OPINION: Why Pilatus, Antonov gambles have different stakes

First flights appear to be like London buses: you wait ages for one and then two come along at once.

However, the aircraft – and the manufacturers behind them – that performed their recent maiden sorties could not be more different.

On the one hand there is Switzerland’s Pilatus, which, with its jet-powered PC-24, is breaking with a long history of turboprop-only development.

Meanwhile, some way further east is redoubtable Ukrainian airframer Antonov, which is pursuing the cargo market with its new An-178 freighter – a revamped version of the An-148 regional airliner.

These two new jets are both gambles for their companies, but for very different reasons.

For Pilatus, its first foray into the jet age is a risk, albeit one that appears – so far at least – to be paying off.

With three year’s-worth of production already sold out, the Stans-based firm has a period of grace in which to hone the PC-24.

While certification to its 2017 schedule is by no means guaranteed, the rapid pace of development since the programme was launched almost two years ago augurs well.

A successful conclusion to the project will not necessarily remove Pilatus’s tag as a niche player, however. After all, while billing the new model as a “super-versatile jet” will undoubtedly free it of some the runway constraints of its rivals, it may also limit its broader appeal.

Nonetheless, while Pilatus may not immediately trouble the established business jet manufacturers, it has at least now shoved its foot firmly in the door.

Over in Kiev, however, the future is harder to read. Antonov is a long-established name in aviation – a Hero of the Soviet Union, if you will – but a historic reputation means nothing without sales today.

The market for its An-148 and An-158 regional jets is not a great one, particularly with the collapse in relations with Russia, where secondary assembly lines for both types were located.

Antonov’s supply chain also stretched across the troubled Russian border, and the political ructions from Ukraine’s Maidan revolution continue to dog the airframer’s progress.

It is against that backdrop that the An-178 took to the appropriately overcast skies on 7 May.

Visitors to the Paris air show next month will be able to see the new freighter put through its paces in the flying display. But Antonov will be desperately hoping that translates into substantial orders.