With the successful certification of the Pilatus PC-24 Super Versatile Jet by the US FAA and Europe’s EASA, GA Buyer Europe (GAB) gained an exclusive interview with Pilatus Aircraft’s Vice President PC-24, André Zimmermann.
Pilatus' New Jet - The PC-24
As a clean-sheet design this was Pilatus’ first jet product, and impressively the Swiss OEM enjoyed a smooth development and certification process.
The PC-24 offers an extremely spacious cabin that can be adapted for any requirements that a potential client may have. It also offers a number of other unique features, as our discussion with Mr. Zimmermann reveals…
GAB: PC-24 development and certification was a complex project with a tight schedule. For a company that hasn’t produced a jet before, on-time certification was an even more impressive accomplishment.
How far did Pilatus’ knowledge of PC-12 manufacture go towards achieving this, and how much did Pilatus need to adapt and grow to meet the unique challenges of jet development?
Zimmermann: The PC-24 was a clean-sheet design, but its DNA comes from the PC-12. Pilatus aircraft are known for their versatility through features like short- and rough-field capability, the spacious pressurized cabin, the large cargo door, the large CG-range for flexible loading, etc. This is our specialty, and with the PC-24 we took this to a new level.
The Williams FJ-44-4A turbofan engines were already available when we selected them, and we worked closely with Williams to integrate them into the airplane. The higher speed of the PC-24 did take us into the transonic regime, but through wind-tunnel testing we were able to optimize our design early in the process.
The biggest step was certifying to the Commuter Category of CS-23, but through an open dialog with EASA and the FAA we understood what they were looking for and were able to show compliance to the requirements to their satisfaction.
The product of all of this is the PC-24 Super Versatile Jet, which is now certified and rapidly approaching entry into service
GAB: From the outside, the whole process looked faultless. Tell us about some of the greater challenges Pilatus came up against, and how these were overcome along the road to FAA and EASA certification…
Zimmermann: When challenges arose during the development program, our culture at Pilatus is for these issues to be internally communicated so that they can be resolved in a timely manner. (Every development faces challenges, but it is important how you confront them.)
This way we were able to stay on course and achieve certification in the timeframe that we planned.
GAB: We’ve seen that the PC-24 offers a higher maximum speed than initially projected (440kts vs 425kts). What are the other areas the jet actually exceeds its originally-projected performance?
Zimmermann: We are very pleased with the performance of the PC-24. Not only is the maximum speed 15kts higher than projected, but the range with four passengers increased from 1,950nm to 2,035nm. Our rate of climb is also higher than projected, so the PC-24 can climb straight from sea level to 45,000ft in about 24 minutes 4 seconds, much less than the original projection.
On top of this, the landing distance decreased 170ft down to 2,355ft. This is a testament to the innovative wing design with the large double slotted flaps and spoiler arrangement. All-in-all, these improvements make the PC-24 Super Versatile Jet an even better value proposition for our customers.
GAB: Pilatus currently has eight PC-24s on the assembly line in Stans, with 23 deliveries to customer around the world planned throughout 2018. How does Pilatus expect production to ramp up over the coming years? What is the maximum production capacity for PC-24 manufacture?
Zimmermann: The 84 PC-24s that we have sold will take us to about mid-2020 to deliver. After that the production rate will depend on the market demand.
GAB: US-based PlaneSense is the highly publicized first customer, and will receive several PC-24s for its fractional ownership program.
What other types of customer/mission-profile will the PC-24 be flying for? How will other customers awaiting delivery of their new jets be using the PC-24? Is the picture likely to be as diverse as it is for PC-12 owners?
Zimmermann: The PC-24 is known as the Super Versatile Jet exactly for that reason. PlaneSense in the US and JetFly in Europe are both Fractional Ownership programs that currently utilize PC-12s and will now expand their operations with the PC-24.
Additional customers are charter operators that will add the PC-24 to their fleet. The Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia has purchased the PC-24 with a fully outfitted medevac interior, to complement the PC-12’s they already operate in this role. U-Haul and other companies will be using the PC-24 as a corporate airplane that carries both people and equipment. And then we have numerous owner/operators.
As you can see, it is a very diverse customer base. Just like the PC-12, we have designed it to be a workhorse, and customers will continue to challenge us with how they make use of their aircraft.