It is obvious even to the casual non aviation observer that the Piaggio P180 Avanti is an unusual aircraft. Its unique design is one of the reasons why it never garnered the commercial success that Piaggio hoped it would when it was launched back in 1986. Here we explore the reasons why this groundbreaking aircraft was a commercial failure.
There are several design features on the Piaggio Avanti that make it an extremely unusual aircraft. The main features are its pusher propellers, forewings and the wing spar behind the cabin. Having the wing spar behind the cabin allowed Piaggio to build a large unobstructed cabin. The pusher prop configuration results in a quiet cabin because the prop interaction with the fuselage (that creates vibration and noise) takes place behind the passenger cabin.
The Piaggio Avanti was billed as a turboprop with jet-like performance and indeed it was. It had the ability to fly at jet flight levels (up to 41,000 feet) and could cruise at 400 knots, similar performance to a Cessna Citation M2. The Avanti could do all of these things with the efficiency of a turboprop. In theory is was a winner. Quiet cabin, jet-like performance, above the weather capability, all while sipping fuel like an ordinary turboprop.
Interest in the Avanti was great in the beginning with one operator (Avantair) ordering over 50 aircraft and basing their entire business model around the aircraft. While Avantair was successful in its initial operations, problems developed when Piaggio was unable to keep up with the demand for replacement parts placed on them by Avantair.
On paper and in reality, the Avanti did everything it was advertised it would do, so why wasn't Piaggios order book full? The answer is very simple. It's an ugly aircraft. People buy aircraft that they find aesthetically appealing and most people did not like the odd appearance of the Avanti. This is the same problem Beechcraft experienced with their Starship aircraft. Aircraft enthusiasts (like me) love the Avanti and think its unique looks are its best attributes, but most aircraft owners are conventional and want to own a conventional looking aircraft. Acquisition price was also a factor, if the Avanti was priced significantly lower than a comparable sized jet, it would have sold extremely well. Unfortunately, the Avanti was priced at $7 million dollars, the same price you could buy a conventional mid-sized jet.
In the End
Eventually, the lack of parts problem caught up to Avantair. In the end, out of the 56 Avanti's in their fleet, only a handful were fully operational when they finally ceased operations. The demise of Avantair hurt Piaggio and the Avanti's reputation dooming the aircraft. Piaggio made several improvements to the aircraft over the years resulting in the Avanti II and the Avanti EVO. All of the performance improvements and tweaking didn't change the main problem with the Avanti, its looks.
Recognizing the fact that the Avanti was never going to be a Beechcraft King Air as far as sales were concerned, Piaggio sought to modify the aircraft into an autonomous drone for the military; this too failed. In 2018, Piaggio Aerospace went into receivership and the company has been for sale ever since.
As of December 2022, the worldwide Avanti fleet surpassed one million flight hours. A total of 246 aircraft were built, of which 213 are currently in service - 96 in the Americas, 18 in Asia-Pacific and four in Africa and the Middle East.