At about $2 million a pop, even with a relatively modest appetite for Jet-A, Piper has never pitched its single-engine turboprop Meridian to the flight training market, though that could change. A Meridian delivered to Airline Transport Professionals—the Florida professional pilot training company better known as ATP—may prove to be just the ticket for students building turbine time.
"We foresee acquiring more Meridians to scale the turbine transition training to more students nationwide,” said ATP Vice President Jim Koziarski in an email, noting each student already gets 100 hours or more in (piston twin) Piper Seminoles. “The single-engine turboprop Meridian makes the turbine transition most cost effective to the students.”
Piper Aircraft spokesperson Jackie Carlon said the Meridian burns about 37 gallons of fuel per hour, and costs about $500 per hour to operate, according to company estimates (which, as with any aircraft, depend on several variables)—significantly less than most turbine-powered options. Carlon said that Piper will learn much from how ATP utilizes the Meridian, and may rethink a sales strategy that does not include marketing the Meridian to flight training operators.
“Now that we see there’s some interest, perhaps we’ll reconsider that approach,” Carlon said. “Potentially, there’s an opportunity there.”
Piper’s opportunity may come at the expense of Diamond Aircraft, which has struggled for years to bring the light turbine D-Jet to market at a similar price point. Koziarski, noting that Diamond's project has stalled, said ATP needed to find another aircraft to meet the needs of students training for the airline market, where time in a turbine can make students more appealing to potential employers.
ATP has been buying Piper Aircraft in bulk in recent years. The Meridian acquisition follows a 2011 deal for 30 Seminoles, and another deal earlier this year with orders for 25 aircraft (including Archers), and options for another 75. ATP currently operates more than 200 aircraft (more than 130 of them Pipers) at 30 locations across the country, offering students airline-sponsored training from zero time to 1,500 hours.
ATP has been planning to add jet and turbine training to the career track program for some time, currently offering Cessna Citation second-in-command type ratings in small number. The company in years past offered King Airs for high-altitude and high-performance training.