October 24, 2011
By Thomas B Haines
Grappling with the reality of poor forecasts for light jet purchases, Piper Aircraft is suspending its Altaire single-engine jet program, the company announced Oct. 24.
"Clearly, the market for light jets is not recovering sufficiently and quickly enough to allow us to continue developing the program under the economic circumstances we face," said Simon Caldecott, who was named president and CEO this month. Caldecott’s elevation from VP of Operations to his new position was accompanied by an announcement that the Altaire project was undergoing a review to assure it was still aligned with the company’s future goals and its abilities to complete the project.
According to Piper spokesman Jim Gregory, the company used numerous external and internal forecasts and reviews to determine that the project was no longer viable, resulting in a decision to “indefinitely suspend” it. However, the company plans to protect its intellectual property, leaving the door open to continue the project at a later date should economic conditions improve.
Gregory said all those who had placed orders would receive a complete refund of their deposits. While he would not say how many orders the company has, each was accompanied by a deposit of about $100,000. Earlier this year, the company reported it had more than 100 orders.
With the announcement, the Altaire project will be winding down, leading to the layoff of about 150 employees, mostly engineers. With that, Piper will be left with about 700 employees. Another 55 contract engineers will be let go immediately.
Piper was recruiting for engineers in Wichita as recently as Oct. 7. When asked about that decision, Gregory said that frequently in such programs, staff will be working to keep the program moving at the same time other staff may be doing continuing reviews of its viability. To assist the engineers losing their positions, Piper has set up a telephone hotline where companies seeking engineers can call to learn more about the individuals being laid off.
To retain some of the engineering staff assigned to the Altaire project, Piper announced that it will be increasing sustaining engineering projects to improve its existing products and will also be making engineering services available to other companies in what it calls the Design by Piper project. Additionally, Precision by Piper, another third-party service provider, will leverage the company's precision manufacturing expertise and recent upgrades to its manufacturing capabilities which were completed in anticipation of Altaire production.
The $2.5 million Altaire was announced in 2006 as the PiperJet. A 2010 redesign of the fuselage led to the new Altaire name and pushed back certification to 2014. The first of the Altaires was scheduled to fly in 2012.
AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.
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