Aero Friedrichshafen Impressions
The Great Hall Walk
As I mentioned in the opening day video Aero isn't exactly a European version of AirVenture or Sun 'n Fun. The business model of the hosting organization, Messe Friedrichshafen, is trade fairs and Aero is just one of at least a couple of dozen they do every year. That makes it fundamentally different than a fly-in that has evolved into a trade show, which is what AirVenture and Sun 'n Fun really are.
As a result, the show has an entirely different feel. The exhibits, of which there are more than 500, tend to be larger and definitely much tonier. In one booth I visited yesterday, they served drinks and refreshments to a visiting journalist trying to get the CEO on camera for a few minutes. Very civilized. I could get used to it.
Although the airport is right next door, there's no afternoon airshow here and I could get used to that, too. American shows tend to be dual- or multi-pronged; exhibits and demos for the serious buyers and airshows to attract the madding (and maddening ) crowds. Both approachs are viable, I suppose, but for my work, I don't miss the clatter of the airshow, thanks.
Also, improbably, a lot of Europeans bring their dogs--on leashes--to these shows. How great is that? In the U.S., which is generally thought to be less restrictive than regulated-to-death Europe, dogs aren't allowed. They should be. Because as we all know--or should know--dogs rule.
When I was shooting the engine area video with fliegermagazin's Thomas Borchert on Wednesday, he pointed out that the Czech airplane sellers—of which there are many here—have a style of promotion that includes having at least a pair of scantily clad—or should I say barely clad—young women in the booth, replete with short skirts and ample cleavage.
I am compelled to observe that to an aviation purist such as myself, this sort of tawdry, prurient attempt to attract male eyeballs…works perfectly. I'm way good with it and wish we saw more of it in the Bible belt. You go, girls!
Crowd: Not So Old
At one of the news conferences I attended earlier in the week, a German aviation organization executive was telling a familiar story. In Europe, the pilot population is aging and it doesn't look like younger people have much interest in becoming pilots.
But walking the show, you certainly don't get that impression. Sure, there's some gray hair drifting through the crowds, but also plenty of 30-somethings and obviously middle-aged, well-to-do people who can afford the ruinous cost of flying in Europe. (Avgas here costs about $13 to $14 a gallon, so if you're bitching about $6 gas, try to keep things in perspective.)
One German-based Aviation Consumer reader stopped me and we chatted for a bit. He owns a Bonanza and flies it about 50 hours a year. That's about $7800 a year just for gas. Numbers like that tend to separate the wannabes from the hardcore aviators. He told me that Europe is looking with anxiousness toward some kind of resolution of the 100LL situation in the U.S. But then, aren't we all?
One of the most encouraging announcements at Aero is that Cirrus has the funding to go forward with its Vision jet. Like so many jet programs, the Vision launched with great fanfare then hit the resource wall when the serious work of certification began. In this podcast, Cirrus' Todd Simmons told us the company has the funding and green light from its Chinese parent company to move the project forward.
While I see this as a good thing, there's also a risk for Cirrus. The company is already $45 million into the jet and now has another $100 million or so to finish it. Given what other jet projects have cost, that seems a little light to me. The money men always get nervous when the work reaches the 90 percent stage and requires additional funds almost equal to what's already been spent. Just ask Diamond or Piper. For all their glamor, jet programs can be a black hole, sucking in resources and man power in a never-ending quest for a goal that's just over the hill.
On the plus side, Cirrus has a robust ready market in the 5000-plus airplanes it has already sold. They are wisely pitching the Vision as a step-up airplane for those buyers, although I suspect they'll also find buyers outside the Cirrus community once they reach market with the airplane.
Panthera in Person
I spent some time looking at Pipistrel's Panthera yesterday and the pictures hardly do it justice. It's an absolute stunner. Although what's on display here is a yet-to-be-flown prototype, the workmanship on it is superb. The gap lines between the flaps and ailerons were just perfect. The stand was packed, so Pipistrel achieved the desired goal of a big introductory splash.
Naturally, the phrase "Cirrus killer" came up in casual conversations and while that's a legitimate thought, let's not get ahead of ourselves. First of all, Pipistrel has never certified an airplane to Part 23 and most new companies who climb that hill soon learn that, in the words of one executive, "they don't know what they don't know." Certs always take longer and cost more than they're supposed to and sometimes they dumb down what's otherwise an uncompromised design.
Second, viewed front on, the Panthera has the cross section of a gnat, which is where the low drag and speed come from. With its gull-wing doors, it reminded me of a Gemini capsule. That means the seating is…snug. The seating position is reclined and although there appears to be plenty of headroom, the Pipistrel is more F1 than Escalade, which is where part of the appeal of the Cirrus lies.
Bottom line? The Panthera may appeal to a fundamentally different buyer, one whose ethos is sporty performance and economy at the expense of an expansive cabin. Pre-cert sales claims notwithstanding, we're a few years from knowing who the Panthera buyer will be. (I'd be one, if I could afford it.)
Flying Getting Cheaper?
And speaking of flying affordability, two completely unexpected trends may actually cause this to happen. But both are long shots, if you ask me. In this podcast, GAMA's Greg Bowles explained how there's a serious industry effort to greatly simplify and reduce the expense of the certification process. If that concept met our wildest expectations, says Bowles, it could halve the price of a new certified airplane. (Half price these days would still be $300,000, so I haven't ordered mine yet.)
I am pleased to see this initiative, but I wasn't born last night so I'm not sure how successful it can be. The reality is that committees and FAA executives can agree on high-minded concepts like this, but they are often defeated in detail in the halls of the bureaucracy where policies are carried out. The warrens and cubicles of the FAA simply will not give up their power without a struggle and they have a thousand ways to neutralize directives from the top. Still, I applaud the effort.
The second trend relates to fuel prices. When I was speaking with Lycoming's Michael Kraft this week, he has observed—as have I—that U.S. oil production is on a sharp rise. That, of itself, is not enough to lower prices much, but the other developing trend is that the fracking technology that's making tight oil producible is proving viable in other parts of the world, not just the U.S. This technology is deploying more rapidly and effectively than anyone predicted. Kraft read an industry report that suggested if current trends continue, oil could fall to $40.
That translates to $1.50 or so mogas and maybe $3 avgas or whatever the 100LL replacement turns out to be. This may sound improbable, but the history of oil production and energy prices provide several examples of just this sort of price collapse, and as recently as 1998. Lodge it in the "could happen" file and hope for the best.
By the way, Kraft has become quite the informed expert on aviation fuels. I've seen his briefing several times and he's refined it (pardon the pun) down to the most informative 35 minutes on the subject that you're likely to see. Try to catch it at AirVenture.
Diamond V1 Name Change
During my interview with Diamond CEO Christian Dries yesterday, he told me that the Diamond V1--the newest Austro-engined version of the twin--will be renamed the VI, because it's the sixth model of the airplane to emerge. He said the original V1 idea had to do with the airplane's shorter takeoff and lower VMC qualities, but the unfortunate connotation relates to the World War II buzz bomb, the world's first cruise missle. "You cannot deny it," he said. So he's conceding the point and changing the name. The new DA52 will be the VII.
No More Sheep Jokes Please
Several sharp-eared readers have e-mailed to point out that I have been mispronouncing Friedrichshafen to sound like "schafen" not the flatter "shafen" as it should be. Schafe, by the way, is the German word for sheep, so one correspondent couldn't resist the obligatory sheep reference. (I know some good sheep jokes myself but they're too crude even for my low-brow standards and I'm already in deep schafen (sorry) for that piggish comment about the Czech girls.)
In any event, consider me suitably chastised and corrected. I will try to remember this when blathering into the camera.