Boeing’s aircraft woes drive drone focus at Leonardo facility

Boeing’s aircraft woes drive drone focus at Leonardo facility

ROME — Work on fixed-wing and tiltrotor drones are taking up the slack at an Italian facility run by Leonardo, which has been hit by a slowdown caused by sluggish civil contracts from Boeing, the firm has said.

Leonardo had told unions in Rome that the plant at Grottaglie would need to shut down for four months to deal with a decrease in the usual amount of work performed for the 787 Dreamliner passenger.

Boeing told its staff in April it expected a slowdown in production and deliveries of the 787 Dreamliner because of a shortage of component supplies. The hitch followed quality issues that suspended deliveries for nearly two years, ending in 2022.

“Lower growth in the production and delivery of the Boeing 787 required a four-month plant shutdown to align production volumes with the short-term reduction in demand,” Leonardo said.

To fill the gap, Leonardo has started work at the facility on the wing of the new Eurodrone UAV — being built by a team of European governments and their local defense industries — and on the fuselage of the prototype of Leonardo’s remotely piloted Proteus helicopter.

Leonardo is also working on the fuselage of the VX4 electric aircraft at Grottaglie on behalf of the British firm Vertical Aerospace, the Italian company said, adding that the projects are employing 100 people.

Next, Grottaglie is to host the production of Leonardo’s AW609 tiltrotor, which the firm expects will be certified next year.

Built for civil customers with an eye on military applications, the AW609 is a long-term project that started life as a collaborative program with Bell before the U.S. business pulled out in 2011.

Leonardo said it is also focusing research work into new composite materials for aircraft at Grottaglie.

Leonardo has said delays at Boeing may cost it €50 million (U.S. $54 million) this year.

Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.

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