ROME — Italy announced it will purchase six new Piaggio Aerospace aircraft to help relaunch the Italian firm, and indicated the government is dropping long-held plans to buy drones from the company, ending the ill-fated story of the Hammerhead UAV.
The Italian Defence Ministry said it would spend €171 million (U.S. $198 million) to buy six P.180 Avanti Evo turboprop plane as well as a flight simulator and engine maintenance work.
The aircraft, which add to the ministry’s existing fleet of P.180s, will likely be used for transport, reconnaissance and special missions.
The purchase comes at a useful time for the firm, putting it on a sounder financial footing as it comes up for sale following a three-year spell in receivership.
“Fulfilling the Government’s commitment to supporting Piaggio Aerospace’s turnaround, this remarkable order further enhances the value of the Company, which is now close to finding a new owner,” said Piaggio Aerospace’s extraordinary commissioner, Vincenzo Nicastro.
The contract means Rome has made good on its commitment to hand over about €700 million in deals to get the firm back on its feet. A previous work order was worth €540 million.
Previous contracts included engine maintenance work on the Army’s CH-47 and A129 Mangusta helicopters as well as upgrades to operational P.180 aircraft.
However, a contract is missing — one the government said in 2019 it would award to Piaggio Aerospace.
At the time, Italy promised to purchase four of the firm’s P1.HH drones — the unmanned version of the P.180 planned by Piaggio and nicknamed the Hammerhead. The drone was originally on the United Arab Emirates’ shopping list after Piaggio was taken over in 2014 by Mubadala Development Company, an Abu Dhabi-based strategic investment firm.
The UAE wanted to buy the Hammerhead, and wanted Italy to buy a version. But when Italy dragged its heels on the purchase, the UAE walked away, canceling its orders and placing the firm in receivership in 2018, putting hundreds of jobs at Piaggio in jeopardy and leaving the firm with nearly completed P1.HH drones on its hands.
Hence, the decision by Italy to buy the drones in 2019, despite the Italian Air Force chief telling parliament he did not want them.
But three years on, it appears the government has decided it can avoid buying the drones ― effectively letting the program die ― if it simply switches to buying manned aircraft from the firm to make up its spending promise.
“The decision on drones will now be left to future investors,” an industry source told Defense News.
With an Italian-Swedish group of investors reportedly close to buying the firm with a view to building electric propulsion aircraft, military drones may not be high on the agenda, and the fate of Hammerhead may be sealed.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.