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Sales soar for Sonaca – the only aircraft to be made in Belgium

Sonaca Aircraft - Temploux Aerodrome, Namur
09:40 29/03/2021

Sonaca Aircraft is busy delivering orders of its Sonaca 200 – the only aircraft to be manufactured in Belgium –following strong recent sales. Chief commercial director Pierre Van Wetter (pictured below) is personally ferrying the two-seater, single-engine aircraft to Turkey, Estonia and France as Covid-19 travel restrictions are preventing many clients from picking them up from the company’s base at Temploux Aerodrome, Namur.

Widescale interest in the certified training aircraft, largely centred in Europe, has resulted in around 70 orders, including from lucrative new clients in Switzerland. “These clients are flying clubs and flight schools offering intensive training for pilots,” says Van Wetter. Though initially designed for the pilot training and leisure sector, the aircraft has recently been positioned for a screening programme run by the Swiss army. “It’s contracted out to different flight schools that enable instructors to quickly evaluate students’ capacity. They then pursue their career in the air army, civilian aviation or general aviation.”

Pierre Van Wetter - Sonaca Aircraft 

The Swiss contract has also sparked interest from the Belgian army, equally keen to filter students towards fighter planes, helicopters, transport aircraft or air traffic control. Ferrying three aircraft to Istanbul (with two other pilots) requires overnight stops in Croatia and Greece, giving Van Wetter an opportunity to appreciate the plane’s capacity: “It’s magnificent, a real pleasure to fly, reassuring from a safety point of view while being precise and agile.”

Sonaca Aircraft – a subsidiary of Charleroi-based aerospace multinational Sonaca Group – employs 35 people. It has a 2,000m2 assembly hall capable of building eight aircraft simultaneously. The total capacity is up to 80 aircraft a year with each model taking 60 days to build. The company aims to reduce this to 40 days by improving the supply chain system, currently affected by Covid-19 and Brexit.

Sonaca 200 Trainer Pro

Major parts are made in Romania and transported by road, with smaller parts sourced from other countries, including the UK. But the pandemic has not had a detrimental effect on the whole of the aviation sector. “Some flying clubs have experienced an increase demand for private pilot training because people have more spare time,” Van Wetter says. He also reports that two aircraft have been bought by private clients. “They have the means to invest in an aircraft that they then rent to flight schools. The plane has a life of around 20 years and if regularly serviced, it doesn’t devalue,” he adds.

While continuing to target sales in Europe, Sonaca Aircraft is exploring setting up exclusive distribution contracts with the UK and Germany. The Sonaca 200 is available in three models: analogue, digital and mixed, priced from €182,500. It has type certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency.

This article first appeared in the WAB magazine, spring 2021

Photos: Sonaca Aircraft

 

Written by Sarah Crew