Revisiting the fast and the Furio

By Jacqueline Smith

The Nustrini brothers took their first flight in a Falco aircraft when they were just a few months old.

So while their latest business venture Falcomposite may be revolutionary, it is really a case of them getting back to their roots.

Their father, Luciano, used to zip around in a 50s Falco in Italy he flew it to work, for pleasure and in competitions.

Five years ago Giovanni Nustrini pulled his father's aeroplane drawings out of a drawer.

Sketched in 1978, they showed a new and improved Falco and included designs for the aircraft's factory.

He called a friend and they began carving the shape of the aircraft out of a piece of polystyrene in the garage.

"It was sleek, it was racy," Nustrini says.

The Falco is a popular light aircraft and the market was waiting for a higher performing version, he says.

"I realised we needed to make this into a commercial operation, rather than just building a one-off."

Giovanni Nustrini joined the aviation industry 10 years ago; before that he ran a ski resort in the Italian Dolomites.

Needing a break from hospitality, he joined his family in New Zealand and started a company, Tecnam - importing and exporting light, recreational aircraft.

But as he blew the dust off his father's designs, Nustrini knew he had discovered the ultimate business project.

His architect brother Lapo became his business partner and the pair spent a solid two years producing the Furio essentially a high-tech evolution of the Falco.

Luciano's design had to be altered to, quite literally, fit the target market.

"Our target market is the United States and Americans are quite large. But in any case the human race has grown taller in the last couple of years. We saw it was going to be very sleek and gorgeous but pretty much useless."

A team of technical experts was brought on board.

It was a big job you can't just increase the size of the cabin without altering every other component of the aircraft, Nustrini says.

"The challenge was to transform the original design which our father did, which was in itself an evolution of the original Falco, into something that could fit today's sized people and yet look good and perform well."

Falcomposite's next challenge stemmed from its decision to use relatively new carbon fibre technology to make the aircraft.

With the backing of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, the Nustrinis were able to borrow America's Cup boatbuilding technology and adapt it to aviation.

"I say borrowed because we took it and developed certain aspects of it and gave it back to them.

The technology allowed the body of the Furio to be built from 20 parts, which Nustrini says is the smallest number of any aircraft in the world. A normal metal recreational plane is made up of around 500 pieces and the original wooden Falco comprises around 2000 pieces.

Like the Falco, the Furio is sold as a kitset, but takes months to assemble, where the Falco can take many years, Nustrini says.

Aviation giants such as Boeing use carbon fibre technology for commercial planes, but Nustrini was not aware of it being used to build small aircraft.

"We basically took [boatbuilding] technology to an aeronautical level, which is much more precise and requires a lot more discipline," he says.

You can't have failures in aircraft there is no AA or coastguard to help you in mid air, Nustrini points out.

Falcomposite's project created government interest because the product was for export, and the research was to be fed back to the marine industry. But like any company, it needed money to break into the market.

Nustrini says he did not want to start the business on little capital and struggle all the way.

Nor did he want to sell production slots in advance.

He hoped to secure an investor and was lucky to find one within a few weeks - Auckland entrepreneur and motorcycle collector Kevin Grant.

"We would have accepted money from anyone obviously, but we were lucky that we found someone who would bring to the table more than just money - experience, belief in the project, interest that was more than just getting a return. That was fantastic," Nustrini says.

In February 2006, Falcomposite moved into its Ardmore premises to start production and on February 6 this year, the Furio prototype flew - twice, as it did not require any changes.

The company is now preparing a pre-production run of five aircraft, and is looking at some minor adjustments "because there are always small things you can do to improve and make the airplanes perfect".

Though the Furio has not officially been launched, Falcomposite has already delivered one plane and sold another eight through New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia, with no advertising. The kits cost about $130,000, bringing the all-up cost to about $200,000 once the buyer has bought the engine.

The current list of orders is enough to keep the company standing on its own two feet, while gearing itself up for a flood of orders following the launch, Nustrini says.

"One of the things we have always done is not to do things faster than we are capable.

"In the aviation industry, there are a lot making a lot of noise but not actually being able to deliver."

Falcomposite aims to officially launch the Furio this time next year at Airventure, the world's largest airshow in Oshkosh, in the US.

The plane is already generating interest in Europe and America, where there are many recreational pilots eager to own the latest toys.

"The American market is crazy. It's very aviation-hungry for something like this.

"The Falco is well-known over there, and this is an evolution," Nustrini says.

He expects to pick up 30 to 50 orders in the months following the show.

Will he and Lapo have to bring on new staff or move to a bigger premises?

"Maybe ... that's a future problem that I really look forward to having to deal with."

- NZ Herald

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