ROME — Italian defense giant Leonardo is ready to take over the engine maintenance work carried out by crisis-hit Piaggio Aerospace, CEO Alessandro Profumo has said.

Italy-based Piaggio Aerospace was placed in receivership late last year by its then-owner Mubadala, an investment fund based in the United Arab Emirates. Mubadala also canceled a planned order of eight Piaggio P.1HH drones.

One reported reason for Mubadala’s decision was its impatience as Italy dragged its heels on promises to buy an enhanced version of the drone.

Leonardo was also working on the drone, and Profumo said the firm’s €120-130 million (U.S. $136-147 million) investment in the project had been lost.

As hundreds of staff at Piaggio’s Genoa facilities risk being sacked, Leonardo has been identified as a potential buyer of the firm. Profumo expressed interest, but not in the firm’s drone work — only the maintenance work it carries out on Italian Air Force MB-339 jet trainers.

“We have said we are available to get involved in the maintenance activity,” he said.

The trainers are to be phased out when Leonardo’s new M-345 jet trainer is delivered to the Air Force, but those MB-339 trainers are to still be used by Italy’s pilot training school in Puglia. Leonardo is closely involved in that school, which is increasingly drawing trainee pilots from other air forces.

“We see pilot training as a core business, and Piaggio undertakes maintenance of the MB-339 engines, which are still the basic aircraft for training, ahead of the introduction of the M345,” Profumo said. “We cannot risk the MB-339s being grounded.

“Training is becoming a fundamental pillar for us.”

As activity at the Puglia base booms, the Italian Air Force is expected to move its advanced M-346 trainers to a new home at Decimomannu Air base on the Italian island of Sardinia, thus doubling the training sites in Italy. The service will keep the MB-339s — and subsequently the new M-345s — in Puglia.

Leonardo lost a bid to sell the M-346 to the U.S. Air Force last year, but Profumo said new sales of the aircraft would be made by the end of the year.

Price was one reason the M-346 lost out to winners Boeing and Saab, which begs the question of why Leonardo was unprepared to lower its price to win such a large order.

“We understand Boeing is making a significant investment in the program,” Profumo said. “They have a scale that we don’t have.”

Another Leonardo platform is now close to market. The firm’s AW609 civil tilt rotor should secure certification by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration no later than the beginning of 2020, he said.

Development was held up by the crash of a test aircraft in 2015, with the loss of two pilots, which slowed certification by 18 months, he said.

"All issues have been resolved,” he added.

Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.

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