Textron switches on electric plans with Pipistrel acquisition

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No one climbs into the snug cockpit of a Pipistrel Velis Electro two-seat training aircraft. They put it on.

But the small aircraft is inspiring generations of new (and not so new) pilots to learn to fly powered, not by fossil fuel, but electricity. The pioneering achievements of its maker – Pipistrel – have also inspired Textron to invest $242m for an initial 90% stake in the Slovenian company.

Rob Scholl, senior vice-president, Textron eAviation, believes the aviation industry has reached an inflection point. “The new technology emerging is extremely exciting and at Textron, we’re committed to taking key steps to support our commitment to sustainable aircraft,” Scholl tells Corporate Jet Investor. “Pipistrel has demonstrated clear capabilities as a leader in this space, and with the added strength of Textron, we truly have the chance to unlock the future of sustainable aviation and make it a reality.”

Pipistrel is set to join the other pioneering names in the Textron Aviation portfolio – Cessna, Beechcraft, and Bell. One comparable deal is Rolls-Royce’s acquisition of Siemen’s eAircraft business in 2019.

It’s not difficult to understand the appeal of Pipistrel for the OEM. “What is unique about this deal is it’s the first time a company like Textron with its capabilities has combined its expertise with such an innovative leader in sustainable aviation,” says Scholl. “Pipistrel is the first and only company to have produced an EASA-certified [European Union Aviation Safety Agency] fully-electric aircraft.”

Not only has the Slovenian manufacture pioneered electrical propulsion, it has also pushed back the frontiers of lightweight design, and composite airframe manufacturing.

Pipistrel founder and CEO Ivo Boscarol will remain a minority shareholder as well as chairman emeritus, consulting on future product plans and strategies for two years. After that, the remaining equity share will revert to Textron. The prospective owner is planning to boost Pipistrel’s two-seat electric trainer customer base.

Pipistrel’s portfolio is not confirmed to two-seat trainers. It is also has plans for a 20-seat electric regional aircraft called the Miniliner. This zero-emission aircraft, will be capable of operating quietly from runways shorter than about half a mile, including grass airstrips at small aerodromes. The company believes this delivers a decisive advantage. “These aeroplanes have the potential to disrupt aerial mobility, connecting currently unserved populations at 200 to 1,000km [124 to 621m] range, but also catering for microfeeder services from small airports to large hubs,” claims the electric OEM. Textron chairman and CEO Scott Donnelly has already pledged to make additional investments to help Pipistrel develop and produce new products.

Significant progress is also needed on winning regulatory approvals and building sufficient infrastructure to service electric aircraft. At some smaller airfields you can be hard-pressed to find an electric socket to make a cup of tea.

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