Piper Aircraft is again pushing forward with development of its first jet after slowing work on the programme for several months because of financial constraints.
The manufacturer's new chief executive, Kevin Gould, says Piper is in the process of hiring new engineers and putting more resources into the project. "The jet suffered a bit and now we're revving it back up," he says. "Every single general aviation manufacturer has had pressures because of the economy."
Piper plans to accelerate the pace of its jet development
Gould says Piper has been able to spend more on the PiperJet since the beginning of May, when American Capital sold 100% of Piper to Asian investment firm Imprimis. "We will accelerate the pace of jet development," he adds. "Our new ownership group is very supportive of this programme."
Although Piper was forced to slow development following first flight last July, it says it has continued flight testing and has reached several key programme milestones. These include flights at the maximum altitude of 35,000ft (10,675m), made possible by the recent installation of a pressurisation system, and flights at maximum speed. The test aircraft, which will make its air show debut next week at the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin has completed 120 flights for a total of 181h.
But Gould acknowledges Piper is behind its original schedule, which envisioned first deliveries in the fourth quarter of 2011, and it will not be able to make up all the time that has been lost. He says Piper is not yet ready to commit to a new first delivery date, but the new schedule will be more realistic from both a technology and economic standpoint. "The timing may turn out good," says Gould, adding that Piper hopes to come to market just after demand for very light jets has recovered.
The manufacturer has 204 contracted orders for the jet, which is powered by a single Williams International FJ44-3AP engine and is designed to cruise at up to 360kt (666km/h). The aircraft lists for $2.2 million.
Piper's original business plan aimed to produce 100 PiperJets a year. Gould says it is still bullish on the VLJ market, but a more realistic target now is about 75 PiperJets a year.