By Mitchell Bingemann
It has been dubbed the “Ferrari of the skies” — a sleek, ultralight plane made entirely of carbon fibre — and its maker, Italy’s Blackshape Aircraft, is looking for cashed-up buyers Down Under.
Headquartered in Monopoli (near Bari) in the Apulian aerospace district, Blackshape has been around only since 2011 but about 70 of its Blackshape Prime planes have been sold in more than 20 countries and 50 deliveries will be completed by the end of this year.
The company was co-founded in 2009 by Luciano Belviso, an aeronautic engineer, and Angelo Petrosillo, a lawyer and university professor.
Since then it has attracted more than €3.5 million ($5.2m), mainly from Angelo Investments, an international financial firm involved in several hi-tech sectors, which bought it out in 2011.
Today the company employs nearly 100 people and turns over about €10m a year.
Having sold its aircraft into South Africa and gaining commitments from the air forces of The Netherlands and Italy to use its planes, Blackshape is turning its sights to Australia, where Mr Petrosillo believes the market is ripe for new, hi-tech aircraft to find a home.
“There is room for us in Australia because the market is looking for something new and the Australian general aviation fleet is pretty old,” Mr Petrosillo told The Australian. “So why not in a Blackshape, which is Italian and fast and sporty — it’s the Ferrari of the skies?”
Mr Petrosillo says Blackshape customers were typically individuals who are passionate about sports aircraft, private pilots, military institutions and wealthy individuals looking for their next big toy.
“What makes our aircraft different is that we are using technology that has been used in military aircraft and we apply that to general aviation and light sports aircraft,” he said. “This is a high-performance aircraft that is suited to both training and flight schools, or for recreational use. Or it’s also for that guy who’s not a pilot but he owns a Maserati, a Ferrari, a yacht and a third house for his third wife, and is now looking for something fun.”
Mr Petrosillo was recently in Australia visiting prospective customers and distributors in Sydney and Canberra. The company is looking to establish sales and maintenance bases in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and New Zealand.
“We are currently doing due diligence in Australia to find partners or a distributor to start up Blackshape Australia and get into the market,” Mr Petrosillo said.
“We want a partner who could introduce the first aircraft, to get a general trade partner who is connected with a local maintenance and repair station.”
Once established in Australia, Mr Petrosillo thinks the market can sustain five to seven Blackshape aircraft sales a year.
“We haven’t sold it here yet because we didn’t want to sell without having qualified maintenance stations in Australia,” Mr Petrosillo said. “You can’t ship an aircraft to a customer and then clap your hands and say it’s your problem now.”
Blackshape will have two aircraft to sell into the Australian market, the Blackshape Prime and its soon-to-be unveiled four-seater, the BK160.
The Prime is a two-seater ultralight sports plane with a 7.94m wingspan and a length of 7.18m. It has a cruising speed of 275km/h and maximum takeoff weight of 600kg.
The aeroplane’s two fuel tanks can hold a combined 110 litres, giving it a range of up to 1100km at cruising speed.
The BK160 — which will be unveiled officially in October — will have a 9m wingspan and a length of 7.45m. Its maximum takeoff weight will be 750kg and it will come equipped with a 160 horsepower Lycoming IO-320-D1B engine that can fly faster than 300km/h.
Mr Petrosillo conceded that at a cost of €169,000 for the Prime and just under €300,000 for the BK160, the planes are expensive. But he says they are also four times faster than their competitors at one-third the weight and one-third the power.
“If you open a Cessna 172, it looks like a fridge. This is a Ferrari. So if you compare it with pure high wing light sport, it is two times the cost. But if you compare it with a same class performance aircraft, it’s one-half of the cost,” he said.
“For the fly-away cost you have everything: avionics, safety, transponders. It’s all there.
“Can you imagine buying a Ferrari and having to pay for the electric windows? It is the same here — everything is included in the fly-away cost.”