Photo: Piper Aircraft
Two of Piper Aircraft top executives were conspicuously absent from last week's NBAA Convention in Las Vegas. The aviation community discovered why on Monday. Piper's owner, Brunei-backed Imprimis, axed CEO Geoff Berger and executive VP Randy Groom, and immediately started a 180 turn with the development of the PiperJet Altaire. Simon Caldecott, former VP ops and manufacturing, was named interim CEO.
Try this for corporate-speak from Piper.
"'While the company continues to achieve internal financial and delivery targets for the existing turboprop and piston product lines, we have initiated a review of the Altaire business jet development program. This is being undertaken to ensure the company is properly aligning business goals and light jet market forecasts with investment strategies and economic forecasts,' Caldecott said."
"The company will announce the conclusion of this review to employees and the industry as soon as possible." Translation: "We're killing this program", "It's being put on indefinite hold" or "It's in a persistent vegetative state". Reminiscent of Citation Columbus? No?
The possible axing of the Altaire indeed is unfortunate. People throughout the industry with whom I've spoken said it is, or was, one of the most promising single-engine turbofan personal jets in development. Piper has deep experience in designing turbine-powered, pressurized aircraft. Altaire is [was?] going to be a roomy aircraft that would cruise at 35,000 ft, high enough to take advantage of its turbofan engine operating characteristics.
Perhaps Altaire's greatest asset was Randy Groom, a previous long-term Beech veteran who came to Piper with impressive credentials. Groom studied the market. He listened to customers. He asked them what they wanted in a single-engine jet. Using those inputs, he initiated major changes in the original PiperJet to transform it into the Altaire.
Groom is gone. And perhaps so is the Altaire. Those changes don't bode well for the future prospects of single-engine turbofan aircraft.