Piper Aircraft, which was recruiting for employees in Wichita just three weeks ago, is suspending development on its $2.5 million Altaire business jet and cutting about 150 jobs at its Vero Beach, Fla. facility.
The program’s suspension comes after an evaluation of the economic conditions and forecasts for the light jet market, despite the program being on schedule, on budget and hitting aircraft performance targets, company officials said.
Planned development costs have risen above the point that would be recoverable with the current market forecasts, they said.
The company held a job fair in Wichita Oct. 7 to recruit employees primarily for the Altaire business jet program
Piper will cut 150 jobs on a schedule as the program ramps down. That will bring employment from 850 people to about 700. It also will quickly eliminate 55 positions held by contract personnel.
“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,” Piper interim president and CEO Simon Caldecott said in a statement.
Piper will not say how much it had budgeted for the Altaire’s development or its expenses to date. It will refund the deposits of Altaire customers, or they can use them toward other Piper aircraft.
In the meantime, the company plans to step up product improvements for its current line of turboprop and piston-powered airplanes, Caldecott said. To that end, Piper will increase the number of employees who are dedicated to its sustaining engineering function, it said. Piper also is initiating third-party engineering and manufacturing services to preserve as many jobs as possible. And it will work with other employees who want to hire experienced employees.
The company is primarily owned by the Ministry of Finance of the Government of Brunei.
Last week, Piper announced that it was evaluating whether to suspend development of the Altaire. It also announced that president Geoff Berger was leaving the company and named Caldecott interim president and CEO. It also announced that Piper executive vice president Randy Groom was leaving the company. Groom formerly served with Caldecott at Hawker Beechcraft in Wichita.
The action came just days after Piper showcased the Altaire at the National Business Aviation Association’s annual convention held in Las Vegas this month.
Groom told Aviation Week that Piper had estimated that orders would last through the first three years of production. The company has not released sales numbers.