In the Works: Piper Aircraft PiperJet Altaire
Shortly after Piper Aircraft posted billboards in Wichita advertising for engineers, the company suspended further development of the single-engine PiperJet Altaire, “following a review to align the company’s business goals with the light jet market outlook, investment strategies and overall economic forecasts.” The move resulted in layoffs of 150 employees and 55 contract workers.
When it was first announced, the PiperJet was priced at $2.199 million (2006 $) and certification and entry into service were planned for this year, but the price grew to $2.7 million and certification was moved to 2013. Earlier, Piper claimed orders for 200 PiperJets; in 2008, when the prototype first flew, then-v-p of sales Bob Kromer told AIN that orders for 150 of those airplanes on were from Piper dealers, and the remainder from individual buyers. Kromer also said it would take $150 million to see the program through to FAA certification, and he added, “The PiperJet is our future.”
Piper did not release any figures on how much it has spent on the Altaire program, but said it would refund customer deposits for Altaire position holders. Piper plans to preserve the intellectual property developed for the PiperJet, according to interim president and CEO Simon Caldecott. And while the company has no plans to sell the program, a spokeswoman told AIN, “[Piper] would entertain a credible offer for the aircraft program.”
Piper accepted $10.667 million in incentives and tax breaks from Florida and Indian River County, part of a $32 million incentive package in exchange for a commitment to remain and grow at its Vero Beach, Fla. headquarters. Early in the PiperJet program, Piper had made a formal quest to find a location elsewhere to build a new assembly plant for the jet. Piper employment never reached the 1,166 people needed by the end of 2009 to qualify for the second $10.557 million, and it is unknown how much of the first set of incentives Piper will be required to repay.
The demise of the PiperJet brings into question the future of single-engine jets. Only one program remains in active late-stage development, Diamond Aircraft’s D-Jet, which has resumed flight testing. The PiperJet was larger than the Cirrus Vision and D-Jet, and, with a 35,000-foot maximum altitude, was designed to operate at much higher flight levels.
The purchase of U.S. aircraft manufacturers Piper (by Brunei’s Imprimis) and Cirrus Aircraft (by China’s Caiga) does not seem to have injected vast amounts of money into their respective single-engine jet programs, and the personal jet market now seems substantially diminished since the excitement that at one time led to hundreds of orders.