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Swiss Aviation Industry

In the 1950s, Switzerland had three aircraft manufacturers. One was the Eidgenoessische Flugzeugwerk (F+W) in Emmen, the FFA in Altenrhein, and Pilatus in Stans. As in Sweden, the Swiss Government always endeavored to be largely self-sufficient where military aircraft procurement is concerned, although the policy in Switzerland has been to build selected foreign types under licence rather than to develop indigenous designs.

Encouragement was given to the development of hydroaeroplanes in Switzerland by the 1911 offering of a $2000 prize, the "Eyenard prize," for an all-Swiss aeroplane piloted by a Swiss aviator which shall make the best time in a flight from one end of Lake Geneva to the other, alighting on the water three times. Each start from the water must be made within a distance of 1000 meters and none of the stops must be longer than 30 minutes. The hydro-aeroplane of M. Henri Fabre was the first heavier than air machine that had made successful flights starting from and alighting on the water. Its first series of flights were made on May 17, 1910.

The St. Gallen-Altenrhein airfield was established in 1926, when Professor Claude Dornier decided to build his “flying boat” DO-X in Altenrhein. The company was named Dornier Flugzeugwerke. Amid the euphoria surrounding the rapidly-growing aviation sector, Altenrhein was considered a key European airfield for land- and seaplanes. In 1948 Dr Claudio Caroni acquired Dornier Flugzeugwerke and renamed it Flug- und Fahrzeugwerke AG [FFA]. Following the death of Dr Claudio Caroni in 1984, his son Luciano took over management of the company, and Luciano Caroni sold the company to Schindler Ltd. in 1987, with the flight operation division being sold back to Justus Dornier Holding Ltd in Zurich. FFA Aircraft Maintenance was sold to Pilatuswerke in 2003.

The Federal Aircraft Factory (Eidgenössisches Flugzeugwerk - EFW or F+W) in Emmen, today RUAG Aerospace, was founded in 1943. After World War II, the distribution of the development potential of the three Swiss aircraft plants was not suitable for creating a breakthrough for the Swiss aircraft industry. This distribution failure was due to a lack of cooperation among the three Swiss aircraft manufacturers: the Eidgenoessische Flugzeugwerk (F+W) in Emmen, the Flug und Fahrzeugwerke AG (FFA) in Altenrhein, and Pilatus in Stans. In the early 1950s, a consortium formed by EFW (Eidgenössisches Flugzeugwerk, Federal Aircraft Factory) at Emmen, FFA (Flugzeugwerke Altenrhein) at Altenrhein, and Pilatus Flugzeugwerke at Stans, built 100 Venom FB.Mk.1s and 150 FB.Mk.4s. But the N-20 was ordered from the Swiss Federal Aircraft Factory F+W in Emmen, while the P-16 was from the FFA Flugzeugwerke Altenrhein AG in Altenrhein/St.Gallen.

After the failure in 1959 of the indigenous P-16 fighter project, Mr. William Lear recruited a group of Swiss aircraft designers and engineers to transform the P-16’s wing and basic fuselage design into the cornerstone of a revolutionary aircraft the Swiss American Aircraft Corporation (SAAC)-23 and later the Learjet 23 Continental.

By 1965 the Swiss aircraft industry was committed to the licensed production of the Dassault Mirage III multimission fighter, and its Atar turbojet, but the original schedule was drastically reduced in size and extended in time-scale because of continuing difficulties. The original intention was to build a total of 100 Mirages in Switzerland, for which appropriations equivalent to nearly £69m were approved as far back as June 1961. The Swiss version of the Mirage was to be produced by the Federal Aircraft Factory at Emmen as primary contractor. The original estimates eventually increased to about £120.58m, about 70 percent more than initially planned, and led to a complete revision of the production programme to produce only 57 aircraft.

In the late 1960s, SIAI-Marchetti in Italy and Flug- und Fahrzeugwerke AG Altenrhein (FFA) of Switzerland agreed to develop jointly a two/three-seat lightweight touring/training aircraft. It was intended that it should be built in both countries, as the SA 202 Bravo in Italy and AS 202 Bravo in Switzerland, but it was decided subsequently that as a result of a shortage of production space in SIAI-Marchetti's factory it should be built exclusively in Switzerland.

Swiss Aircraft and Systems Enterprise Corporation [Schweiz Unternehmung Fur Flugzeuge Und Systeme Enterprise / Suisse D'Aeronautique Et De Systemes / Impresa Svizzera D'Aeronautica E Di Sistemi] (Switzerland), aka SF, was founded in 1996, when the Swiss Federal Aircraft Factory Emmen (EFW - Eidgenössisches Flugzeugwerk) was merged with the industrial division of the Swiss Air Force Logistic Command and elements of the Federal Ordnance Office. On 01 January 1999, the Swiss Aircraft and Systems Company was converted from a federal ordnance establishment into a diversified private company within the RUAG Suisse group, and by 2005 it employed 1,600 personnel at several plants.

By 2010, Switzerland‘s sole remaining aircraft maker, Pilatus Aircraft Ltd., develops and produces high-performance single-engine turboprops: PC-12 business- and utility Aircraft, PC-21, PC-7Mk II and PC-9 Turbo military trainer aircraft. The plane maker was particularly world renowned for its development of single-engine turboprop aircraft, the PC-12 civilian aircraft. The Swiss plane maker marked the delivery of the 1,000th PC-12 early in 2010. This milestone was underscored by the high performance of the aircraft, rugged durability, versatile, and excellent operating economics.

The company reported solid results in 2009 in a very difficult market environment with an annual output of 105 aircraft deliveries, thereby ensuring demand for avionics, engines, parts and components from US suppliers. US content of the PC-12, Pilatus‘ flagship aircraft, is significant – this illustrates how intertwined the US aviation industry is withthe Swiss plane maker. Pilatus also produces the military trainer aircraft, the PC-21, newly developed for modern air forces around the world. In addition to Pilatus, several Swiss aerospace companies are also end-users of parts and components from US suppliers. The plane maker announced in November 2009 the sale of 25 PC-21 turboprop aircraft to the UAE Air Force & Air Defense, worth over US$ 500 million. Delivery of the aircraft and the complete training system was scheduled to begin in 2011. Winning the contract with the UAE constituted an excellent boon for US, given the high US content of the PC-21, thereby accelerating growth in the Swiss aviation industry. In addition, a contact was also concluded with the Finnish Air Force for six PC 12NG.

Switzerland has approximately 25 manufacturers involved in the development, production and assembly of structural components, systems integration and services for aircraft, helicopter and systems that stem from defense and civilian aeronautics and space technology. These companies are receptive to the idea of broadening their US supplier list and interested in new product offerings. One of the key players is Ruag, an international Technology Group, active in two segments: Aerospace & Technology and Defense & Security. Owned by the Swiss Confederation, Ruag announced in June 2009 to acquire Oerlikon Space, thereby bolstering is global position in the aviation/space industry.

Although private jet aviation as a business productivity tool is already well accepted in the United States, Switzerland has been slower to embrace this concept. However, Swiss executives and politicians are increasingly taking advantage of business jets for flexibility and to avoid congested airports and flight delays, and demand is steadily increasing in the business/regional market segment. Corporate jets available in the market encompass a wide spectrum, ranging from twin-engine turboprops to reconfigured jetliners, although the number of propulsion airplanes dwarfs the number of twin-engine turboprops.

The total Swiss market demand for civilian aircraft and parts, including components and avionics, was valued at US$ 1.121 billion in 2009 and was not expected to make significant moves by the end of 2010 due to the recessionary climate worldwide. US suppliers garnered a market share of 21% of the overall import market in 2009, which represented a major dip compared to 2008 (U.S. suppliers garnered more than 50% of the import market). The loss in market share can best be attributed to the lower volume of aircraft Switzerland manufacturered and subsequently exported coupled with a downturn ofimports of parts, components and avionics for MROs. The year 2010 was been a difficult year for the Swiss aviation industry, with experts expressing cautious optimism for 2011. Switzerland had a relatively large number of operators of aircraft given the small size of the country, including the national flagship carrier SWISS (part of the Lufthansa Group), operators of regional and business jets, air taxi services as well as a substantial numberof privately held aircraft.

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Page last modified: 31-05-2013 18:50:00 ZULU