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Piper ices Altaire jet; begins layoffs

After an internal review of its signature Altaire business jet programme announced last week, Piper today revealed that it will “suspend further development” on the six-seat single-engine jet.

 "Following an evaluation of Altaire development and light jet forecasts we determined the best course of action for the company going forward is to indefinitely suspend the programme, preserving intellectual property and progress to date," said Piper Interim President and CEO Simon Caldecott, who took over as Piper lead from Geoff Berger in a surprise shake-up on 17 October. Also removed was Randy Groom, Piper executive vice president. Piper’s owner, Imprimis, is a Singapore investment firm funded by the Sultanate of Brunei, a southeast Asian monarchy flush with oil and gas revenues.

 "Clearly, the market for light jets is not recovering sufficiently and quickly enough to allow us to continue developing the programme under the economic circumstances we face," Caldecott said.

 The internal review, designed to “align the company's business goals with the light jet market outlook, investment strategies and overall economic forecasts”, found that while the Altaire programme was “on schedule, on budget, and hitting aircraft performance targets, planned development costs had risen above the point that were recoverable under foreseeable light jet market projections,” Caldecott stated.

The company said it will not release the budget for the jet development program or expenditures to date, but that it will refund the deposits for Altaire position holders, or convert those to orders other new Piper aircraft. A Piper spokesman told Flightglobal that the review showed the company would not be able to recoup its investment “over the time period we wanted to”, but he would not say what that time period was.

 Piper said it will lay off approximately 150 employees associated with the programme and 55 contractors, starting this week, bringing the total workforce to approximately 700. “The company will aggressively work with aviation companies and other employers who are currently seeking talent to place as many impacted,” Piper said in the announcement. Piper earlier this month held a job recruitment seminar in Wichita for PiperJet engineers.

 In an effort to retain some of its engineering talent, the company is initiating third-party engineering and manufacturing services including Design by Piper, a group that will perform proprietary engineering and technical functions for other companies “to take advantage of the high level and wide range of some of the talent that had been assigned to the Altaire development programme”.

 Another new offshoot, Precision by Piper, “will leverage the company's precision manufacturing expertise and recent upgrades to its manufacturing capabilities which were completed in anticipation of Altaire production”, Piper said.

 Piper explained it will also increase the ranks of its sustaining engineering function and will step up product improvements and investments in existing lines of its business and training aircraft.

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