Piper Aircraft has ousted the senior management team at its Vero Beach headquarters in Florida and launched an internal review of its flagship Altaire single-engine jet, a project that was aiming at a 2014 certification.
Chief executive Geoffrey Berger, an investment fund manager who took the reigns of the company in July 2010 from Piper veteran Kevin Gould, has gone.
Berger initially took an interim role with no plans to stay long term, but was later made permanent chief executive. His brother is Stephen Berger, who heads investment company Imprimis which bought Piper in 2009.
Simon Caldecott, previously Piper's vice-president of operations, has been named new interim president and chief executive. Caldecott previously worked for Hawker Beechcraft in assembly operations and earlier in his 37-year career worked as a design engineer for British Aerospace on the Hawker business jet programme.
Piper executive vice-president Randy Groom has also gone. Groom, a former Beechcraft president, joined the company in April 2010, going on to be a key figure in attempts to take the Altaire business jet to market, originally pencilled in for 2013. Last year, Piper announced a major enhancement to the design, including a larger cabin and a 2014 entry into service. Groom has yet to be replaced.
Piper said the future of the Altaire appears to be in question, pending results of a review being carried out by Caldecott and his senior leadership team.
"The economy [has been] a lot softer for a lot longer than people were anticipating," said a Piper spokesman. "The time is really good to look at the programme again in detail, to determine whether it makes sense to continue in light of forecasts for light business jet aircraft," he added.
However, he said that until the review is complete it is "business usual" for the Altaire programme.
The announcement marks an abrupt shift away from the healthy state of the programme Piper portrayed only weeks ago. In September, Groom said the first conforming Altaire was on schedule for first flight in late 2012, and 80% of the detail design drawings had been completed by the 200 engineers working the programme.
On 7 October, Piper held a job fair in Wichita seeking a variety of engineering positions - largely for the Altaire.