New owner for Piper Aircraft; business to stay in Florida

 - June 4, 2009, 6:54 AM

American Capital on May 1 sold its entire stake in Vero Beach, Fla.-based Piper Aircraft to Imprimis, a corporate finance and investment management firm that operates from offices in Bangkok, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam. However, the new owners have pledged to keep Piper’s headquarters, production and product development facilities in Vero Beach.

American Capital acquired the majority of Piper by assuming $57 million of senior debt discounted to $34 million in July 2003. It was not disclosed how much Imprimis paid for the aircraft maker, though American Capital said one week after the deal closed that it realized a $31 million gain from the sale of Piper. Including investments in Piper by American Capital’s affiliated funds under management, the inception-to-date realized gains were $51 million, for an annual rate of return of 18 percent.

Imprimis intends to invest “significant capital” in Piper’s current operations to strengthen its position in its existing general aviation markets and support the development of key new products such as the PiperJet. According to Imprimis, Piper has “significant potential” as it expands its activities into new markets in the Asia-Pacific region, which the company expects will provide steady growth in demand for two- to six-seat aircraft over the next five years.

“Imprimis brings a level of support that will propel Piper from its current status as a company with a strong heritage, track record of innovation and great potential to one that is growing and pushing the envelope within general aviation,” said Piper president and CEO James Bass. “Imprimis’s commitment to [expand] Piper in both existing and emerging markets comes at a time when we are poised to enter a new era in aviation history,” he added.

Imprimis managing partner Stephen Berger said his company had been looking for some time to invest in an aviation company “with a proven track record of prospering in the face of serious challenges.” Piper said it has a strong order book despite the current economic turmoil thanks to products such as the G1000 Meridian, Matrix and in-development PiperJet. This portfolio, as well as international growth prospects, attracted Imprimis to Piper, Berger said.