ROME — The Italian government said it will purchase the troubled P.1HH drone from Italy-based Piaggio Aerospace as it seeks to keep the firm afloat, despite an apparent lack of interest in the platform from the Italian Air Force.
The Ministry of Economic Development announced April 24 the acquisition of four drones, which are unmanned variants of the firm’s P180 business aircraft.
Confirming the purchase, the Defence Ministry said the purchase would serve the “operational needs” of the Italian armed forces and protect the “strategic value” of the company, while strengthening Italy’s credentials as a partner in the pan-European EuroMALE drone program.
The Ministry of Economic Development added that future purchases would follow, with an industrial source telling Defense News another four drones would be bought.
Piaggio Aerospace was placed in receivership late last year by then-owner Mubadala, an investment fund based in the United Arab Emirates, which also canceled its 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, preferred by the Italian Air Force and known at the P.2HH.
As Italy’s parliamentary defense commission dragged its heels on approving the P.2HH order last year, Mubadala pulled the plug on the firm, even as work on its order of P.1HH drones was nearing completion.
The decision put hundreds of jobs at Piaggio in jeopardy and left the firm with incomplete P.1HH drones.
In March, Italian Air Force chief Gen. Alberto Rosso told Italy’s parliament he was not interested in buying them, adding to speculation the drone program was dead.
But he appears to be have been overruled, as Italy’s government seeks to save jobs at the company.
The industrial source said the four drones set to be purchased by Italy for the Air Force, plus the further four to be bought in the future, would be those originally destined for the UAE.
One drone that had already been delivered to the UAE could now be returned for delivery to the Italian Air Force.
The source said €70 million (U.S. $78 million) will be spent by the Italian Defence Ministry to achieve flight certification for the drones, which is expected to take between 12 and 18 months. Maintenance work and construction of the P180 will also now continue.
The deal will allow a revived Piaggio to avoid layoffs and to find an “industrial partner,” the Ministry of Economic Development said.
That could be Italy’s Leonardo, although CEO Alessandro Profumo this month told Defense News he was only interested in Piaggio’s engine maintenance activity.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.