Piper moving ahead with Imprimis backing

 - January 28, 2011, 8:30 AM

Since Brunei-based Imprimis bought Piper Aircraft in 2009, the company has seen almost a complete replacement of its leadership ranks and subsequently a redesign of the renamed PiperJet Altaire and a commitment to driving more sales outside the stagnant U.S. marketplace. At one time Piper had orders for as many as 200 PiperJets, but Randy Groom, Piper’s executive vice president, said that number has dropped to 157.

More recently, Piper announced that it has terminated its business relationship with Czech Sport Aircraft and will no longer market the Czech company’s light sport aircraft as the PiperSport. “After a year working with Czech Sport Aircraft, Piper determined that it is in our company’s best long-term interests to discontinue the business relationship which distributed a light sport aircraft manufactured by the Czech company and distributed under Piper’s brand by a separate distributor network," said Piper CEO Geoffrey Berger. “Clearly, the company has a different business perspective and approach to the market than Czech Sport Aircraft.”

During the past 18 months, departing executives included president John Becker, CEO Kevin Gould and a few vice presidents. While some of the slots have been filled, Groom said, “We’re streamlining our management ranks and trying to size our company’s overhead structure for our current level of business. We’ve done some consolidating in some areas.”

Since July, Imprimis managing director Geoffrey Berger has been Piper CEO, but that is likely a temporary position, and Groom said he expects to announce a new CEO soon. Berger also holds the title of president. Simon Caldecott, who joined Piper in 2009 as chief of production for the PiperJet, is now vice president of operations and responsible for manufacturing operations, manufacturing engineering, sustaining engineering and supply chain. Caldecott has also taken on the job of the former vice president of supply chain and aftermarket development.

The human resources vice president’s job was rolled into the chief financial officer’s job, and Dave Wilson remains CFO. Groom, who used to run Hawker Beechcraft product support, hired Drew McEwen away from Hawker Beechcraft to be sales director for the Americas. Mike Hinderberger, most recently at Gulfstream Aerospace and previously at Hawker Beechcraft, is Piper’s new vice president of engineering and responsible principally for the PiperJet Altaire program.
“Everyone’s busier now,” Groom commented.

Focus on PiperJet Altaire Program

The PiperJet Altaire jet single is now slated for certification in 2014. There are currently 150 engineers dedicated to the program, according to Groom. “We have feverish activity, and we’ve got a lot of folks quite busy on this program. We’re in the middle of detail design, we’re cutting metal and busy on assembly of the iron bird systems testing tool. We’re releasing quite a number of detail design drawings every week.” The first production- and certification-conforming prototype is expected to fly next year.

The orders for 157 Altaires are a combination of retail and dealer contracts, he said. The drop in orders, he said, “is no surprise in this environment; there’s going to be some people who for economic reasons back off from orders.”

Imprimis and Piper will need to inject millions of dollars to see the Altaire through to certification and production. “Our board of directors has committed funds for the program,” said Groom, “unlike some of the other companies [developing single-engine jets]. Our money is committed to the program, and we’re funded based on our accomplishments and achievement of milestones.” Groom declined to say how much the Altaire program will cost, but noted that the “commitment of resources is similar to what I’ve seen with other manufacturers.”

He added, “We’ve accomplished in 2010 what we wanted to. We have made great inroads in reinvigorating relationships with our dealer organizations, and also we’re doing this unprecedented global push for sales outside the U.S., and that’s tracking well. I’m confident we’re going to expand globally with new dealers and agents around the world in 2011.”

Piper is hiring a new regional sales director in Asia and relocated the director of fleet sales to Brunei. Last year, Piper hired Enrico Evers as director of sales for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Evers is based at Lelystad Airport, near Amsterdam.

Last year, Piper predicted that it would achieve increased sales during 2010. The fourth-quarter numbers won’t be available until they are released by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association in mid-February, but Groom said that Piper saw a 75-percent increase in sales during 2010, compared with 2009. “We had a big fourth quarter,” he said. Meanwhile, Groom hinted at new products that might appear on Piper’s Vero Beach, Fla., drawing boards. “I’m a big believer in continuous product improvement,” he said, “and derivative development of products. We hope to have some new [products] soon.”