Leading Pilatus Aircraft on its latest venture is chairman Oscar Schwenk, a longtime aerodynamicist and structural engineer who has been with the company more than 35 years. He joined from the Swiss Federal Aircraft Factory, where he helped develop the engine inlets for the Tornado fighter. He is a private and helicopter pilot, and still flies a little as copilot. “But my job is to lead the company,” he says.

“As a small-aircraft-manufacturing business, you have to do something special, something innovative, if you are to succeed,” he says. Pilatus realized the possibilities with the PC-12 in branching out from building military training aircraft into general aviation, but it was a big risk, he recalls. And there were many naysayers who said the regulators would never allow single-engine commercial IFR (Europe is about to do so this year).

“Now, after 20 years in general aviation, people have come to trust Pilatus and know that we can build good aircraft,” Schwenk says. That made it easier for the board and the banks to go ahead with the PC-24, which will take CHF500 million (US$504 million) to bring to fruition. “It’s the biggest most complex project we have ever done. But we will get there (with that budget),” says Schwenk.

Looking at the PC-12, Schwenk says Pilatus is considering making it faster, thinking about the engine as well as aerodynamic upgrades. “We will do things,” he promises. But the aircraft is a workhorse, operating safely around the world even in extreme conditions. The danger with increasing its performance is that you might kill some of its workhorse capabilities.”

Pilatus expects to deliver its 1,400th PC-12 this year. “One starts up every one and a half minutes somewhere in the world,” he says with some pride.

The aircraft’s success has not gone unnoticed. “Our competition is starting now with a copy of the PC-12,” Schwenk says of Textron Aviation’s proposed single-engine turboprop. “We wish them luck. We like a bit of competition.”