Piper Aircraft took advantage of the Sun 'n Fun International Fly-In and Expo's opening day to announce milestones that contributed to the company's most successful year since 2003. Building on a prior relationship with ATP Flight School, the two firms announced an order for 100 Piper Archer TX models.
Piper CEO Simon Caldecott delivered some sunny news on a dark and stormy day in Lakeland, Florida, announcing a renewed relationship with ATP for a second batch of 100 aircraft that follows a similar order placed in 2013.
ATP's fleet of more than 320 aircraft on flight lines across the United States includes scores of Piper Archer singles and Seminole twins. Flight school president Justin Dennis said the second 100-airplane order "will be invaluable" to airlines depending on a reliable pipeline of professionally trained pilots.
"With our commitment to the training industry and with our determination, we are continuing to make headway," Caldecott said, adding that the company was experiencing its most successful year since 2003.
Caldecott basically threw down the gauntlet against Wichita, Kansas-based Textron Aircraft, the makers of the venerable Cessna 172 that has dominated hangars, flight schools, and airports since the late 1950s. The 180-horsepower, low-wing, fixed-gear Archer TX traces its roots to 1960 and Ercoupe designer Fred Weick, who helped create the line of family-oriented Piper Cherokees.
Caldecott said the Vero Beach, Florida-based company was "keeping abreast" with Textron’s instructional segment and he vowed to go "head to head with Cessna" for the training market.
"I think we’ve done a pretty good job over the last several years," Caldecott added, ticking off updates to the PA–28 line that was modernized in 2013 with Garmin's G1000 digital avionics package and further tweaked in 2017 by the addition of Garmin’s NXi suite. "We’re going to be the leader in training aircraft," he declared.
Caldecott said the increase in activity has already led to the hiring of additional staff at Piper's factory. About 180 potential employees attended a recent jobs fair to fill out applications and participate in interviews. The company made offers to 31 of them, noted Caldecott, adding that "a majority of those have started or will start soon."
Caldecott joined Piper in 2009 in the midst of a national economic downturn. The company’s staff had bottomed out at 560, and only 14 aircraft were delivered that year. Caldecott said that by 2017, Piper had nearly doubled its staff to 941 workers who manufactured 145 aircraft—a tenfold production increase in less than 10 years.
He said a second shift had been added to "satisfy the immediate needs of our customers," and the company is currently producing about four aircraft per week.
In February Piper scored the largest training order in the 80-year-old company's history when China's Fanmei flight schools committed to buy 152 training aircraft destined for the emerging Asian flight school market. The $74 million win included 100 Archer TX single-engine trainers, 50 multiengine Seminoles, one Seneca, and one pressurized, single-engine piston M350. Caldecott said the Chinese market would include both avgas- and diesel-powered Pipers. “The first two Archers are about to undergo diesel conversion right now,” he noted.
The company was clearly on a roll as it announced the University of North Dakota had ordered 22 Archer TXs and four Seminoles to boost the college’s inventory to 80 Archer TXs and 20 Seminoles.
In other news, Piper also announced that Red Bull Air Race pilot Kirby Chambliss and his racing team would fly to and from their shows and appearances in a custom painted M600 with a distinctive stars and stripes paint scheme and interior to match his Edge 540 race aircraft.
Piper said that Safe Flight's angle of attack system would be installed as an option on M600 aircraft by the end of the year, and the safety system would be available on future Archer, Arrow, and Seminole aircraft beginning in 2019.
Piper officials also announced FAA certification of Garmin's NXi integrated flight deck for M500 single-engine turboprop and M350 models, and later in 2018 it planned to offer the integrated avionics package as a supplemental type certificate for G1000-equipped Matrix, Mirage M350, and Meridian M500 aircraft.