The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Textron Supercharges Electric Aviation Ambitions With Pipistrel Acquisition

Textron is set to acquire European electric aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel in a foundational move for the new eAviation division it established last year to focus on the development of sustainable aircraft. Through a deal set to close by the end of June, the U.S. aerospace and defense group will pay around €218 million ($242 million) for an initial 90 percent stake in Slovenia-based Pipistrel. Founder and CEO Ivo Boscarol will remain a minority shareholder and emeritus professor for two years, at which point the remaining equity share will revert to Textron.

Announcing the transaction on Thursday, Textron indicated it will make further investments to support Pipistrel’s plans to bring various new electric and hybrid-electric aircraft to market, while also giving it access to the group’s technical and regulatory expertise, as well as its global sales and support network.

“What is exciting about Pipistrel is that they have such a strong foundation of technical expertise and experience and their products provide us with a pathway to incrementally develop electric aircraft, and it also gives easier steps for regulators,” Rob Scholl, senior vice president of Textron eAviation, told FutureFlight. “A lot of people are talking about electrification, but Pipistrel is the only one that has done it.” When the acquisition closes, he is set to become CEO of the new division.

In June 2020, the privately-owned company achieved the world’s first type certification of an electric aircraft when EASA approved its two-seat Velis Electro trainer. In addition to its portfolio of light aircraft, Pipistrel is also working on a 20-seat electric regional aircraft called the Miniliner and the Nuuva family of autonomous freighters. At face value, the Miniliner design might be viewed as an electric successor to the Beechcraft 1900 twin-turboprop commuter that went out of production back in 2002.

The company has also been a key partner in Europe’s Modular Approach to Hybrid Electric Propulsion Architecture and is preparing to start flight tests with a hybrid version of its Panthera light aircraft that Scholl made a point of saying is seen as part of Textron’s vision for Pipistrel. It was previously involved in flight testing of the consortium’s hydrogen-powered Hy-4 technology demonstrator.

Until May 2020, the company had also been developing an eVTOL aircraft designated as the Pipistrel 801. It had been one of the prospective manufacturing partners for Uber’s planned Elevate ride-hailing scheme but decided to prioritize work on the other new aircraft. Uber subsequently sold Elevate to eVTOL rival Joby at the end of 2020.

In November 2021, California-based start-up Airflow enlisted Pipistrel to help it develop an electric propulsion system for its planned eSTOL aircraft. A proof of concept version of this design is expected to start test flights this year.

“Pipistrel puts Textron in a uniquely strong position to develop technologies for the sustainable aviation market and develop a variety of new aircraft to meet a wide range of customer missions,” said Textron chairman and CEO Scott Donnelly. “Today’s announcement supports Textron’s long-term strategy to offer a family of sustainable aircraft for urban air mobility, general aviation, cargo, and special mission roles.”

Pipistrel’s new owner says it will maintain the 33-year-old company’s main headquarters, as well as its research, development, and manufacturing facilities, at sites in both Slovenia and Italy. “Under my 30-year leadership, Pipistrel’s team has achieved a unique prime position in personal, affordable, environmentally-friendly and electric aviation,” Boscarol commented. “To drive Pipistrel’s ambitious goals and to continue its story of success, the joining of Textron and Pipistrel provides deep expertise and resources which would otherwise be inaccessible to Pipistrel alone.”

Textron expects to complete the acquisition almost exactly 12 months after confirming plans in March 2021 to establish the eAviation division under the leadership of Scholl. Just a few weeks earlier, in January of last year, Donnelly had told investment analysts that the group planned to take a very cautious approach to the new advanced air mobility (AAM) sector.

In a November 2021 interview with FutureFlight, Scholl confirmed that Textron’s helicopter subsidiary Bell would likely not proceed with its plans for a passenger-carrying eVTOL aircraft called the Nexus that had been announced in early 2019. Bell is continuing to work on its APT-70 autonomous freight-carrying vehicle, and Scholl said there are strong synergies with what Pipistrel has in the works. “They are continuing to develop battery technology and the work Bell has been doing on actuation and flight controls could enable more challenging products like eVTOLs.”

Textron says that Pipistrel’s existing family of light sports and training aircraft will form a significant addition to the group’s general aviation portfolio. In addition to Bell and Beechcraft, Textron also includes business aircraft manufacturer Cessna.

“We will continue to invest in both the Pipistrel people and their products, and we’ll manage it in terms of what’s best for Pipistrel because it is already a very successful business,” Scholl said. “We are very happy with the product plan they have in place and with Textron’s investment, backing the sky is the limit.”

In a note to investors on Thursday, Cowen analyst Cai von Rumohr said the deal makes Textron a "potential leader" in electric aircraft and gives Pipistrel scale in manufacturing, global service, and capital. "We think it's attractive given the meaningful longer-term potential for electric aviation," he added.