ROME — Two weeks after its Gulf owners placed it into receivership, Piaggio Aerospace has a new manager appointed by the Italian government who is seeking a buyer for the historic Italy-based firm.
The company’s prospects are however gloomy after its former owner Mubadala, the UAE investment fund, cancelled its planned order for eight Piaggio Aero P1.HH drones, just as Italy is dragging its heels over its own order of drones from the company.
On Tuesday, the Italian government appointed a lawyer, Vincenzo Nicastro, as administrator of the firm, whose first first task was to pay November’s wages to staff.
An Italian industry source said he would then be responsible for devising a plan to relaunch the firm, before seeking a new buyer, with Italy’s Leonardo being touted in Italy as a candidate.
Leonardo CEO Alessandro Profumo has not ruled out taking a stake in the firm.
“We need to understand how the situation evolves and then we will evaluate the case,” he said last week.
Profumo noted that Piaggio Aerospace handles maintenance for the MB-339 training aircraft supplied by the firm to the Italian Air Force, adding the work was “very important to our customer and to us.”
A spokesman for Piaggio Aerospace declined to comment.
Piaggio Aerospace’s request to the Italian government to be put into receivership due to “the state of insolvency of the company,” was the latest chapter in the firm’s rocky recent history.
Taken over by Mubadala Development Company in 2014, the firm signed to sell the UAE in 2016 eight of its P.1HH aircraft, dubbed the Hammerhead, an unmanned variant of its P180 business aircraft, which flies with two pusher propellers.
After delays in developments, six were almost ready for delivery. But Mubadala has not only put the firm into receivership, it has also cancelled the order, the source said.
After initially agreeing to also buy the P.1HH, the Italian Air Force opted for a longer endurance version, the P.2HH, and earlier this year Italy’s ministry of defense sent an acquisition request to the Italian parliament’s defense commission for 20 aircraft at a cost of €766 million (U.S. $874 million) .
But parliament has not yet voted on the program as Italy’s new government seeks cuts in defense spending.
Decision makers in Italy are meanwhile concerned that the P2.HH will overlap with the Euromale drone that European partners, including Italy, are now developing.
In Italy, the UAE’s decision to pull out of the firm and cancel the P.1HH has been attributed both to the delay in the program and Italy’s sluggishness in committing to the P.2HH.
Now, the future of the P.2HH is even more in doubt, said Michele Nones, head of the security and defense department at the Istituto Affari Internazionali, a Rome think tank. “The termination of the P.1HH leaves the future production of the P.2HH highly unlikely,” he said. “It’s time to market was also problematic given the investment already being made by Italy in the Euromale,” he added.
A second analyst, who declined to be named, said Leonardo’s share price would take a hit if it was asked by the Italian government to buy Piaggio Aerospace. “What the firm could do is buy its aircraft maintenance activity and hire the staff who have worked on the UAV program,” he said.
Leonardo has its own UAV expertise thanks to management of programs like the Falco, and announced this week that the European Union’s Frontex border control agency was to use the extended range Falco EVO for monitoring flights in the Mediterranean.
The UAV will fly with Leonardo’s Gabbiano TS Ultra Light radar, an electro-optical sensor and a beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) satellite data-link system.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.