If you’re tempted to skim over the news that Textron Inc. and not Textron Aviation has purchased Slovenian aircraft maker Pipistrel, stop it right now. It is the biggest industry news story to come out in many years.
Just for the lay of the land, Textron Inc., which is a highly diversified $10 jillion company, owns Textron Aviation. Under the Textron Aviation umbrella are a few companies, three of which are makers of general aviation aircraft, Cessna Aircraft, Beechcraft and Bell Helicopter. Those are inarguably three of the biggest brands in the history of aviation.
Pipistrel will not being joining them as a fourth aircraft manufacturing company under the Textron Aviation banner; instead, it will be the foundation for a new business, which Textron plans to call Textron eAviation. Unlike the Joby’s and Openers and other eVTOL startups of the world—if you can keep them straight in your head, kudos—Textron eAviation will start business with type and production certificated aircraft, well, a few of them, actually.
While Pipistrel makes some award-winning gas-piston powered aircraft, its biggest mainstream claim to fame by far is the certified and in-production Velis Electro, an all-electric two-seat training aircraft that comes complete with its own entourage, that is, an integrated charging system. It is, ahem, a plug-and-play solution.
Before I go into any more detail, let me list the other worldwide aircraft makers with a certificated, in-production model. Yup, there are none. There are no others who even have a type certificate (the approval of the aircraft itself) never mind a production certificate (the regulator’s approval of how you build the aircraft). That’s right, not Boeing, not Airbus, not Embraer, not any other company. And that’s not even talking small-plane makers, few of whom have even started talking about the concept.
As I’ve written before, the time is now to get into this game, and those companies that don’t could wind up being very sorry. And those companies that do could wind up being very sorry. It’s a classic business dilemma: Do you invest in extremely expensive-to-produce future tech now and risk bankrupting your company, or do you wait to see how that emerging tech shakes out before you invest, at the risk of being so far behind the game that you become irrelevant? There is no easy answer. The record is replete with object lessons on both sides of the billion-dollar coin.
Textron has the advantage of having the capital, the infrastructure and the institutional knowledge to make this happen—and if this segment goes belly up, Textron has the might to weather that reversal.
The terms were not released, but Pipistrel founder Ivo Boscarol, who will stay on for a couple of years, will be a very wealthy man, well, even wealthier. And good for him. He has for 30 years been creating cutting-edge designs that have gotten critical acclaim and a respectable amount of sales success. Textron is purchasing his genius.
Where will Textron go with this? Straight up is my guess. In addition to its Velis Electro trainer, Pipistrel has been working on air mobility eVTOL designs, which look promising. Textron immediately joins that game.
If you’re thinking of traditional GA and emerging eVTOL segments as being siloed away from each other, think again. Aviation has a 119-year history of cross-pollination. The Wright Brothers were, after all, bicycle makers who saw a new opportunity and jumped at the chance to spread their wings.