- 28 Feb 2022
- Mike Chase
- Turboprop Comparisons
In this month’s aircraft comparison, Mike Chase compares range, speed, payload and cabin volume details to place the Piper Meridian and Daher TBM 850 single engine turboprops within the pre-owned market.Back to Articles
Over the following paragraphs we’ll consider key productivity parameters (including payload, range, speed, and cabin size), as well as the current market for the PA-46 Piper Meridian and Daher TBM 850.
How much performance can piston aircraft operators get when moving into a small single-engine turboprop aircraft? And how does this compare with the next level of performance within the turboprop market? We’ll explore these questions over the following article...
In 1997 Piper announced its intention to market a pressurized turboprop version of its piston-powered Malibu aircraft, flying a prototype the following year which it named the Meridian. The Piper Meridian is powered by a single Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-42A powerplant, and certification was achieved in September 2000.
Designed at the outset for owner-operators stepping up from single-engine piston airplanes, the Piper Meridian has built-in features that aim to minimize pilot workload and maximize flying enjoyment.
In 2009 Piper began offering the Meridian with a three-screen version of the Garmin G1000 including the Garmin GFC 700 autopilot (replacing the former Avidyne Entegra flight panel). In 2012, Piper celebrated the 500th Meridian delivery, and in 2013 the aircraft was the best-selling model for new and pre-owned turboprop deliveries combined (per JETNET data). As of July 2022, the Piper Meridian averaged ten pre-owned transactions per month, demonstrating a continued demand from buyers moving into turboprop ownership, many for the first time.
In 2015 Piper rebranded the PA-46 model line to the M Class series, and the Piper Meridian was reintroduced as the M500, which, according to Piper, combines state-of-the-art technology and safety features with stylish luxury.
Daher TBM 850
Built and marketed as the Socata TBM 850 before Socata was bought by Daher, the TBM 850 is part of a family of high-performance single-engine turboprop business aircraft representing one of several logical step-up paths for Piper Meridian owners. It was originally collaboratively developed between the American Mooney Airplane Company and French light aircraft manufacturer Socata.
The TBM 850 is essentially an improved version of the older TBM 700 and is powered by a single Pratt & Whitney PT6A-66D. TBM 850 production began in 2006 and ended in 2013. It has a cruise speed of 320 KTAS at FL260, and from mid-2007 the Garmin G1000 Integrated All-Glass Flight Deck was incorporated into production aircraft.
The TBM 850 ELITE was later introduced in 2013 and included further cockpit enhancements while also allowing operators to choose different seating configurations. Serial numbers 610 and higher are ELITE configured. From 2014, the TBM 850 was replaced on the production line by the TBM 900 series.
As of this writing, there were 540 Piper Meridians in operation around the world, 515 of which were wholly-owned. A total of 38 units had been retired. North America was home to the largest Piper Meridian fleet percentage (73%), followed by Europe (16%) and South America (8%), accounting for a combined 97% of the total fleet.
By comparison, there were 324 TBM 850s in operation, 313 of which were wholly-owned. North America was home to the largest fleet percentage (80%), followed by Europe (13%) and South America (5%), equating to 98% of the total fleet.
The vast majority of Piper Meridian and TBM 850 owners were single aircraft owners/operators.
The Single-Engine Turboprop Upgrade Path
As already mentioned, the Piper Meridian was introduced to ease passage for Piston aircraft owners looking to step into Turboprop aircraft ownership. Business Aviation has always depended on a steady supply of users starting small before growing into larger, more powerful aircraft as their travel needs develop.
The Single-Engine turboprop market is diverse with aircraft offering different performance and specifications to suit the needs of a multitude of owner/operator mission requirements. But which are the most popular step-up aircraft for Piper Meridian owners? Table A (top, left) shows the top five aircraft models Piper Meridian owners buy next, per JETNET data (July 2022).
Table A Piper Meridian Owner Upgrade Paths
Turboprop Usage Comparison
Chart A shows the usage of the two turboprops broken into market groupings. As shown, the largest defined usage for the Piper Meridian is ‘Business’ (78%) followed closely by ‘Personal’ (14%). Similarly, the most popular defined usage for the TBM 850 is ‘Business’ (86%) and ‘Personal’ (12%).
Chart A Piper Meridian vs Daher TBM 850 Usage Comparison
As we have established previously, a potential operator should focus on payload capability as a key factor in selecting the right aircraft for their need. Table B shows the TBM 850 ‘Available Payload with Maximum Fuel’ is 633lbs, which is almost twice the 340lbs offered by the Piper Meridian.
Table B Piper Meridian vs Daher TBM 850 Payload Comparison
Cabin Cross-Section Comparison
Chart B shows the UPCAST JETBOOK cabin cross-section comparison of the Piper Meridian and the TBM 850. As noted, the TBM 850 has more cabin volume at 143cu.ft (versus 106cu.ft). While the TBM 850 offers greater cabin height, the Piper Meridian has slightly more width, and offers more length (15ft vs 12.3ft).
Chart B Piper Meridian vs Daher TBM 850 Cabin Comparison
As depicted in Chart C, using Vero Beach, Florida as the origin point, the Piper Meridian (699nm) shows less range coverage than the TBM 850 (1,150nm) using ‘Executive Payload with Available Fuel’.
For business turboprops, full fuel and available payload represents the maximum IFR range of the aircraft at long-range cruise. The NBAA IFR fuel reserve calculation is for a 100nm alternate. This range does not include winds aloft or any other weather-related obstacles.
Chart C Piper Meridian vs Daher TBM 850 Range Comparison
The Piper Meridian is powered by a single Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-42A engine with 500shp. The TBM 850 is powered by a single Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66D engine with 700shp at take-off and 850shp in flight. The certified flight ceiling for the Piper Meridian is 30,000ft compared to 31,000ft for the TBM 850.
Cost Per Mile Comparison
Chart D details the ‘Cost per Mile’ for the two turboprops (per JETNET data), factoring the direct costs (no depreciation), and with each aircraft flying a 600nm mission. The average US Jet A fuel cost used for July 2022 was $6.95 per gallon.
The Piper Meridian shows a lower cost per nautical mile ($2.28) than the TBM 850 ($3.27) – a difference of 30.3%.
Chart D Piper Meridian vs Daher TBM 850 Cost Per Mile Comparison
Total Variable Cost Comparison
The ‘Total Variable Cost’, sourced from JETNET and illustrated in Chart E, is defined as the cost of fuel expense, maintenance labor expense, scheduled parts expense, and miscellaneous trip expense (hangar, crew, and catering).
These costs DO NOT represent a direct source into every flight department and their trip support expenses. For comparative purposes, the costs presented are the relative differences, not the actual differences since these may vary from one flight department to another.
The Total Variable Cost for the Piper Meridian is $422/hour compared to the TBM 850s $685/hour – a difference of $263 per hour (or 38.4%) in favor of the Piper Meridian.
Chart E Piper Meridian vs Daher TBM 850 Cost per Hour Comparison
Market Comparison Table
Table C contains the long-range cruise speed and range of the Piper Meridian and TBM 850 (per B&CA). The pre-owned 2013 prices are from Aircraft Bluebook and represent the last year that both models were in production. The cabin volumes, number of aircraft in-operation, percentage ‘For Sale’, and average sold are from JETNET.
The Piper Meridian showed 4.1% of its fleet was for sale at the end of July 2022, while the TBM 850 fleet had 2.5% available for sale. The average number of pre-owned transactions (sold) per month stood at 10 for the Piper Meridian and five for the TBM 850 over the past 12 months.
Table C Piper Meridian vs Daher TBM 850 Market Comparison
Interestingly, the Piper Meridian ranked fourth out of all turboprops in operation for the largest number of pre-owned transactions over the past 12 months, thus proving it remains a popular upgrade path for owners/pilots today.
Asking Prices & Quantity For Sale
At the time of writing, the pre-owned market for the Piper Meridian showed a total of 23 aircraft ‘For Sale,’ with 14 showing ask prices ranging between $900k and $1.895m. By comparison, nine TBM 850s were listed for sale, four showing ask prices ranging from $2.1m up to $2.698m.
While each serial number is unique, the Airframe Total Time (AFTT) and age/condition will cause great variation in price. The sale price of an aircraft must ultimately be negotiated between the buyer and seller, and will factor several items including the model year, how the aircraft has been retrofitted and upgraded over the years, and also its maintenance condition.
Maximum Scheduled Maintenance Equity
Chart F and Chart G represent the Piper Meridian and Daher TBM 850 respectively. They depict (and project) the Maximum Maintenance Equity each aircraft has available, based on its age.
• The Maximum Maintenance Equity figure was achieved the day an aircraft came off the production line (since it had not accumulated any utilization toward any maintenance events).
• The percent of the Maximum Maintenance Equity that an average aircraft will have available, based on its age, assumes:
- Average annual utilization of 170 flight hours for each aircraft; and
- All maintenance is completed when due.
Chart F Piper Meridian Average Equity & Chart G Daher TBM 850 Average Maintenance Equity
It’s also important to know when the next scheduled overhaul or major inspection is due, which will tend to be expensive and needs to be budgeted for. Relating to upcoming maintenance, buyers should also find out whether the aircraft’s engine is enrolled on an hourly engine maintenance program that transfers to the buyer with the aircraft upon completion of the sale.
Represented in Charts F and G, the TBM 850 shows the highest average maximum maintenance equity ($1.039m), compared to the Piper Meridian ($430k). Interestingly, the Piper Meridian shows a significant maximum maintenance equity increase in year 21, whereas the TBM 850 shows a significant increase in year 17.
Aircraft that are owned and operated by businesses are often depreciable for income tax purposes under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS). Under MACRS, taxpayers can use accelerated depreciation of assets by taking a greater percentage of the deductions during the first few years of the applicable recovery period.
In certain cases, aircraft may not qualify under the MACRS system and must be depreciated under the less favourable Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) where depreciation is based on a straight-line method, meaning that equal deductions are taken during each year of the applicable recovery period. In most cases, recovery periods under ADS are longer than recovery periods available under MACRS.
There is a variety of factors that taxpayers must consider in determining if an aircraft may be depreciated, and if so, the correct depreciation method and recovery period that should be utilized. For example, aircraft used in charter service (i.e., Part 135) are normally depreciated under MACRS over a seven-year recovery period, or under ADS using a twelve-year recovery period.
Aircraft used for qualified business purposes, such as Part 91 business use flights, are generally depreciated under MACRS over a period of five years or by using ADS with a six-year recovery period. There are certain uses of the aircraft, such as non-business flights, which may have an impact on the allowable depreciation deduction available in any given year.
The US enacted the 2017 Tax Cuts & Jobs Act into law on December 22, 2017. Under this new Act, taxpayers may be able to deduct up to 100% of the cost of an aircraft purchased after September 27, 2017 and placed in service before January 1, 2023.
After December 31, 2022, the Act decreases the percentage available each year by 20% to depreciate qualified business turboprops until December 31, 2026.
Table D depicts an example of using the MACRS schedule for a 2013 Piper Meridian in private (Part 91) and charter (Part 135) operations over five- and seven-year periods.
Table D Piper Meridian Sample MACRS Tax Depreciation
Table E depicts an example of using the MACRS schedule for a 2013 Daher TBM 850 in private (Part 91) and charter (Part 135) operations over five- and seven-year periods.
Table E Daher TBM 850 Sample MACRS Tax Depreciation
The points in Chart H are centered on the same aircraft. Pricing used in the vertical axis is as published in the Aircraft Bluebook Pricing Guide. The productivity index requires further discussion in that the factors used can be somewhat arbitrary. Productivity can be defined (and it is here) as the multiple of three factors:
1. Executive payload range with available fuel
2. The long-range cruise speed flown to achieve that range
3. The cabin volume available for passengers and luggage.
Chart H Piper Meridian vs Daher TBM 850 Productivity Comparison
Others may choose different parameters, but serious business turboprop aircraft buyers are usually impressed with price, range, speed, and cabin volume.
The Daher TBM 850 demonstrates a higher level of productivity, with almost twice the payload, significantly more range and long-range cruise speed, and extra cabin volume, but at significantly more cost (both in terms of acquisition price and ongoing operating costs).
The preceding paragraphs highlight why the Piper Meridian has proved so popular on the market. Piper found a sweet-spot, first with its Meridian (and then the M500) in successfully bridging the gap between piston and turboprop ownership. The company offers a relatively low-cost option for those requiring the greater power of a turboprop engine to meet their growing mission needs.
As an intermediary option, the Meridian ensures that as those mission needs continue to develop, owners are less likely to experience ‘sticker shock’ when they’re ready to move into something with the excellent performance of the TBM 850.
Within the preceding paragraphs we have touched upon several of the attributes that business turboprop operators value. There are other qualities, such as airport performance, terminal area performance, and time-to-climb that might factor in a buying decision, however.
Operators should weigh up their mission requirements precisely when picking which option is the best for them. As demonstrated, aircraft with additional capability tend to come at a higher cost but provide an excellent solution to ‘time sensitive’ operations with higher speed and more range.
There are undoubtedly other differences for buyers to consider when choosing the right airplane for them but, regardless, each aircraft is a strong contender within their segments of the pre-owned market and should continue to sell well for the near future.