Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Piper Matrix: The Second-Year Test


A year after Piper shut down the Saratoga HP, the Matrix helps pick up the slack


When Cessna introduced the P210 back in 1978, I was one of those idiots who predicted they’d have a hard time selling “any single-engine piston airplane with a base price over $100,000.”

Despite my cynicism, Cessna did all right. Between 1978 and 1986, it sold about 900 of ’em. (The last 1986 Cessna P210Rs had an average-equipped price of $323,000.)

A few years ago, the base price of the Piper Malibu Mirage passed $1 million, and considering the overall success of the model, I now know better than to make stupid predictions. In the intervening quarter century, I’ve learned not to make value judgments.

Still, many pilots wonder what will happen to the Mirage and other high-ticket piston models if any of the VLJs make it into production at anything close to their proposed prices. No matter how spectacular the financial debacle of the Eclipse 500, Cirrus and Diamond are proposing small jets for prices below $2 million. Even if they come to market at $1.8/$2 million, what will that do to Mirage sales at a price point of $1.2 million?

It’s true that pressurization is perhaps the ultimate luxury in an airplane (once you fly it, you’ll never want to go back), but it’s not for everyone, either operationally or financially. Modern pressurization systems are relatively automatic—set it and forget it—but some pilots don’t feel the need to breathe compressed air.

Piper’s thinking in late ’07 was that many Mirage pilots don’t often loft up into the flight levels anyway, so why not retain the popular Mirage but offer a model that would dispense with pressurization altogether?

Depressurizing an existing model isn’t a new idea for expanding a product line. Cessna did it back in 1980 with the Cessna 335, an uninflatable 340. That plan didn’t work, and the model was retired after only a year. Piper was aware of that failure, but it reasoned that the Matrix had a better chance of success because of its market and price point.



Labels: Piston Singles

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