Most might say the Diamond DA62. Some might say Tecnam’s Rotax-powered P2006T, certified in the United States in 2010, and aimed at both the training and special-missions markets. Those are good guesses, but the correct answer is yet another Tecnam twin—the new P2012 Traveller, a multi-role, fixed-gear heavy-hauler powered by two turbocharged 375-horsepower TEO-540-C1A electronically controlled engines. The airplane first arrived on these shores when Cape Air, a Barnstable, Massachusetts-based regional carrier that serves Cape Cod and other Northeast destinations (as well as Florida and the islands in the Bahamas and Caribbean), ordered Travellers to augment its fleet of Cessna 402s. Today, Cape Air operates 27 P2012s, three more will arrive by the end of 2021, and there are options for 75 more.
I caught up with the P2012 at the National Business Aviation Association’s convention in Las Vegas in October 2021. It was fitted out in its nine-seat airliner configuration, and Tecnam Sales and Development Manager/Experimental Test Pilot Francesco Sferra gave me the rundown. The electronic engine control system (EECS) is the big news. It’s an electronic, microprocessor-controlled system that continuously monitors and adjusts ignition timing, fuel injection timing, and fuel mixture based on the current operating conditions. This eliminates the need for magnetos and manual adjustment of the fuel-air mixture, and electronic controls enable single-lever engine controls in the cockpit.
Meanwhile, dual-channel power boxes and engine control units manage power distribution. During engine start, battery power turns the engines and powers the spark plugs and ignition coils, and runs them until reaching 1,000 rpm. Above 1,000 rpm, a dedicated permanent magnet alternator takes over to power the electronic engine control unit, the ignition system, and engine sensors. What do the sensors measure? A lot: throttle position, crankshaft speed, camshaft speed, oil temperature and pressure, manifold induction air temperature, fuel pump pressure, fuel temperature, cylinder head temperature, exhaust gas temperature, turbine inlet temperature, and compressor inlet pressure. Plus a lot more. There’s even a knock sensor to detect detonation in each cylinder.
All this technology means less pilot workload. There’s no mixture control, no magneto switches, an automatically set optimal mixture and ignition timing for any power setting or altitude, and automatic oversight of all engine parameters. To start an engine, flip the battery and ignition toggle switches on, then push a start button. The EECS has figured out the ideal fuel-air mixture, so the engine fires up in a matter of two to three seconds. And yes, that includes hot starts.
After the convention, the P2012 went on tour to introduce the airplane to a wider American market, and four were aboard: David Copeland, Tecnam’s U.S. sales director; Sferra; AOPA Senior Photographer Chris Rose; yours truly; and a lot of baggage. First stop: Camarillo, California, for photos, then on to Long Beach, California. Our takeoff weight was 7,600 pounds, of which 1,000 pounds (about 150 gallons) was in fuel, and 500 pounds in bags. Not a problem, though. Maximum takeoff weight is 8,113 pounds. Like I said, the P2012 is a heavy hauler.
Part of the pre-takeoff checklist includes a check of the EECS. It’s a matter of pressing and momentarily holding two buttons on the PFT (preflight test) subpanel. This begins an automated runup that not only checks the EECS but also the output from all those sensors mentioned above. It also does a mixture leaning check that determines the setting for best power on takeoff. If a minor issue is detected, the TLO (temporary limited operations) lights come on; it’s safe to fly, but a maintenance check is required in the next 20 hours. The primary (PRI) and secondary (SEC) NTO (no takeoff) lights mean just that.
For takeoff the drill is to set takeoff flaps, stand on the brakes, go to maximum power, then accelerate to a VR of 75 KIAS. After liftoff, retract flaps and pitch to the VYSE of 92 KIAS, then to the 120 KIAS cruise climb. Based on the runway lights zipping by, I’d say we broke ground in about 1,500 feet, and climbed away from Las Vegas’ Henderson Executive Airport at 700 fpm under 50 degrees Fahrenheit/10 degrees Celsius/ISA +7 conditions.
We leveled off at 8,500 feet, set 72 percent power with 39 inches of manifold pressure and 2,150 rpm per side, and settled into a 161 KTAS cruise burning 25 gph per side. Then came a climb to 10,500 feet to clear terrain, where cruise at 68 percent power, 39 inches of manifold pressure and 2150 rpm yielded 158 KTAS on a fuel burn of 23 gph per side. The P2012’s Garmin G1000 NXi showed three hours of remaining endurance—plenty of reserve, since the entire trip to Camarillo would take only an hour and change. Dialing the power back to 55 percent, we saw 147 KTAS and the fuel burn went from 23 to 18 gph per side—that’s about a 25 percent drop in fuel consumption for losing a mere 11 knots.
Before long, we were past the San Gabriel Mountains and descending toward the California coast, leveling off for some airwork. Steep turns, stalls and slow flight were easy to master, as were power-on stalls. Buffeting kicked in at 52 KIAS with the nose pitched up 30 degrees. The angle of attack (AOA) indicator was deep into the red arc, but the ailerons remained effective even in the stall, thanks to the washout (spanwise alteration in the wing chord) that kept the wing tips flying with the inboard wing sections stalled.
That AOA indicator would come in handy for the upcoming landing. Landings are simple in the P2012, thanks to the single-lever power controls, automated mixture control, and fixed gear. Power back to 100 knots or so on downwind, extend full flaps on final and slow to 80, then 75 knots or so for the flare; at heavier weights, VREF speeds can be as high as 89 knots. You can use the AOA indicator to confirm the proper airspeed—you want to keep the AOA needle at the 0.6-unit indication. That’s right at the dividing line between the white and amber arcs. Over the threshold, hold it off and roll it on. A word of caution: Don’t be too quick to yank the throttles back to idle. The propeller blades will flatten out and make for a sudden deceleration that can end with a noticeably firm arrival. Best to wait until you’re inches above the runway.
Tecnam is a well-known brand in Europe, with a history dating back to 1948. That’s when brothers Luigi and Giovanni Pascale founded the company and designed their P48 two-seater. (The “P” prefix in Tecnam aircraft stands for Pascale; the numerical designation represents the year the airplane was designed.) Over the years, more than 5,500 Tecnam lightplanes have been sold, but spotting one in the United States can be rare. The P2012, its 6,000-nautical-mile squawk-free inaugural tour, and an expanded presence are meant to change that. The company’s assembly center in Sebring, Florida, should soon be augmented by offices in California, Arizona, and Texas.
The airplane’s combination of simplicity and capability offers a less expensive alternative to bigger, more expensive, and turbine-powered utility twins. Its optional TKS ice protection system, oxygen system, and Garmin GWX75 weather radar give it all-weather capability. Its interior can accommodate as many as seven different versions. There’s the seven-seat executive interior with club seating, in-flight entertainment system and Iridium GSR56 for phone calls and texting; nine-seat airline version; a cargo version; a passenger-and-freight “combi” layout; plus medevac, parachute jumping, and special-mission options. Some 50 P2012s are in service worldwide, with passenger models at not only Cape Air, but at Zil Air in Seychelles, in Taiwan as an air ambulance, and in short-haul operations in Argentina and Germany.
Add in other new projects, like the P-Volt, an electrically powered version of the P2012, plus the P2006T electrically powered model, and the Tecnam factory in Capua, Italy, is staying busy. It has a family feel and a personalized approach to manufacturing. The current CEO, Paolo Pascale Langer, is Giovanni’s son and Luigi’s nephew, and his son—also named Giovanni—is the current managing director. As for Sferra, he personally flies each airplane that rolls out the door, evaluating their individual stall characteristics and placing their leading-edge stall strips in just the right location.