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September 23, 2000 - Lawsuits Name Piper Engine Maker; The class action lawsuit says the bearings in the engines of Piper's Malibu Mirage are defective.

September 23, 2000 - Lawsuits Name Piper Engine Maker; The class action lawsuit says the bearings in the engines of Piper's Malibu Mirage are defective.

A $75 million, class-action lawsuit has been filed against The New Piper Aircraft Inc. and aircraft engine manufacturer Textron Inc., alleging the Textron-Lycoming engines in Piper's Malibu Mirage have defective bearings, leading to excessive maintenance costs and posing a safety risk. Piper officials Friday insisted the aircraft is safe and that all known problems are being addressed.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Fort Pierce Wednesday, was done on behalf of William Montgomery Jr. of Texas, who bought a Malibu Mirage in April. However, the suit seeks to include 1,200 former and current Mirage owners since 1987, said Charles Ames, an attorney for the Dallas law firm of Fred Misko Jr. P.C.

However, Piper officials noted Friday production of the Malibu Mirage didn't start until 1989. About 514 Mirages have been produced. With a list price of about $800,000, the Malibu Mirage is currently the company's most expensive product, though the new Malibu Meridian will sell for about $1.4 million when it is certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The lawsuit claims that although Piper and Textron Inc. of Williamsport, Pa., knew of the problems with the engine's main bearings and rod bearings for several years, they have made only "half-hearted" attempts to correct the situation and compensate owners for their extra maintenance costs. As well, the companies continued to represent that the Mirage would need an engine overhaul every 2,000 hours when in fact an overhaul was needed between every 500-700 hours of flight time, Ames and the lawsuit said. This increased maintenance and operating costs three to four times more than that represented by the companies.

"Defendant Piper and defendant Textron-Lycoming conspired together in the state of Florida to conceal and deny the defects and safety of flight issues with the Malibu Mirage," the lawsuit said.

In a statement released by Piper, the company said, "Textron Lycoming, with New Piper's participation, has addressed and is currently resolving all known component issues."

"New Piper is committed to manufacturing safe and airworthy products and maintains that the Malibu Mirage is a safe and reliable aircraft," the statement said.

Margaret Napolitan, a Piper vice president and the chief safety officer, said the company would have no other comment on the suit at this point. Montgomery's attorneys conducted research of accident records and did a survey of current and former Mirage owners and determined of the 111 aircraft on which they received information, there were 60 in-flight engine failures, 66 premature engine overhauls, 46 instances of metal in the oil and 32 replaced engines. "In summary, Malibu Mirage owners have consistently experienced premature failures that require engine overhaul or replacement at one-third service life or less," the lawsuit said.

In addition to excessive maintenance costs, Mirage owners have also suffered increased operating costs, excessive loss of use of aircraft and downtime, costs of alternative travel, loss of use of hangar time, loss of use of a substantial investment and loss of resale value of the aircraft, the lawsuit said. Montgomery's attorneys ran an advertisement in the Sunday, Sept. 17, issue of the Press Journal "urgently" seeking information concerning defects in the engine and saying, "Your response can save lives."

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