Swiss-based Pilatus says living the single life is just grand, and although it will admit that it is working on something new, it will not break the silence about the new addition to the family. However, it is happy to talk about the PC12 and the remaining thorn in its side: The European ban on single engine commercial IFR operations. Phil Nasskau speaks to Vice President, General Aviation, Ignatz Gretener
While Gretener admits that the company still has to come out of a very tough market, he says it is better than two years ago. However, he also says that the company has to make sure that potential customers that did not complete their orders on the PC12 during the downturn know that they could actually be more effective if they bought the aircraft.
He is bullish that the company’s aircraft is top notch. “I don’t want to be arrogant but we really don’t have a weakness. The Pilatus is a very strong product, which we’ve proved with more than 1,000 deliveries in a relatively short time,” he says.
He believes that the main strength is the aircraft’s versatility. “It can just do so many things; the competition cannot match it,” he explains. However, in Europe, Gretener believes the ban on single engine IFR operations is costing Pilatus at least 10 sales each year.
“We know there are customers that would operate this aircraft commercially. We have been in contact with a variety of operators, including MedEvac operators, but the fact is the EU still refuses to budge,” he says.
For Gretener, he says the situation is very political. “Outside of Europe every region allows single engine turboprops like Socata TBMs, Cessna Caravans or PC12s to work commercially. Accident rates and reports all prove that the aircraft is perfectly safe. It’s modern and built to very high standards; in fact it’s built to higher standards than many competitive planes that are certified to much lower standards. “The EU seems to have other priorities than allowing such safe airplanes to fly commercially,” he says.
That’s not to say that Gretener and the rest of the team at Pilatus aren’t trying to get this ban lifted. “We have been lobbying and writing letters. In fact, a few years ago at EBACE, we held a press conference that pretty much complained publicly that the EU is not moving forwards. The authorities have a certain process ongoing, however it is very slow.”
Perhaps the biggest frustration for Gretener is the list of happy commercial customers throughout the world. “We have so many international customers who successfully fly the PC12 in all kinds of commercial operations! The ban will be lifted but we just don’t know when,” he says.
“If you look at the facts, there’s just no reason why it shouldn’t happen. Everyone else in the world can do it, why won’t Europe make the decision. Personally I find it very difficult to understand why an old piston twin can fly over London [commercially] but a modern turboprop cannot,” he says.
Aside from the ongoing battle, he says the company is working as always to keep on improving.
“Business is better than perhaps during the crisis and we are seeing more movements, as well as more discussions with customers. I certainly wouldn’t say that we’re back in the very strong markets of three years ago, but we are seeing a clear improvement. Certainly, there is more interest, and we are seeing more sales than we saw two years ago,” explains Gretener.
And with 79 deliveries last year, Gretener reckons “we’ll have a decent year if it continues like this”, and that the capacity is scalable anywhere between 75 and 100 aircraft per year.
However he still sees the potential to increase the company’s market share “through hard work”. “We work through a very proven, and experienced, sales and support network with independent dealers all over the world. We are especially working hard to convey what makes the PC12 so special in anything from a flying doctor role to combined cargo to passenger transport to VIP flying,” he says.
For the PC12, North America still represents the biggest market, however Gretener says that in line with other manufacturers regions outside of the US are going from strength to strength. He points out South Africa as being perfect for the PC12 because of its ability to utilise bush flying and other unprepared strips. “Not to mention places like South America and Australia has always been a traditionally strong market for us,” he says.
Gretener says he believes that Pilatus’ philosophy of a strong dealer network and demonstrating the aircraft contribute to sales success. “We make sure to fly the aircraft to fly-ins so we can demonstrate it to potential customers, because in the end you have to fly people in the aircraft. If you can show a customer that by flying a PC12 it is the most efficient way to fly in GA, then he’s sure to buy it,” he says.
While all of Europe accounts for around 20-25% of total deliveries, Gretener is keen to point out that the Middle East holds potential, even though to date it has only delivered a small number of aircraft there. He says that this is because they are still trying to work on developing the region in line with its strategy. “When we develop a region, we find out who is the best potential local partner and then build up a business model with them where they invest their own money to build up a Pilatus centre for support and sales. Then, after about one to two years, there’s local expertise. Right now, we are in the process of finding that local partner,” he explains.
However ,even with the Middle East’s love of big cabin, long range and outright opulence, he still sees a good market for the PC12. “Firstly people might already have these large aircraft, but typically they can’t fly them themselves. The PC12, they can. Secondly, it really is a utilitarian workhorse. It can support an organisation by flying materials or flying people into working areas, or even MedEvac, in situations where it doesn’t make sense to fly a bigger aircraft.”
Naturally, Asia is on the horizon where Gretener says the PC12’s ruggedness as a real benefit. “We can see the aircraft flying from a regional airport into the smaller gravel or unprepared strips,” he says.
Gretener says that Pilatus’ support is second to none as all of its dealers have an obligation to build up their support organisation. He says: “They sell the aircraft to the customer and then take care of it for him. And this is done with local people and expertise; obviously our people help by overseeing somewhat and helping out with technical support and tooling.
“We strongly believe in the local aspect of sales and support, and we’ve been number one nine times in a row,” he explains. That is not to say that the company is resting on its laurels. Gretener says that there are always things that the company can do better. For example, he says, there is constant effort from everyone at Pilatus to improve, from bettering the people that work on the aircraft to periodic recurrent training.
He believes that Pilatus’ training philosophy goes hand-in-hand with its local dealer and support network. “We have a service centre manager who visits every service centre and then works on an individual action plan for each centre to help identify areas of improvement for each organisation. We have to make sure that each service centre meets our standards,” he adds.