)|
|–||Hangar rental (typical): $25,600|
|–||Insurance (insured hull value = $2.7 million)|
|Hull (0.24% of value): $6,480|
|Single limit liability: $7,500|
|–||Recurrent crew training: $29,800|
|–||Aircraft modernization (avg per year): $30,000|
|–||Navigational chart service: $2,246|
|–||Computer maintenance program: $5,950|
|–||Aviation weather service (typical): $700|
|Total fixed cost per year: $302,376|
|Annual budget–based on 115,000 nm|
|(Utilization: 336 hours)|
|–||Variable cost: $609,121|
|–||Fixed cost: $302,376|
|Total fixed cost (without depreciation): $911,497|
|– Per hour: $2,713|
|– Per nautical mile: $7.93|
|– Per seat nautical mile: $1.32|
|Total cost (without depreciation): $911,497|
|– Book depreciation (10% per year): $270,000|
|Total cost (with book depreciation): $1,181,497|
|– Per hour: $3,516|
|– Per nautical mile: $10.27|
|– Per seat nautical mile: $1.71|
|Total cost (without depreciation): $911,497|
|–||Market depreciation: $162,000|
|Total cost (with market depreciation): $1,073,497|
|–||Per hour: $3,195|
|–||Per nautical mile: $9.33|
|–||Per nautical seat mile: $1.56|
|Source: Conklin & de Decker, Orleans, Mass.|
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