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Piper Aircraft sales soaring, hiring surges

Photo: Working on the Fuselage of a Piper M600.

Piper Aircraft’s sales soared in 2018, with deliveries of its airplanes jumping nearly 50 percent, prompting a surge in hiring that has upped the workforce of the county’s largest private-sector employer to more than 1,000.

It was just 3 ½ years ago that sagging sales and economic uncertainty in the global marketplace forced Piper to eliminate 115 full-time positions and reduce its payroll to 655 workers, some of whom accepted transfers to lower-paying jobs to remain employed.

Since then, however, Piper’s business has taken off: Aircraft deliveries climbed from 127 in 2016 to 155 in 2017, with an even more dramatic jump in 2018.

Jackie Carlin, Piper‘s senior marketing director, said last week the 2018 production numbers weren’t yet available, but she projected 229 deliveries – a whopping, 48 percent increase over the previous year.

Carlin said deliveries of Piper’s M-Class line of business and personal single-engine, turboprop aircraft grew 35 percent from 2017 to 2018, and that the company, riding an increased demand for its smaller pilot-training aircraft, anticipates another strong showing in the coming year.

“While we aren’t announcing our planned 2019 production at this time, we expect that deliveries will grow at least 30 percent,” Carlin said, adding, “All trainer aircraft are sold for 2019 with a backlog into 2022.”

During the past year, Piper announced two large training-aircraft orders – one from China’s FanMei Flight School and the other from the Jacksonville-based ATP Flight School, which has training centers in 18 states.

Combined, those orders are for 252 aircraft.

In addition, Carlin said Piper continues to fill its order book with new-aircraft sales to a wide range of university-based and independent flight schools in the United States.

She said the increase in demand for Piper’s training aircraft can be “directly attributed to a looming pilot shortage and the resulting demand for pilots.”

To meet its 2018 production demands, Piper hired workers for an array of positions throughout the year.

That’s quite a turnaround from 2015, when worldwide demand for Piper’s products slowed – especially in the European, Asian and Latin American markets – so much that the company suffered back-to-back quarters in which sales, deliveries and revenues all declined.

As a result, Piper President and CEO Simon Caldecott said at the time that the company needed to “better align production with current market demand,” which it did, reducing its payroll by more than 15 percent.

The company carried out reverse “alignment” during the past 12 months, this time increasing its workforce and production.

“Piper’s continued commitment to a level-loaded aircraft-production schedule has allowed us to meet solid financial growth and performance goals, while expanding our worldwide sales, visibility and efforts, especially in the pilot-training realm,” Caldecott said last week.

“As we look toward 2019, we are excited about the growth in demand for aircraft trainers and the resulting contracts that we have been awarded, which has helped develop a backlog of orders,” he added.

“Additionally, working in concert with our full-service dealers, we look to continue to grow M-Class demand and sales.”

Vero Beach Airport Director Eric Menger said he and other local officials are excited about Piper’s success and the impact it’s having on the city-owned airport.

“As Piper grows, so grows the airport and its many very successful businesses,” Menger said, “all of which contribute to our facility.”