Jim Bass, chief executive at Piper Aircraft, lashed out at the U.S. government April 21 for vilifying general aviation, an industry that offers high-skill, high-wage U.S. jobs, billions of dollars in annual exports, and improved economic efficiency.
“The government’s assault on general aviation is wrong,” he said. “It’s guilt by association. In their minds, private aircraft equal corporate excess. Washington has made a sound-bite of our industry. It’s class warfare. The government is vilifying our industry and not looking at the facts.”
Bass said demonizing GA and aircraft owners is a potentially more serious long-term threat than the current credit crisis. Piper has been in business 71 years and survived many other recessions, he said.
The company made drastic, painful steps to cut its costs and slow production in recent months. Employment at the company based in Vero Beach, Fla., is about 600 today, down from a peak of 1,250 nine months ago. Production has slowed to about three aircraft a week from seven a week.
“The changes we’ve had to make are gut-wrenching,” he said. “But we have a very strong balance sheet, and we’re in a very good position to weather this storm.”
Bass said testing continues on the single-engine PiperJet, and the test airplane has landing gear doors, a new pressurization system, and has flown to 35,000 feet to verify its performance targets. Next, the airplane will be fitted with a spin chute for slow-speed handling tests.
Bass said Piper has seen promising indications in recent weeks that the worst of the recession may be over.
Dealers are giving more customer demonstration flights, traffic on Piper’s Web site is up, and so are sales leads.
“We’re not clairvoyant,” Bass said. “We’re very cautious. But we see optimistic signs, and we still have hope for the future.”