By: Jason Paur
One of the most legendary plane makers in aviation history has decided to pull the plug on its first attempt at producing a jet. Piper announced the company is “indefinitely” suspending the single engine jet it has been developing the past several years.
In a statement, Piper said the single engine jet it has been working on, the Altaire, was on schedule, on budget and meeting performance expectations. But the company cited market analysis that points to a very long period of time to recover the investment needed to complete the development of the airplane.
“Clearly, the market for light jets is not recovering sufficiently and quickly enough to allow us to continue developing the program under the economic circumstances we face” said interim President and CEO Simon Caldecott.
The small jets that were once the trendiest item in general aviation with just about every manufacturer jumping on board are quickly becoming just a small part of the industry.
The news of the end of Piper’s entry in what was once called the very light jet market comes just a few weeks after the originator of the airplane class, Eclipse, was going back into production with its 6 seat jet. Diamond Aircraft, which like Piper has a single engine jet it has been working on, recently announced plans to continue the development of its D-Jet. Diamond had suspended work on the airplane in the spring due to a lack of funding for the project.
Cirrus Aircraft has scaled back the development of its single engine jet, though the Minnesota company has not provided many updates on the program recently.
Piper’s Altaire first flew in 2006 at what was near the peak of the very light jet excitement. During much of the last decade small jets were the trendiest topic in general aviation. Many companies were working on airplanes that would be much cheaper than existing business jets and easier to fly. The hope was for a marketplace filled with owner/pilots who would enjoy the ability to fly faster and higher (above weather) than they could in their existing piston powered propeller airplanes without taking the big step in price and complexity of larger jets.
There’s no doubt the downturn in the economy has played a major role, but as the dream of air taxi services buying up thousands of jets also disappeared, the numbers needed to recover development costs seemed to vanish as well.
Piper became a player in the industry during the late 1930s and 1940s for making the ubiquitous yellow J-3 Cub, one of the most successful light airplanes of all time. The company says it has more than 100 orders for the Altaire and will be refunding all of the deposits.