From the Top: Renato Vaghi, Piaggio Aerospace

In the latest instalment of FINN’s From The Top programme, we talk to Renato Vaghi, CEO of Piaggio Aerospace (Piaggio), about the company’s transformation over recent years, the new Hammerhead product, the future of the P180 and more.

On transformation…

Vaghi: “The company has gone through a whole transformation over the past ten years, and in particular the past four/five years. We've changed our production sites, we closed down two old plants that we had in Genoa and in Finale Ligure, and we opened up a brand new plant which is state of the art in a beautiful region. [It’s over] 150,000 square meters, 50,000 of which are covered, and that's where we've concentrated all of our production. 

“The most important transformation the company has gone through, other than the logistics of moving to a brand new plant which enables very significant growth, is the fact that we have changed our leadership completely  we've changed the management team, changed our processes. And we have developed a very significant product which is rooted in our tradition it's based on our commercial product, the P180 – and it's the P.1HH Hammerhead, which we will bring to the market this year.”

On the P.1HH Hammerhead…

Vaghi: “Normally, a UAV defence product is purely designed based on the operational need. In the case of the Hammerhead, it comes from the P180 so it retains some of the design that makes the P180 so beautiful and distinctive.

“Other than that, I believe that the Hammerhead will be distinctive not only for its design but because it's rooted in a product that is certified for commercial use, so it's inherently safe and it lends itself not only to be certified as a military product, which will be a first for a Male (medium-altitude long-endurance) UAV in the market and this is going to be the first MALE UAV to get to the market for a European firm. It will also show distinctive features in terms of mission effectiveness and low attrition rate that I think will distinguish the Hammerhead from its competitors."

On regional markets… 

Vaghi: “The first few samples of the Hammerheads are going to be delivered to the UAE Air Force, so that is a testimony to the ties between the UAE and Italy. The Italian Air Force has been an incredible partner in the development of this platform… and we've [gained] a lot of interest from countries that Italy and the UAE are allied to. I think the potential in the market is pretty significant.”

On defence… 

Vaghi: “The Hammerhead was, if you will, our first step in the defence market. It was the first step in the world of UAVs. I think we put a lot of Italian ingenuity to work to generate the product with, I would say, a reasonably limited budget considering what competitors spend in developing these platforms.

“But again, I think that the idea itself of taking a commercial product and turning it into a UAV has some inherent advantages, and we want to build on that [by] going through another technological step with the successor of the Hammerhead. Basically what we're looking at is a platform that is more capable, with a higher endurance, but mostly with a higher growth potential than the P.1HH Hammerhead, with an airframe that is maybe more optimised than this one and, ultimately, a system that can perform with the best of the best in the MALE market.”

On future focus… 

Vaghi: “Certainly where having one investor helps is defining the strategy in where you want to go. With three investors, the chances are that there may be a misalignment between one and the other which is harmful to the company because eventually you may end up in a situation where you really don't know where you're going because they have different interests.

“Now with Mubadala as the one investor in the company, that's absolutely straight forward. You know exactly where our future focus is going to be.”

On business aviation…

Vaghi: “We want to give a future to the P180 that is for sure, and to give a future to the product means that we may forge alliances with third-party investors and that is certainly the direction that we're looking at. 

“We have an emerging market in this [area of] aviation. This [area of] aviation will be changing massively over the next ten years worldwide. It will have a much wider mass of users. Efficiency and direct operating costs will be so much more important than today. Again, there are emerging markets like China and the Far Eastern market so we want to take advantage of that opportunity and we want to be there.”

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