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Piper books $90 million in orders for new plane

Photo: Business is booming as Piper ramps up production of its M600.

Piper’s new, bigger, dressed-up corporate prop plane seems to be finding favor in the market. The company says it has already sold more than 30 of the $2.85 million, six-seat aircraft, months ahead of the plane’s earliest delivery date.

The result:  The company says it plans to add 75 employees as production ramps up later this year.

Piper announced the M600 a year ago and expects to begin delivering planes to customers in August.

Three M600s have been built for testing purposes, and Craig Masters, Piper manager of flight operations, said a pilot and flight test engineer with the Federal Aviation Administration are at Piper now checking out the plane’s handling, stability, control, climbing, take-offs and landings.

“It is the complete gamut of testing,” Masters said.

Planes four, five and six, the first production models, are being built in Piper’s factory this month.

Tom Haines, editor-in-chief at Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association, predicts “the M600 will be good for Piper. The additional range and payload of the M600 makes it a much stronger competitor in the single-engine turboprop market.”

The M600 succeeds the M500, which sold for $2 million. Piper developed the aircraft after it received feedback from dealers who said customers wanted a turboprop with a bigger payload and flying range.

The M600 has a range of 1,441 nautical miles, a big increase over the M500’s 1,000-mile range. Now, the M600 can fly from Vero Beach to New England and the Midwest without a pit stop to refuel.

The M600’s wing design was modified to create more room for fuel. It carries 260 gallons of fuel compared to the M500’s 170-gallon load. The M600 wing span is the same as that of the M500, but the wing is fatter and heavier.

The M600 can also carry 6,000 pounds at take-off, compared to the M500’s 5,092 pounds. Both are six-seaters.

The plane is powered by a 600-horsepower Pratt & Whitney engine and has a maximum cruising speed of 260 knots, or 299 mph.

Besides making the plane fly further and faster carrying a heavier load, Piper also spruced up the interior by improving the arm rests and head room for the pilot seats, while making passenger seats more convenient and comfortable. The leather interior gives the cabin a luxurious feel.

“We knew the M500 was a great product, but it had some shortcomings,” said Jackie Carlon, Piper director of marketing and communications.

Once the aircraft draws U.S. certification and is sold in this country, Piper will then look to markets in Europe and Brazil, Carlon said.

The typical buyer is a business owner who is a pilot but non-pilots also are buying the M600 and hiring a pilot to fly the aircraft, Carlon said. Some corporations are adding the M600 to their corporate fleets so a jet doesn’t have to be used for some assignments when the smaller M600 will do, she said. And there are even some M500 owners trading in their aircraft for the M600.

“The improvements in the M600 allow it to carry a professional pilot and paying passengers, making it a contender for charter operations, a first for Piper in their single-engine turboprop line,” said Haines.

“The single-engine turboprop market is strong and the M600 will be well received.”