Piper has reinvented its first jet-powered offering with the Altaire, a larger, sleeker evolution of the single-engined PiperJet that is now scalable and directed at the business sector as well as the owner/operator market.
While the all-metal proof-of-concept aircraft was anchored on the rectangular Meridian turboprop fuselage with a 122cm (48in) spacer, the Altaire will feature a circular cross-section fuselage that is larger but with the same four-passenger club seat arrangement, says Randy Groom, Piper executive vice-president.
Powered by the same Williams International FJ44-3AP turbofan engine, the Altaire’s wing will also have the same 13.5m (44ft) span, but with a longer chord. The aircraft’s four cabin windows on each side of the fuselage will now be oval rather than rectangular, a nod to aesthetics and a sleeker new profile from nose to tail.
“The new ownership [of Piper] came in and evaluated the programme,” says Groom, referring to Brunei-based Imprimis, which bought all the assets of the company in May 2009. “We saw the opportunity to provide more for the customer and the opportunity for platform growth. We did a restart on the programme, but with the benefit of experience on configuration.”
Piper launched the PiperJet in 2006 and began flying the proof-of-concept aircraft in 2008, accumulating 375 flight hours to date. The company had secured around 160 orders for the aircraft at $2.2 million each, a price that will stay the same for those position holders.
Going forward, however, Piper has set the sales price at $2.5 million for the basic aircraft, with a “typically equipped” Altaire costing $2.6 million, says Groom.
In the cockpit, the Altaire will feature the same Garmin G3000 avionics as before, but with a traditional control yoke rather than sidestick controller of the PiperJet.
Production will remain at Piper’s Vero Beach facility, says Groom, with the first flight of the production conforming prototype, for which metal is now being cut, in 2012 and first deliveries in 2014, one year later than the most recent PiperJet first delivery estimate.
PiperJet Altaire cutaway
Groom says Piper has 140 engineers working on the programme, positions that were not affected by the recent 6% cut in staff that left the company with 830 employees. He adds that Piper expects to deliver 150 aircraft this year, up 60% from last year’s 94 deliveries.
Company commitment to follow through on the Altaire by the privately owned Imprimis appears to be firm. “Monies have been allocated to the programme for the duration,” says Groom. “This is not a classic private equity company looking to sell in 10-plus years. This is the classic Asian mentality of looking long term.”
“We think that we’re going to be the dominant [airframer] in a new niche,” says Groom. “Not with just a small personal jet, but with an aircraft capable of being a business jet.”