Piper Aircraft CEO Simon Caldecott will retire April 2, the Florida airplane manufacturer announced on March 22. Piper reports a succession plan has been in the works “for several months,” and the board of directors will soon announce new leadership.
Caldecott shepherded Piper through a turbulent decade after being named CEO in 2011. He joined the company in 2009 to lead development of what would have been Piper’s first turbofan-powered aircraft. The Great Recession was underway when the PiperJet prototype first flew on July 30, 2008, and the global economy was in freefall by the time Caldecott was hired. Prior to joining Piper, Caldecott worked for Hawker Beechcraft as a vice president responsible for the development, assembly, and completion of mid-sized business jets.
By 2011, the PiperJet project faced fast-dimming prospects, and was “under review” when Caldecott was named CEO of the iconic general aviation airplane manufacturer. During his tenure at the top, Piper shifted its top-of-the-line attention to turboprops, particularly the flagship M600, the first GA airplane certified to fly with Garmin’s automated landing system that is able take over in case of pilot incapacitation and land the airplane at the nearest suitable runway. Piper also boosted its bottom line by more nostalgic means, delivering scores of single-engine piston airplanes to colleges and flight schools working to keep up amid a global shortage of pilots. Piper unveiled the Pilot 100 in 2019, adding a lower-cost alternative to the long-popular PA–28 series.
When the coronavirus pandemic shoved the aircraft market back on its heels once again in 2020, Piper was better positioned than many to weather the storm. Piston aircraft propelled a pre-pandemic surge in sales (and business jets to a lesser degree), and while jet orders fizzled in the face of the global health crisis, piston deliveries for 2020 nearly matched the 2019 industry totals. That was thanks in no small part to Piper, which delivered 244 aircraft (including 149 PA–28 Archers, and 11 Piper Pilot 100s) in 2020, according to data compiled by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, down from 290 aircraft delivered in 2019 (of which 182 were PA–28 Archers).
GAMA President and CEO Pete Bunce called Caldecott, a past chairman of the trade association, a “giant” in the industry who has earned the respect and admiration of colleagues and employees alike. Bunce credited Caldecott’s steady leadership with Piper’s enviable position today.
“He brought it back out of the depths of the recession, made some smart business decisions,” Bunce said. He recalled watching Piper staff pitch Caldecott’s leadership as a selling point to prospective employees during a hiring fair at the factory in Vero Beach, Florida: “I love being able to see our corporate leaders … be so well-regarded by the people that work for them.”
Bunce predicted Caldecott’s knowledge and talent will be sought after long past his last day on Piper’s payroll: “No one wants his expertise to just transition to the golf course.”
Caldecott reflected on his tenure:
“It has been an honor and privilege leading Piper Aircraft through a transformative journey, from a legacy aircraft manufacturer to the first general aviation manufacturer to certify an autoland equipped general aviation aircraft,” Caldecott said. “We strengthened the leadership team with new talent, made major facility improvements to make a safer workplace and strengthened relations with the community as well as with major suppliers. I am enormously proud of the dedicated team at Piper and our global independent Dealership network. With everything in place, the Company’s future prospects are extremely encouraging and I look forward to a smooth transition.”
Piper’s response to the coronavirus pandemic extended beyond its basic business model. The company prototyped and produced clear plastic face shields for medical workers in March 2020, delivering the desperately needed protective gear to Florida hospitals.
The company has also worked for years to foster and develop local talent for its workforce, launching in 2018 a two-year aircraft production apprenticeship program.
AOPA President Mark Baker noted Caldecott’s contribution to GA:
“Simon can be very proud of his time at the helm of Piper Aircraft. Under his leadership, Piper has continued to introduce fantastic aircraft and world-class safety innovations, and I am happy that he has been recognized for these achievements. I know that many of our members love flying and owning Pipers, and as my friends and co-workers know, my favorite days are those spent in my Super Cub! I wish blue skies in retirement to my good friend Simon.”
Piper’s press release noted that the company staff has worked with the firm’s board of directors “for several months on a succession plan and will be announcing the new leadership structure soon.”