As airports become increasingly congested and security lines add precious hours to travel time, executives are turning to private jets for business travel. At the same time, governments around the globe are cutting defence costs by subcontracting flight training to aeronautical experts. These trends may not seem related but they are in the aviation world. Changing aeronautical needs are expanding opportunities for corporate growth, innovation and economic development.

Take Pilatus Aircraft, for example: flying above the Alps and Lake Lucerne, its business is soaring as its highly skilled workers design, engineer and build aircraft. Aircraft such as its PC-12, which is used by groups such as the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the Arctic, or its PC-9 and PC-7 Trainers, which are used for military training in 29 countries.

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Small firm, big fish

“Although Pilatus may at first appear to be a small, isolated, independent company hidden away in the mountains of central Switzerland, we have proven ourselves to be very much an international player in the world of aviation,” says John Senior, vice-president of research and development at Pilatus Aircraft. “We have sold more single-turboprop-engineered aircraft than anyone else in the world.”

Pilatus is the world’s leading manufacturer of single-engine turboprop aircraft and the only Swiss company to develop, produce and sell aircraft and training systems all over the world. “We are also licensed to maintain and perform upgrades on a variety of aircraft,” adds Mr Senior.

Established in 1939, Pilatus consists of three business units concentrating on government aviation with the military trainers, general aviation with its PC-12 aircraft, and maintenance with capability on products up to Falcon-size business jets built by other aerospace manufacturers. Its annual turnover exceeded SFr466m ($385.6m) in 2005.

“Development of our products is through our own investment,” says Mr Senior. “We receive no support from government or other means. We are totally responsible for our own failures and successes.”

The company employs nearly 1300 workers, of which more than 1000 are located in the village of Stans, near Lucerne. “We are the biggest employer in Canton Nidwalden,” says Mr Senior.

The company manufactures its wings and key components in Switzerland. It is particularly well-known for its simultaneous 5-axis machining of highly complex components, milling, sheet-metal-forming and composite manufacturing.

“Parts are transferred to OGMA in Portugal, where labour is cheaper and the rivetting is done,” Mr Senior explains. OGMA-Indústria Aeronáutica de Portugal is a Portuguese aviation firm that works on aircraft and aircraft component maintenance, repair and manufacturing.

Finishes to the fuselage are done in Stans. “Everything is completed here except the manufacturing of the engines, which come from Pratt and Whitney, and the avionics, which come from Honeywell,” says Mr Senior.

International reach

Although Pilatus is a major economic driver for Canton Nidwalden, its reach goes beyond that corner of the world. It owns four independent subsidiaries. Transairco in Geneva and Altenrhein Aviation at Airport St. Gallen-Altenrhein, near Lake Constance, operate as the company’s two biggest maintenance facilities. Pilatus Business Aircraft in Broomfield, Colorado, handles sales and support for the PC-12 into North America. And Pilatus Australia in Adelaide offers the same services as those in Colorado. Additional sales offices operate in England, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates.

Overall, one aircraft is shipped out every three days with 50%-64% going to the US, reports Mr Senior.