A decade ago when Piper introduced its new single-engine turboprop, the Piper Meridian, nobody was quite sure what to make of it. How would it coexist in Piper's lineup with the popular pressurized piston single Malibu Mirage, on which the Meridian is based? And perhaps most importantly, would a new, expensive-to-develop turboprop single save Piper from the financial brink or push it over the edge?
Well, those questions have been answered. After seven years in production, the Piper Meridian has been a star for the company, which is still in business and looking at moving up-market again, with its recently announced PiperJet. When I toured the factory a few weeks ago, Piper Meridian serial number 312 was moving down the line, and Piper plans to build 50 Meridians by the end of the year.
During its lifespan the airplane has gotten a number of upgrades, the most recent of which includes an all-new Avidyne Entegra avionics suite, an increase in maximum takeoff weight and a host of cabin enhancements. The latest Meridian sells for right around $2 million typically equipped, which is pushing the current asking price of the company's emerging single-engine jet but is much less than any comparably equipped and performing pressurized turboprop available.
By any measure, the Meridian is an impressive step-up airplane, offering pilots the chance to fly in the kind of comfort, speed and style that simply isn't attainable in a piston-powered airplane at any price. All of which are likely reasons that the Meridian remains a strong seller for Piper despite its premium price tag.
Like the Malibus before it, the single-pilot Meridian has the time-proven six-place (two occupants up front and a club seating arrangement in back) interior that's become a staple in this kind of midsize airplane, from Piper's own Seneca to the Beechcraft A-36. Even though it's a strictly sit-down interior, the cabin part of the airplane-and there is an actual cabin door-is plenty comfortable.
From a passenger's point of view, there's a lot to like about the roomy Piper Meridian, with its fancy leather interior and fine fit and finish, especially when it's compared with the smaller piston competition. The downside for the pilot is, as with nearly every other cabin-class airplane with this configuration, you need to go through the cabin to get to your seat.
And because there's no external baggage compartment, you also need to load the bags through the cabin. That said, the baggage area, located behind the rear seats, is easy to get to-just fold the seat backs forward-and large enough (20 cubic feet) for a sizable load of up to 100 pounds of luggage.
The centerpiece of the Meridian, indeed the thing that makes it a Meridian, is obviously the 500 shp Pratt & Whitney PT6A-42A turboprop engine (de-rated from better than 1,000 shp). It's not a simple swap. The addition of a turbine engine changed nearly every system on the airplane, from fuel to pressurization to the airframe design itself.
Today a single engine makes more sense than ever, especially with fuel prices on the rise. On top of the immediate savings, it always has been and will continue to be a lot cheaper to take care of one engine than two. And with the engine de-rated to 500 shp, Piper is not asking a lot out of an engine that puts out twice as much power in other applications. TBO on the engine, and this should be music to piston owners' ears, is 3,600 hours.