Piper Factory Rebuilt, Product Line Getting Makeover

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There are fewer more compelling hard-luck stories out there than Piper's recent history. But with "concrete bunkers" to replace its hurricane-ravaged buildings, new airplanes on the way (including -- somewhere in the distance -- the long-awaited jet), a seemingly re-energized de-unionized and united front office and factory floor, and a healthy increase in sales, Jim Bass, the company's new CEO, told a news conference Tuesday at Sun 'n Fun that the death watch for Piper is over. "This is a great American story," he said without a hint of corniness to a jaded press corps that had dutifully covered previous pronouncements of this sort with a healthy dose of skepticism. But Bass, in his "first outing" since taking over the company six months ago, gave some rapid-fire reasons for optimism as he touted his Piper as "the grand old lady of the ball." Piper struggled along with other GA companies after 9/11 but got hammered by circumstances beyond its control that others didn't, at least not to the same extent. The 2003 recall of new Lycoming engines because of potentially faulty crankshafts halted production of some of its best-selling and most profitable lines. Ongoing labor problems plagued the company and at least four hurricanes have hit in the last couple of years.