Piper Aircraft, announcing two of its larger fleet orders back to back during this week’s Sun ’N Fun in Lakeland, Fla., is beginning to see the results of a new direction put in place almost 18 months ago to rebuild a stable and steady backlog through its trainer aircraft, company President and CEO Simon Caldecott says.
Piper on April 10 announced a three-year agreement with Airline Transport Professionals (ATP), one of the largest flight schools in the U.S., for 15 Archer TX single piston trainers for delivery this year. The order includes options for up to 85 more. The announcement came on the heels of a similar announcement on April 9 that CAE signed an agreement naming Piper its “preferred aircraft provider” and included an initial order for 35 aircraft as part of a five-year fleet replenishment effort. The agreement includes possible follow-on orders as part of the plans.
Caldecott says the orders are among the largest for the Vero Beach, Fla. airframer, but adds that other training orders may be in the pipeline. “We’re not done,” he tells Aviation Week.
Piper in 2006 decided to shift away from the training market as it worked to build up its higher-end products, including the M-Class of aircraft (Meridian, Mirage and Matrix). The company also had begun work on its first jet project, the single PiperJet Altaire.
But as the industry stumbled during the downturn, forcing Piper to cut its employment and slow production, the company and its investors also began to doubt the viability of bringing a single jet to market at such a tenuous time.
Piper made leadership changes, promoting longtime industry veteran Simon Caldecott to run the company, and at the same time shelved the Altaire project in October 2011.
When he took over, Caldecott says he saw a growing need for trainers as airlines grappled with the global shortage of pilots. This was particularly true in Asia, where pilots are being sent to training school in South America, the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.
The company returned its focus to the trainer fleets, expanding its international network and engaging a number of flight schools. It also began to look at enhancements, including the option of the G1000 upgrade for the Seminole and Archer, which he says is a requirement for many of those schools.
Caldecott notes it has taken about a year for some of these efforts to bear fruit. But the company has already begun to see a payoff, with trainer deliveries starting to pick up last year. Seminole shipments in particular improved almost 40% to 22 in 2012.
The ultimate goal, he says, is building a pipeline of trainer orders to keep a steady production flow. An important aspect of the orders is that they extend out over five years. This helps keep production steady, another important emphasis of the company. He says 2012 deliveries were as level-loaded as he’s seen in general aviation manufacturing, where airframers typically have strong fourth-quarter surge.
The sales the company has seen in the training arena so far are on plan, or maybe slightly ahead. But they are not designed to create a big scale up in production, he says. Production will be up slightly for the year, as it was up in 2012 over 2011, he says.
If anything, the orders are helping offset a sluggish market in other areas. The company is still selling its top-of-the-line M-Class aircraft, but the market is flat, he says. Beyond building up a stable order book, Piper is hoping to build long-term relationships that will mean future contracts for replenishing the same fleets five to 10 years down the road.
Deliveries in this year’s first half will not be as level-loaded, with a stronger second quarter than first. This is because Piper has a buildup of Archers as it awaits final certification of the G1000 cockpit. That is expected within weeks, while the certification of the G1000 on the Seminole is anticipated in July.
Piper in November announced the switch from the Garmin G500 cockpit to the G1000 on both the Archer and Seminole. That move came with an order for eight of the aircraft from the Florida Institute of Technology College of Aeronautics.
But unlike the CAE order – in which the G1000 was a requirement – ATP is seeking G500-equipped aircraft. The 15 on firm order will be delivered in late 2013, becoming the first single-engine Piper training aircraft in the ATP fleet. The order will help the flight school transition to a predominately Piper training fleet. It currently operates 107 Seminoles, five Diamond DA40s, 93Skyhawks and a Citation Jet.
ATP already had placed a 30-airplane option for the Piper Seminole twin-piston. Caldecott says the Archer and Seminole have a great deal of commonality, enabling flight schools to easily transition from basic flight training into multi-engine training curriculums.
CAE, meanwhile, is using its order to refresh the training fleet of its recently acquired Oxford Aviation Academy. That order calls for 22 single-engine Archer TX trainers and 13 twin Seminoles, with deliveries to begin this spring. CAE will place 27 of the new aircraft at the Oxford center in Phoenix and the remainder in Oxford, U.K.
But Caldecott expects follow-on orders from CAE will call for the aircraft to be delivered to CAE’s other flight schools internationally.