Altaire A Dated Concept


The history of aviation is full of false starts, some of which, with the benefit of hindsight, look like mistakes. Piper’s likely decision to shelve the Altaire single-engine jet won’t be one of them. The sooner it ends its “review” of the project and puts a bullet in it the better.Although the Altaire is not even off the drawing board, the concept of a single-engine business jet is dated. It was conceived in the dream days of VLJs sprouting like crocuses in spring and just like the VLJ idea itself, the notion of a practical single-engine jet as a viable business aircraft, which Piper was touting the Altaire as, is unrealistic.I know someone who had a deposit on the original PiperJet but when the heady brew of jets and flight levels lost its intoxicating effect, he got his money back and, for a fraction of the cost, bought a Cheyenne that is all the aircraft he needs. It wasn’t the money that changed his mind. It was the single engine.Money will be an issue for plenty of people looking for a little bizjet and the fact that for about the same money you can order a new Eclipse or Mustang with two engines is bound to be a factor in their decision making.Also, when I was at NBAA last week, I heard something that is impossible to verify but makes sense. Piper wanted certification to 35,000 feet for the Altaire to give the range and speed of a “real” business jet. In a casual conversation it came up that the FAA wasn’t keen on the idea of a single-engine aircraft way up there because of everything that could go wrong if the engine quit, which is admittedly rare but not unheard of.It could also be that even one of the world’s richest men, the Sultan of Brunei, for whom the Piper acquisition was a pet project, couldn’t rationalize the economics of the Altaire. Certification and development costs were sure to be in the eight-to-nine figure range and it takes a lot of sales at the tight margins necessary to sell little jets to justify the investment. That’s especially true when companies like Eclipse Aerospace picked up that whole package for pennies on the dollar thanks to the unintentional generosity of the tier one investors in Eclipse.This effectively leaves one credible horse in the single-engine jet race, the Diamond DJET. Yes, Cirrus is still flying around the proof-of-concept Vision SJ50 but its future is questionable and it’s nowhere near the level of development of the Diamond jet. Diamond has the money and technical juice to get the DJET to market. Whether that’s a wise thing will be determined when it actually hits the market.To their credit, the folks at Diamond Aircraft have never pretended their DJET was anything but a personal aircraft. The fact that it is being certified to 25,000 feet will undoubtedly make that process smoother. Some of the Altaire customers will likely turn north to London, Ontario for their jet fix but I have a feeling many of them will just be happy to get their deposits back so they can start looking for an aircraft that makes sense for them, like maybe a Meridian or even an old Cheyenne.