At its AirVenture Oshkosh press conference on Tuesday, Piper president Simon Caldecott shared some remarkable numbers for the company not based on the sales of its hot turboprop single, the M600, but on some products that many observers had all but written off.
In 2013, ATP Flight School signed on for 15 Piper Archers with an option for 85 additional Archers. Options often are a way for manufacturers boost their numbers and for flight schools (or charter providers) to lock in good prices for the planes in the unlikely event they might need a lot more of them than they’d originally thought they would. In this case, ATP wanted every last one of its options, taking the last of the 85 additional planes and completing the deal for its 100th Archer. Today, ATP operates an impressive fleet of 100 Archers and 100 Seminole twins.
Caldecott also said that Piper had delivered the last of 20 airplanes to the University of North Dakota Odegard School of Aeronautics, an order that was composed of 16 Archers and four Seminoles, part of a deal that could, like ATP’s, total as many as 100 airplanes. So far, UND has accepted 32 Piper trainers, 24 Archers and eight Seminoles overall and shows little sign of slowing its rate of acceptance.
The transformation from a handful of trainers a year to a hundred or more is great news for Piper, but it was the opposite of luck. Here’s the backstory.
Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Piper recreated itself as a thoroughly modern aircraft manufacturer by creating a lineup of all-metal, easy-flying airplanes, developed under the PA-28 certification. Those planes, including the 140, the Warrior, the Archer, Challenger and Arrow, would later branch into new spinoffs, including a twin, the Seneca (and later the Seminole) and the PA-32 Cherokee Six models. They were all great-flying, utilitarian, dependable, rugged and competitively priced planes, and for a 20-year span they were the second best selling brand in the world (behind Cessna, of course). But by the 1980s the profitability of that segment of planes plummeted, and Piper recreated itself though fits and starts as a premier manufacturer of single-engine business aircraft, including the Malibu and Meridian single-engine six-seaters.
Several years ago, Caldecott took over the reins at a Piper Aircraft company that had been given a fresh chance at success with fresh funding and renewed energy. Caldecott, in his usual, understated way, mentioned early in his tenure that Piper had some great opportunities to rebuild its training business by relaunching its PA-28 Archer and Arrow single and PA-44 Seminole twin. Few industry observers thought that the idea would go far. After all, Piper had essentially shuttered manufacture of its legacy planes, producing them only when they’d built up a handful of orders for a particular model.
Instead, over the past five years, Piper has steadily rebuilt its training business in part with strong domestic sales and in part with a focus on foreign sales, as well. Airline pilots are needed the world around and, hence, so are trainers. In an interview with Plane & Pilot on Tuesday, Caldecott expressed that another part of the success of Piper’s trainer initiative was in believing in the aircraft, which he said were great airplanes and perfect for their missions, a sentiment that is surely shared by ATP, UND and other training providers, who have signaled their confidence in Piper with long term orders and, in what is perhaps the best indicator of product satisfaction, return orders.
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