Piper Aircraft has returned its grounded M600 fleet to service. Just before Oshkosh in July, the OEM carried out some component testing and found that an aft wing spar section of the M600 was out of tolerance. "We immediately went back and did some testing of the units that we had in inventory, and we noticed that there appeared to be some inconsistencies with the measurements," explains sales, marketing and customer support manager Ron Gunnarson. "Since we could not get a quick handle on that very critical area, our president and CEO Simon Caldecott made the decision to temporarily ground the fleet while we investigated and gathered more data. With this action we immediately contacted, through all available channels, our owners as we worked with the FAA to understand the issue.
"As part of the inspection process for those aircraft, we supplied all service centres with the appropriate materials and tools to complete an accurate measurement of the thickness of the wing spar sections that were in question. All of the necessary inspections were completed and we worked with the FAA for new standards of thicknesses for those areas. All aircraft met those new thickness standards for the impacted areas, which is now part of the type design sheet for the M600."
The 39 affected aircraft have completed inspection and have now been returned to service, and Gunnarson is welcoming the opportunity to promote the type to Europe and beyond: "The mission profile in Europe for the M600 will be very similar to what it is everywhere else in the world, because of the performance that it offers. Typically the aircraft is operated under FAA Part 91 or private ownership, non-commercial operations. The aircraft are primarily owned by businesses and high net worth individuals.
"The M600 usually flies with a passenger load of one pilot and two passengers, with a typical range of between 300 and 400 nm, even though it has up to 1,400 nm maximum range. But then again the 300 to 400 nm trip is prevalent even in light business jets."
Around 50 aircraft have taken to the skies to date and, as well as sensing that the M600 is finding its niche in Europe, Gunnarson is optimistic about how it will be received in the Middle East and Africa.
"We have focused a good portion of our marketing efforts within the EMEA territory," he continues. "Starting at the beginning of this year, we had an aircraft at AERO Friedrichshafen and at EBACE. From there we embarked on an EMEA-specific demo tour. This was very successful and resulted in five firm orders for the aircraft with several more deals currently in negotiation. Those deliveries are taking place, and our focus is now on planning for 2018.
"Europe definitely has the strongest potential for us in EMEA. I don't think the M600 is that much different to aircraft a little bit below it or above it from a price and performance standpoint. It looks like for 2017 we'll finish with about 80 per cent of the M600 sales being in the US and Canada and 20 per cent in the rest of the world. For 2018 I think this will change to a 70-30 split as we achieve more certifications and the aircraft gains more exposure. We have already taken some 2018 orders, which bodes well, and we are seeing some firming up of the economies in Europe, Brazil, China and Australia.
Commercial SET approval in Europe has aided Piper's efforts. "We had an order from a company that was flying PC-12s and saw that the M600 was the ideal stablemate for that aircraft. I think the timing is right," concludes Gunnarson.