Aspen joins forces with Italian investor


Aspen Avionics has joined forces with the Italian Aerospace Research Center, an R&D powerhouse that made a first investment in the Albuquerque company in April.

Aspen President and CEO John Uczekaj declined to disclose the amount invested, but he said it was substantial. CIRA is expected to become a long-term investor that will provide more funding in the future.

“They’ve become a sizeable investor in Aspen, with a seat on our board,” Uczekaj said. “It’s a very big deal for us. It takes us to a whole new level.”

Aspen is a venture-backed company that formed in 2004 to develop and market digital flight displays for general aviation aircraft to replace analog systems with modern cockpit panels at an affordable price. The company had raised about $43 million in private equity as of last October, when it received a $12.8 million round of capital.

CIRA is a public-private consortium. The Italian government controls 68 percent of shares. Italian aerospace companies hold the remainder.

CIRA operates a huge research-and-development center north of Naples with massive wind tunnels and facilities to test-crash aircraft and measure their resistance under harsh conditions. It aims to develop and commercialize new avionics products for general aviation, but wanted a U.S. partner to help develop and market them.

“Aspen will match perfectly our goals,” said Pasquale Schiano, a CIRA senior executive. “The combination of both their innovative products and our technologies will allow us to successfully develop unique projects for the avionics sector.”

Apart from funding product development, the partnership will help Aspen gain a larger footprint in the European general aviation market, said Vice President of Marketing Brad Hayden.

“Europe is the second-largest market for us after the U.S.,” Hayden said.

Nearly 6,000 general-aviation aircraft have installed Aspen’s digital avionics, out of an estimated 226,000 worldwide. Of those, about 172,000 are planes and helicopters certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, and 54,000 by the European Aviation Safety Agency. The latter constitute Aspen’s target market in Europe, Hayden said.

The company reported $14.2 million in revenue in 2012, up from $11.2 million in 2011. It projects about $16 million this year.