Piper Aircraft is planning to open a pilot academy in Brunei as part of its Asian expansion programme initiated in May after Piper was acquired by Brunei-backed investment firm Imprimis.
Piper president John Becker says the general aviation manufacturer is seeking to partner a pilot training firm to establish Brunei's first flying academy. "We're putting out a request for proposals aimed at large academies or training institutions," he says, adding that Piper will lead the project.
The new academy will be aimed at the growing requirement for ab initio pilot training at Asian airlines. Piper and Imprimis have identified Asia-based pilot training as a market with huge untapped potential because most of the region's airlines now send their ab initio students to schools in Australia, Europe or North America.
The academy will serve the dual purpose of helping Piper develop a new market for the Warrior, a single-engined piston trainer, and push along Brunei's desire to create an aviation hub.
The Brunei government decided to acquire 100% of Piper as the first step in growing the small country's aviation sector. Brunei's aviation market is tiny, limited to about 10 aircraft at flag carrier Royal Brunei Airlines, an even smaller fixed-wing fleet at the Royal Brunei Air Force and a few private aircraft. But there is plenty of open airspace ideal for training as well as infrastructure, including two underused airports and several unused hangars.
Becker says the academy is only part of Piper's Asian expansion plan. The manufacturer has also issued RFPs seeking dealers to sell the entire Piper product line in six key regions throughout Asia-Pacific. Becker says Piper is also recruiting for an Asian-based executive, who most likely will be based in a new office in Brunei, to oversee the academy and "four to five other business opportunities" the manufacturer is evaluating.
He adds Piper over the last month has been conducing "in-depth market research" to identify where the Asian general aviation market is today, what it will look like in 10 to 15 years and what the business opportunities are. "It's an industry in its infancy, but it has real good opportunity for growth," Becker says. "We're really driving this process as quickly as we can."
He says it is too early to say when the flying academy in Brunei will open, how many pilots it will train annually or how many Piper trainers it will operate. Piper Warriors are the workhorse of several large flying academies and Piper Senecas are often used by schools for twin-engine training. Both types are operated by the Malaysian Flying Academy, one of Asia's largest pilot training centres with students from Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia as well as self-funded students.