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Italy - Aviation Industry

Seventh in the world and fourth in Europe, with a turnover of over 8 billion € and a workforce of some 40,000 employees with high levels of specialization, the Italian aerospace industry represents the largest manufacturing sector in Italy in the field of high-tech integrated systems. By 1970 it was perfectly suited for collaboration. On the one hand, it offered an excellent standard of engineering; on the other, its home market was too small to give economic production runs of aircraft, engines or weapons tailored solely to Italian domestic needs. Collaboration and licence production provided the wider technological horizon and worthwhile manufacturing targets that the industry needs.

The Italian aircraft industry is largely concentrated in the industrial areas of the country. Over the years large aircraft constructors, like Caproni, Agusta, Aermacchi and Siai Marchetti brought fame to the Varese territory and created a real flight district, which is part of an industrial sector that first emerged and flourished in the province of Varese and in Lombardy at large. In Piemonte, the aerospace sector is one of the productive and scientific excellences, confirming the regional vocation for technological innovation. In terms of wealth and resources, the Piedmontese aerospace industry employs approximately 10,000 people, with an annual turnover of around 2.5 billion €. Although the provinces around Genoa, Milan and Turin were the country's industrial heartland, by 2010 cities such as Naples, Bari and Brindisi were becoming important aerospace centere. The Campania and Apulia regions were promoting their industrial capabilities to attract investment.

Aeritalia was formed in November 1969 by combining the activities of the aircraft section of Fiat's Aviation Division with those of Aerfer and Salmoiraghi, which were part of the Finmeccanica group. In the frame of the national economic programming, the Italian Government [which has changed soon after date, and had a larger coalition than before], like other European governments, started a concrete process for the rationalisation and strengthening of the aerospace industry for the purpose of giving it, through the merger of important companies working in this field, greater dimensions, and higher international competitive level. Finmeccanica and Fiat, sensitive to the economic problems of the country and both interested in industrial aerospace activities, agreed to merge such activities into a single great concern by establishing the Aeritalia company.

Caproni was the first Italian aeronautical company in the early 1900s. Formed in 1910, the company was Italy's oldest aircraft manufacturer. Later named Caproni Vizzola, by 1970s it designed and produced gliders, as well as producing ground equipment for F-104s as a sub-contractor to Fiat. Its gliders are the Calif series, from the A-10 up to (though not consecutively) the A-21. The A-21J is the powered version of the latter, with a Miaroturfoo' Eclair turbojet. There had been negotiations on licence-production of the type in East European countries, and Rheinflugzeugbau licence-manufacture the A-21G in West Germany.

Macchi's factory at Varese, on the nearby lake where Macchi seaplanes were once tested, was destroyed during the Second World War. But when the time came to rebuild, the company put up premises: in exactly the same style as the old ones, as if to recreate the past. The Company's MB.326 was been one of the most successful of contemporary jet trainers and it had wide success with the Aermacchi Lockheed 60 utility aircraft, of which it has built about 150.

Agusta family control as of 1970 was exercised by Count Domenico Agusta (president and general manager) and Count Corrado Agusta (vice-president and sales manager). Societa Costruzione Aeronautiche Giovanni Agusta was founded in 1907 and operated until 1943 building aircraft. Costruzioni Aeronautiche Agusta was founded at Tripoli in 1920, moved to Benghazi in 1922 and finally, from 1923 onwards, settled at Cascina Costa, where it still has its plant. Count Domenico Agusta died in 1928.

After the second world war ended there was a need for cheap transportation, and something to replace the decline in Agusta aviation demands. Meccanica Verghera Agusta [MV Agusta] was founded in 1945 in Cascina Costa Italy by the sons of Count Giovanni Agusta (Domenico, Vincenzo, Mario and Corrado Agusta). MV Agusta successfully manufactured many café racer motorcycles through the '50s and '60s. Following the death of Count Domenico Agusta in 1971 the company declined with the eventual end of motorcycles production by 1980.

It was the company's engineering skill which led the Bell Helicopter Co in 1952 to enter into a licence agreement with it for the manufacture of Bell helicopters. The result of this was that Agusta established as high a reputation for helicopter production as it did previously for MV-Agusta motor-cycles. The company employed some 2,500 people and the biggest programme at its Casoina Costa factory was production of AB 205s and 206s: ten of the latter were completed every month for export. The Bell agreement is not exclusive; Agusta was also building Sikorsky SH-3Ds for the Italian Navy.

The company was not content to produce excellent carbon copies of other people's aircraft: it designed and produced its own helicopters, of varying sizes. At the big end of the scale was the three-engined (Gnomes 1,400 s.h.p.) 101G, part-funded by the Italian Air Force; at the other end, Agusta's A-109C project, a twin-engined, high-performance civil/military helicopter, and the light turbine-engined, single-seat A-106, originally produced as an anti-submarine aircraft foT the Italian Navy and later developed for the Army. As far as Agusta was concerned, the formula the company has adopted, that of licence-production plus some self-design, appeared to have been extremely successful.

Fiat differed greatly in size from Agusta, its Aviation Division (employing 6,000 people in 1970) had two similarities: one, that its biggest program was licence-building; two, that side-by-side with this it produced aircraft of its own design and had co-operated with VFW-Fokker with the VAK 191B vertical take-off fighter. In Fiat's case, the aviation division's major work was on the Lockheed F-104S Starfighter intercepter, 165 of which are being produced for the Italian Air Force. Side-by-side with these it produced 55 G.91Y reconnaissance/fighter bombers and about 25 G.91Tls for the IAF, plus parts for G91T3s for the German Air Force. The -Ys, entirely new, twin-engined G.91s, replaced existing G.91s in the IAF. Fiat had for many years engaged in manufacturing collaboration with Sud of France, for example on the Caravelle for which the company built the engine pods, fins and tailplanes, and on the Super Frelon and SA.330 helicopters. It was Fiat's expertise in the design and manufacture of rotor gearboxes which was specifically involved in this project. Side-by-side with F-104 and G.91 production, Fiat brought out a new aircraft of its own, the G.222 tactical transport.

Piaggio by 1970 needed a new type to ensure its future, which was somewhat uncertain beyond the next two to three years. Its aircraft production was chiefly of Piaggio-Douglas PD.808s for the Italian Air Force; it had built over a hundred P.166s, which were operating in many parts of the world, and 40 or 50 P.136s, the amphibius version of this distinctive gull-winged aircraft. There is a possibility of a turboprop version of the 166. One possibility might be a merger of this privately owned company. In this, Piaggio would be following the pattern of integration in Italy's aircraft industry. In other typical respects, those of collaboration and licence production, Piaggio was already characteristic of the rest of the country's industry.

In August 1981 Italy's two largets aerospace groups, Aeritalia and Agusta, agreed to a seven-point co-operation plan. All parties agreed that establishment of a central aeronautical research center would be in everyone's interest. The companies were persuaded to reach agreement by Minister for State Shareholdings Gianni de Michelis, in order to end the rivalry between the two groups to obtain domination of the Italian aerospace industry. Under the plan, Aeritalia would sell its controlling interest in optical instruments and avionics company OMI to Agusta. This would allow Agusta to develop OMI's activities to suit its own helicopter division requirements.

Aeritalia would take over Ofncine Aeronavali di Venezia (the maintenance company), Partenavia, and may become a minority shareholder in Machi — this could be a 20 percent holding. Agusta took over Caproni-Vizzola. Under the terms of the Italian aerospace industry reorganisation, Caproni remained a separate company under the wing of Agusta. Its C22J twinseat light jet seemed likely to be offered for reconnaissance purposes and as a low-cost continuation trainer: Agusta regarded the aircraft as too small for use as a genuine trainer.

In September 1982 Italy's industry minister Sig Gianni de Michelis announced that Italy could no longer afford two large aerospace companies and that Aeritalia and Agusta, both State-owned, should link up before the end of this year. Aeritalia and Agusta produced competing products, including jet trainers, and light-transport aircraft. Aeritalia, which belonged to the state holding company IRI, owned Partenavia, and recently took a 10 percent share in the independent Aermacchi in an effort to rationalise the industry.

Agusta, which belonged to the smaller EFIM holding company, owned aircraft manufacturer Siai Marchetti, helicopter producer Ellecoteri Meriodionali, and had a stake in Caproni. The company itself was Italy's major helicopter producer.

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Page last modified: 11-11-2014 19:36:23 ZULU