Citing a weak market for light jets, Piper Aircraft Inc. recently announced it would suspend development of its highly anticipated Piper Altaire business jet.
The problem wasn’t with the Piper Altaire itself, said Piper Interim President and CEO Simon Caldecott, pointing out that the project was on schedule, on budget, and hitting performance targets. But forecasts for the light jet market made it unreasonable to expect to recoup ongoing development costs, he said.
“Clearly, the market for light jets is not recovering sufficiently and quickly enough to allow us to continue developing the program under the economic circumstances we face,” Caldecott said.
But the effort spent to get the Piper Altaire off the ground hasn’t been in vain. Piper has launched Design by Piper, a third-party service provider, which will use expertise gained during the Altaire project to perform proprietary engineering and technical functions for other aviation industry companies. And the launch of a second third-party service provider, Precision by Piper, will make use of upgrades to Piper’s manufacturing capabilities that were completed in the course of the Altaire program.
“Following an evaluation of Altaire development and light jet forecasts we determined the best course of action for the company going forward is to indefinitely suspend the program, preserving intellectual property and progress to date,” Caldecott said. And a beneficial result will be an increased focus on product improvements for Piper’s turboprop and piston-powered product lines.
With this increased emphasis on those product lines and the formation of its third-party service companies, Piper also aims to minimize the effect on its workforce following the Altaire shutdown.
“Certainly, increased product improvements to the existing aircraft in production and creation of these engineering and manufacturing enterprises will not make up for the loss of many of our extremely talented colleagues who have been brought in for the Altaire program,” Caldecott said. “But we will make every effort to preserve as many as possible.”
Suspending the Piper Altaire program does not affect Piper’s overall position as an industry leader in general aviation construction. Piper Aircraft reports that deliveries of its piston and turboprop aircraft continue to increase each quarter and that it is meeting - and in some cases exceeding - internal financial and delivery targets.
“Piper employees have demonstrated great resilience before to overcome such economic obstacles and I am confident we will once more persevere over the long-run,” Caldecott said.