April 12, 2013
Piper Aircraft, announcing two of its larger fleet orders back to back during this week’s Sun ’N Fun in Lakeland, Fla., is beginning to see the results of a new direction put in place almost 18 months ago to rebuild a stable and steady backlog through its trainer aircraft, company President and CEO Simon Caldecott says.
Piper on April 10 announced a three-year agreement with Airline Transport Professionals (ATP), one of the largest flight schools in the U.S., for 15 Archer TX single piston trainers for delivery this year. The order includes options for up to 85 more. The announcement came on the heels of a similar announcement on April 9 that CAE signed an agreement naming Piper its “preferred aircraft provider” and included an initial order for 35 aircraft as part of a five-year fleet replenishment effort. The agreement includes possible follow-on orders as part of the plans.
Caldecott says the orders are among the largest for the Vero Beach, Fla. airframer, but adds that other training orders may be in the pipeline. “We’re not done,” he tells Aviation Week.
Piper in 2006 decided to shift away from the training market as it worked to build up its higher-end products, including the M-Class of aircraft (Meridian, Mirage and Matrix). The company also had begun work on its first jet project, the single PiperJet Altaire.
But as the industry stumbled during the downturn, forcing Piper to cut its employment and slow production, the company and its investors also began to doubt the viability of bringing a single jet to market at such a tenuous time.
Piper made leadership changes, promoting longtime industry veteran Simon Caldecott to run the company, and at the same time shelved the Altaire project in October 2011.
When he took over, Caldecott says he saw a growing need for trainers as airlines grappled with the global shortage of pilots. This was particularly true in Asia, where pilots are being sent to training school in South America, the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.
The company returned its focus to the trainer fleets, expanding its international network and engaging a number of flight schools. It also began to look at enhancements, including the option of the G1000 upgrade for the Seminole and Archer, which he says is a requirement for many of those schools.
Caldecott notes it has taken about a year for some of these efforts to bear fruit. But the company has already begun to see a payoff, with trainer deliveries starting to pick up last year. Seminole shipments in particular improved almost 40% to 22 in 2012.