Late last week Piper grounded its M600 single-engine turboprop fleet after it "became aware of a potential non-conformance in a vendor-sourced wing component," company CEO Simon Caldecott announced Monday at AirVenture. Caldecott identified the component as "a section of the aft wing spar" that was found to be "below the required design measurements in one area." Caldecott said Piper believes the problem is confined to "one rogue part" but grounded the fleet "out of an abundance of caution" after the vendor was unable "to provide the appropriate data."
He said the action affects the 38 M600s delivered since the aircraft was certified last July; 32 are owned by end-users and six are in dealer inventories. Caldecott said Piper became aware of the problem during a "standard quality process" and is issuing a mandatory service bulletin detailing the inspection process, which requires draining the aircraft fuel and measuring the spar in both wings in a certain area to ensure it meets the design criteria. "We expect the airplanes will be back in the air very shortly," he said.
"With any new product, sometimes there are challenges," Caldecott said, noting that the M600 had been received well on recent demonstration tours in Europe and Africa and that he thinks the airplane has a particularly bright future in the former, given that locale's recent easing of single-engine turbine charter restrictions.
Caldecott said overall, Piper is doing better this year, with both sales and revenues increasing, driven in large part by continued strong demand for single- and twin-engine piston training aircraft. For the second quarter, sales revenue is up $11 million compared to the year-ago period, a 25 percent increase; deliveries increased by 13 aircraft for the period, a 30 percent increase. Piper delivered 32 aircraft in the second quarterand for the year through June delivered 57 aircraft. Archer deliveries tripled 2016 levels YTD, up by 228 percent; 35 percent of those were to export markets. Caldecott noted that M Class dealer inventories are at their lowest levels in five years.
Piper's strategy of cultivating flight training schools is paying dividends, he reported. "Sales of the PA28 trainers have grown to their highest level in 14 years. And our market share has grown 15 percent over the last four years. This year we are on track to deliver approximately 90 PA28s, a combination of Archers and retractable Arrows. Sales of Seminole twins continue to be strong, in part due to long-term training contracts with several schools. In 2013 we announced a long-term agreement with ATP, an order for 15 Archers with options for 85. Since that agreement, ATP has taken delivery of nearly 90 airplanes. Next month it will take delivery of its 82nd Archer, which will be Piper's 900th Archer delivered. ATP has ordered 10 more Archers and options for 15 more Archer G1000 Nxi aircraft," Caldecott said.
Piper is in the process of delivering 16 Archers and four Seminoles to the University of North Dakota. The manufacturer has closed new deals with several other schools and universities recently, sales that represent 70 airplanes to be delivered over the next year.
The company is committed to servicing the flight training market for "the long haul," Caldecott said, adding that Piper intends to use revision of the Part 23 certification standards to bring product modifications to market faster. "We're definitely going to use it."