A comment about a major competitor appearing to back away from the training market prompted an ear-splitting cheer and a fist pump from Piper Aircraft CEO Simon Caldecott as he reported record-breaking orders and new products in the offing.
“Cessna, keep doing what you’re doing,” Caldecott advised his rival while detailing his Vero Beach, Florida-based firm’s 2018 successes during a July 23 press conference at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Piper posted revenue of $62.3 million on 53 deliveries through the second quarter, and the manufacturer’s flagship M-Class aircraft helped boost sales by 11 percent over 2017.
Deliveries in the trainer market—aided by significant deals in the United States and abroad—more than doubled the half-year sales total, from 15 aircraft in 2017 to 34 in 2018.
At April’s Sun ‘n Fun International Fly-In and Expo, Caldecott vowed to go "head to head with Cessna" for the training market. The company appeared to be making good on the promise after selling 100 Archer TX models to ATP Flight School, which has multiple locations in the United States. A historic deal in February sent 152 training aircraft to China’s Fanmei Aviation Technologies flight school. The Piper factory is so swamped with future orders that it recently held a job fair to hire more than 30 employees. “That Archer DX is a great product,” he confided. “It’s so quiet it’s unbelievable. You should really fly one.”
He noted an all-Piper lineup would soon occupy the ramps at the University of North Dakota, and the manufacturer’s aircraft are also at Western Michigan University, California Baptist University, and Liberty University, among others.
Caldecott said Piper’s future looks bright because sales orders are “backlogged into the third quarter of 2019. As we all know, there were those that said the pilot shortage was wrong. We are seeing the forecast become the reality as evidenced by the significant growth of our trainer products. The pilot shortage is real,” he continued. “We are proud to support some of the best flight schools in the world as we train future pilots.”
He also addressed technology, avionics, and other certifications, including a new Seneca V with a Garmin NXi avionics suite, “which is slated for later this year.”
Beginning in January 2019, the four-year-old Archer DX CD-155 diesel engine installation will become part of the aircraft’s production type certificate, he noted. Caldecott said a new Seminole DX aircraft will be powered by counter-rotating Continental diesel CD-170 powerplants with single-lever control expected to provide more power and better performance. Certification is expected “in the middle of 2019.”
Steel and aluminum tariffs discussed nationally could play a role in future aircraft pricing, but Caldecott said he hoped not. “Obviously, that is something we are watching quite closely but we are very fortunate. We source almost all of our materials in the U.S., so right now, we don’t see any impact.” He was concerned about Piper’s sources “because there might be additional costs” and noted that the company “voiced our concerns to GAMA and we are monitoring that situation seriously.”
When Caldecott came aboard in 2009 the first thing he did was discontinue the Piper Jet project to concentrate in the company’s bread-and-butter training market. A cabin-class single for business owner-pilots came next in the form of the M350, M500 and M600.
We want to stay ahead in development,” said Caldecott, who noted “continuous product improvement with an expanded work force” and a strengthened engineering team led to the firm’s sales successes.
Piper went from selling 14 aircraft in 2009 to 145 aircraft in less than 10 years, and Caldecott was confident the company was positioned to “ride the wave” as the industry picked up steam in the face of a pilot and mechanic shortage noted by Boeing Co.’s annual Pilot and Technician Outlook, released July 23.