Founded in 1939, Pilatus Aircraft Ltd is the only Swiss company to develop, manufacture and sell aircraft to customers around the world – from the legendary Pilatus Porter PC-6 to the best-selling single-engine turboprop in its class, the PC-12 and the PC-21, the training system of the future. The latest aircraft is the PC-24, the world’s first business jet to be used on short, unprepared runways. Let’s hear what they have to tell us, so we have interviewed Mr. Jörg Ruckstuhl, Pilatus General Aviation Sales Manager for Italy.
Aviation Report / Emanuele Ferretti: Mr. Jörg Ruckstuhl, first of all thank you for this interview. Tell us about your company.
Pilatus / Jörg Ruckstuhl: Pilatus is proud to have a long history, which started on in 1939. We started out as a small maintenance outfit that was set up to work for the Swiss Air Force. Over more than 80 years, the company constantly grew and developed and produced many iconic aircraft such as the Pilatus Porter PC-6, the glider B4, PC-7 or obviously our current products the PC-12 NGX, PC-24, the PC-21 or the PC-7 MKX. During all these years, the name Pilatus has always stood for Swiss quality and innovation. Today we employ more than 2’000 employees in the heart of Switzerland and manufacture more than 140 planes per year.
Switzerland is not renowned for its aeronautical tradition, yet your company has been able to offer products that have met with great worldwide success: what is the key to your success?
There are several elements to our international success, such as e.g. constantly innovating our products or our skilled and committed workforce. However, I believe that the key factor is our focus on our customers. They are on top of our company vision and we strive daily to know and understand them, completely independent whether it is a European Air Force purchasing a fleet of PC-24 or an US business man purchasing one PC-12.
We come to business jets: what exactly are they and how do they differ from other airplanes?
Business Aviation aircraft are designed for transporting small groups of people in a fast and flexible manner and therefore allow companies to conduct business in a fast and efficient way. Especially, during the last two years of the Covid pandemic many businesses realized the value of business aviation, allowing them to fly their management safely and with a flexible schedule.
What are the peculiarities of your aircraft and how do they differ from those of your competitors?
Both general aviation planes manufactured by Pilatus, the turboprop PC-12 and the jet PC-24, offer unique selling points: first their outstanding short-field performance – even on unpaved runways – opens up an incredible level of mobility; second generously sized cabins with a continuous flat floor; third modern, very intuitive and user-friendly cockpit concepts; fourth huge cargo doors that allows to load bulky objects or a lot of luggage; fifth a true versatility, the aircraft can and are being used in different roles (executive passenger transport, air ambulance, cargo).
What features should a business jet have?
It should be comfortable, safe and bring the passengers as close to your final destination as possible. If, in addition, the aircraft looks great, as the PC-24 and PC-12 do, the better!
Who is the typical customer of a business jet?
Typically, managers of successful companies or wealthy individuals. However, due to the versatility of the PC-24 and the PC-12, the Pilatus customers are very diverse. We have organizations such as the Australian Royal Flying Doctor Services that use both, the PC-24 and the PC-12, as air ambulances. Also the Swedish “Kommunalförbundet Svenskt Ambulansflyg” (KSA) has opted for six Pilatus PC-24 in a fully equipped air ambulance configuration. Or there are customers that use their PC-12 to provide round-the-clock cargo flights for global logistics companies and freight forwarders.
On social media you can see photos of business jets with luxurious interiors: how do you turn the best aero into a concentrate of comfort and luxury?
Pilatus uses only the finest-quality materials to create an interior that fits in perfectly with the latest standards of comfort and functionality. Every component is chosen to enhance the passenger experience: soft leathers and rare hardwood cabinetry full of exquisite details create a bespoke interior that reflects the meticulous purpose of the aircraft. In addition, each interior can be individually tailored to the customer’s wishes in order to make sure that passengers of a PC-24 or PC-12 will always be on cloud nine!
What are the strangest inquiries you have received from your customers?
Pilatus has a long-standing ambition to bring more colour to the skies. Other aircraft manufacturers tend to offer paint schemes in a very limited choice of designs and colours. From the early days of the PC-12, Pilatus has always encouraged customers to try out more unconventional schemes while building up the necessary in-house expertise at the same time. So there are many very original paint schemes to be found on PC-12 and also PC-24: zebras, little birds and a flowers power plane, to name just a few…
Satisfying the wishes of a customer is important but ensuring the safety of the occupants is equally important: how difficult is it to reconcile the requests of a customer with the strict safety regulations?
It is not difficult to reconcile, safety is always first and there is no compromise in that respect. Customers also fully understand this.
There is a lot of talk about reducing fuel consumption, low noise impact and biofuel: how are you working to make your aircraft more sustainable?
The PC-24 and the PC-12 are certified to use sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). In addition, the best way to reduce carbon emissions is to use less fuel, a driver in the PC-12’s design. By way of illustration, the PC-12 burns 75 percent less fuel on most business trips compared with a large-cabin business jet. In addition, Pilatus invests at our facilities in central Switzerland toward climate-neutral aircraft production. Example given, the latest Pilatus solar plant was connected to the power grid in January 2022: occupying an area of 190 by 70 metres and equipped with almost 5,000 solar modules, the maximum power output of the new Pilatus photovoltaic plant is sufficient to meet the energy requirements of over 300 single-family homes.
Mr. Ruckstuhl do you think the Covid19 pandemic has led to an increase in the demand for business jets?
Yes, it has. The demand was already strong before as we have a very modern jet and with the NGX, the latest PC-12 generation was introduced in 2020. However, with the pandemic the demand has become even stronger.
The PC-24 is the first business jet in the world to be used on short and unprepared runways, what advantages does this particular feature offer?
It simply means that you can fly closer to your final destination than with any other business jet. You will be able to use smaller airports and avoid massive administrative procedures, and reduce ground transfer time to an absolute minimum. In Italy, for example, the PC-24 has landed in the Aeroporto Giovanni Nicelli Lido di Venezia and Asiago, Italy’s highest airport.
Business jets are also often used as military platforms. How is Pilatus positioned in this sector and with which aircraft?
The PC-24 is currently used as VIP aircraft for several air force customers. The Pilatus PC-12 fleet has proven itself in in a wide variety of Special Mission roles including surveillance, mreconnaissance, border patrol, command and control, law enforcement, disaster response, cargo, and VIP military personnel transport.
In conclusion, what is the future of business jets for Pilatus Aircraft?
We have been looking into the future for over 80 years and are very motivated to continue to do so by continuously improving our aircraft and developing new ones for our customers.
Aviation Report and the author would like to thank Pilatus and Jörg Ruckstuhl for their willingness to grant us this interview.
Interview by: Emanuele “Mané” Ferretti
Images: Pilatus Aircraft Ltd