It’s a new day at Piper Aircraft.
New owners have infused the company with new capital and a growth strategy that officials hope will once again make Piper a leader in general aviation.
Named for Bill Piper, often called the “Henry Ford of aviation,” Piper has weathered a lot of tough times in the last few decades. In fact, just a few years ago, Piper’s very survival was in question. The company’s financial health was poor, then Sept. 11 hit, followed in 2005 by three hurricanes that devastated the company’s Vero Beach, Fla., manufacturing facilities.
New management was brought in and the company not only repaired all the damage from the hurricanes, but succeeded in bringing new products to the market, including the Piper Matrix and the PiperJet (pictured), according to Kevin Gould, the company’s new CEO.
Flush with funds from the oil-rich country of Brunei, which is on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia, Imprimis was tasked with diversifying the small country’s investments. Realizing Brunei had under-utilized aviation resources — during a three-hour meeting near an airport, Imprimis officials saw just one airplane take off — the search began for an airplane manufacturing company to invest in. While several were considered, Imprimis decided on Piper because of its management team, according to Stephen Berger, managing partner.
“We liked the fact that they act well as a team,” he said. “When we first began talking to them, we saw they had the desire and commitment, but they didn’t have any support.”
Imprimis intends to provide that support.
“We invest for the long run,” he said. “Our goal is to grow our market share and make Piper a formidable presence.”
That goal is echoed by the company’s new CEO.
“Over the years, Piper has had many owners, but few have seen the company’s potential,” Gould said. “Imprimis has a strategic sense of what we can be. They are owners like the days of when Bill Piper owned the company.”
The capital infusion from the new owners will “allow us to take the company to the next level,” promised Gould (right).
The focus of that next level is the PiperJet (pictured below), a VLJ that made its first public flight demonstration at this summer’s AirVenture.
With its new-found financial stability, Piper is going on a hiring spree, recruiting 50 new engineers to accelerate the jet’s development. In October, the company is expected to announce when first deliveries of the $2.2 million jet will begin. Order book for the jet stands at about 200.
EVEN IN THE BEST OF TIMES…
Of course, even with its new owners, Piper is dealing with the effects of the global economic melt-down. Like all other GA manufacturers, it saw deliveries plunge this year, with just 45 planes delivered in the first half of the year, compared to 118 airplanes for the same time last year. Billings fell as well, to $44.3 million from $92.8 million.
“If not for the economic downturn, 2009 promised to be a record year,” Gould said, noting the company had to make cutbacks to “assure” its survival. “It is essential that we match our rates of production to retail demand,” he explained.
While no one knows how long the world’s economic woes will last, Piper is now “well poised once the recession abates,” Gould added.
To secure its future, the company plans a global expansion, especially into Asian markets where GA is just now taking off. It’s looking to extend its dealer network in 12 regions, including India, China, Australia and Southeast Asia.
“It’s in the interest of the company to reach into new markets,” Gould said.
And while a lot of the company’s focus is on the jet, it hasn’t forgotten its roots — training aircraft, which will be greatly needed in the Asian markets.
“We want to be back in the entry-level market,” said Bob Kromer, vice president of sales.
That’s one reason Piper is reintroducing the Archer, expected to be back on the market by 2010. Priced at $300,000, it will have as standard equipment the Garmin G600 avionics suite, Nexrad weather and air conditioning.
Piper officials hope the pilots who start out in the new Archers will stay customers for a long time.
“We believe in the step-up product,” Kromer said. “We hope they will start in the Archer, then some day be in a Matrix, then a jet.”
MEANWHILE, MORE NEWS FROM OSHKOSH:
The company continues to unveil product upgrades, including the G1000-equipped Meridian. The company has delivered 10 of the single-engine turboprops with the new glass cockpit since March, according to Kromer.
It also introduced Hartzell Propeller’s Top Prop — an advanced second generation composite propeller — on its Mirage and Matrix piston-engine aircraft.
Also unveiled at this summer’s Oshkosh was the decision to add the Garmin G600 glass avionics suite to its primary trainers, its twin-engine planes and the revamped Archer.
The G600 will be offered as optional equipment on the Seneca V — the company’s flagship twin-engine — as well as on the single-engine Warrior and twin-engine Seminole, workhorses for the flight training industry.
The G600 and STEC-55X autopilot will be standard equipment on the reintroduced Archer.
What about the Cub? Company officials say there are no plans to bring back the J-3 Cub, one of GA’s most popular and well-known airplanes.
For more information: Piper.com.