Piper Aircraft has received its largest ever trainer order, with a firm commitment for 152 aircraft from China's Fan-Mei Aviation Technologies worth $74 million, with potentially another 50 aircraft in the pipeline.
Comprising 100 Archers, 50 Seminoles and one each of the Seneca and M350, the order eclipses Piper's previous largest deal, the 2016 sale of 50 aircraft to the University of North Dakota.
Deliveries are due to begin next month, says Piper chief executive Simon Caldecott, with the arrival of the initial pair of Archer piston-singles.
An additional 10 Archers will follow in 2018, along with seven Seminoles. The remainder of the order will be delivered over the following six years.
Ordered by Chengdu-based Fan-Mei Aviation Technologies, Piper's new exclusive Chinese distributor, the aircraft will be operated by its newly established subsidiary, Fan-Mei Flight School.
Don Li, president of Fan-Mei Aviation Technologies, predicts China's general aviation sector will "experience explosive growth much sooner than people think" as increasing wealth, improving aviation infrastructure and the relaxation of airspace controls all converge.
The investment in new aircraft will help it "prepare" for that expansion, he says.
Neither the Seneca or the M350 are certificated in China, but Li hopes this can be achieved during the second half of this year.
He describes the orders for those types as "place holders" prior to likely additional commitments for both aircraft for possible use on short-haul air taxi operations in the north of the country.
"After we get certification, over the next two to three years, we would add around 20 more Senecas and 30 M-class aircraft. That is the demand we can foresee based on our analysis," he says.
Its initial flight-training operations will focus on instruction for private pilots, but will later look to add similar services for airline pilots.
Fan-Mei Aviation Technologies' order will contribute to a 35% year-on-year rise in trainer production for Piper in 2018, to around 134 aircraft, up from the 99 it delivered in 2017.