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Aero Friedrichshafen Impressions

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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.

Sex Sells
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?

Cirrus Jet
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.

Comments (21)

Pipestral may have a better chance at getting the Panthera certified within time and budget constraints than one would think. Over the recent years it has become more reasonable to accomplish certifications through EASA than through the FAA as the FAA has gradually lost touch with economics in their quest for percieved "safety" at any price.

Posted by: Stephen Phoenix | April 20, 2012 10:35 AM    Report this comment

I am thrilled to hear your positive comments about the Panthera. I've been following this project for awhile now and, frankly, wasn't sure it was real. Maybe the effort to simplify certification along with Pipestral's determination and ambition will converge at just the right time. It's amazing to me that so many of these LSA companies are making such a dynamic contribution to our aviation community through difficult times. Thanks.

Posted by: Thomas Reilly | April 21, 2012 9:12 AM    Report this comment

I haven't seen any mention of pressurization on the DA52 (VII). Is that part of the plan for the final certified version as it was for the DA50?

Posted by: steve dunbar | April 22, 2012 1:08 PM    Report this comment

Paul, I have to tell you something. I'm a big Oshkosh fan, as well as a loyal Sun N Fun attendee. I long to go to Paris for the annual airshow, and I am making plans to make an appearance at Farnborough as soon as I can make it happen. Friedrichschafen is a new blip on the radar. We need more information..... Is it worth a trip from the US? Where do we stay? Is the town of Friedrichschafen appealing to the airshow-weary spouse??? Friedrichschafen is impossible to spell, much less pronounce. I would suggest to the show organizers that they try to spice the event up a bit by sending an invite to the American GA fans. Maybe change the name to AeroFest Germany, or something emailable. I hear nothing at all from them until I see the newsletters from AvWeb and AeroTV. Flying and AOPA will normally only cover the hightlights later. I spend all of my time in the barns at Oshkosh and SNF, so I understand the appeal. Fried looks fun, but is it really worth the time and money for the dieheard GA types in the US?

Posted by: John Bond | April 22, 2012 7:47 PM    Report this comment

Friedrichshafen.... Sorry.

Posted by: John Bond | April 22, 2012 7:49 PM    Report this comment

The DA52 won't be pressurized, according to Chritian Dries. Ostensibly, the reason for this is Diamond's philosophical view that higher altitudes introduce a physiological safety risk for pilots and passengers.

Also, I'm not sure what kind of a performance hit you'd suffer by pulling bleed air from the diesels. I don't know enough about the technical data to know if they're any different than gasoline engines in that regard. They do run much higher boost pressures. They may not have much to spare.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 23, 2012 1:20 AM    Report this comment

John, a couple of things to understand about Aero. It originated and remains primarily a German/European show. About 249 exhibitors were from Germany, 39 from the U.S. and 36 or so from the Czech Republic. The rest are from around the world.

The show does market strongly to potential exhibitors in the U.S. They send a rep to all the major shows. Their business model is a professional trade show, not a fly-in/tradeshow/exhibition, so I don't know the particulars of aggressive promoting to potential attendees.

But now the show has transitioned to a higher profile international show, they may begin to promote it for potential U.S. attendees Recall it used to be a bi-annual show but is now annual. This may affect how it's promoted.

As for costs, since I was on a press pass, I never even checked cost of admission, but I seem to recall it was 30 Euros a day. That's about $40. Currently, airfares are running in the $750 to $1000 range to either Munich or Zurich, from the east coast of the U.S.

Hotels costs run the range but by U.S. standards, they aren't cheap. I paid 90 Euro for a very good business hotel across the Austrian border.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 23, 2012 1:33 AM    Report this comment

I had a car, so this made sense at the time I booked. But because it's a convention town, Friedrichshafen has plenty of hotel rooms ranging from 55 to 150 Euros, depending on the level of comfort required. Most hotels are WiFi equipped. There's excellent public transportation to the halls from throughout the city, so you don't really need a car. Also, Friedrichshafen has feeder airline service. One of the halls is also given over to indoor camping. You can even rent a tent for 40 Euros. Just bring your own sleeping bag.

All in, for a trip like this entailing three days at the show, I'd say figure between $1800 and $2500. If it were me, I'd combine it with some additional European travel just to amortize the airfare. (That's why I'm writing this from Luino, Italy.)

As for the show itself, you'll see things here you won't see elsewhere. Tons of LSAs and autogyros that are unknown in the U.S., lots of gliders, lots of electric flight stuff and lots of engine projects I didn't know about or knew little about.

If you can afford it, I would definitely recommend it. It's a far more civilized experience than other major shows. As for the lack of an afternoon airshow, I say good riddance. But then my perspective is as a journalist conducting interviews. Peace and quiet is preferred and actually, a trade show and loud airshow aren't really a natural mix.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 23, 2012 1:47 AM    Report this comment

Could Avweb rebroadcast Michael Kraft's avgas talk in its entirety?

Posted by: James Grant | April 23, 2012 7:45 AM    Report this comment

My request is the same as James Grant´s. Or is it a nice story? The kind my mother read for me some 70-odd years ago before going to sleep?

Posted by: Hans Koeners | April 23, 2012 9:49 AM    Report this comment

Can't help, sorry. I couldn't record the entire thing.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 23, 2012 10:17 AM    Report this comment

Friedrichshafen is pronounced Friedrichs - hafen, which means Friedrich's harbor - the town is on the shore of Lake Constance and named after King Friedrich I of Wuerttemberg.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | April 23, 2012 12:54 PM    Report this comment

Avgas at airports in southern Germany costs around $14/gallon this week, but premium autogas at area gas stations costs $8.50. The relative price of Avgas to autogas is thus about the same in Germany as it is in the US. Autogas is widely available at airports in Germany and I understand that Petersen's autogas STC business is booming in Europe.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | April 23, 2012 12:57 PM    Report this comment

Maybe Paul missed the great engine display at AERO - every single engine there was placarded as operating on autogas (benzin) or jet fuel, for the diesels. Clearly Europeans are ready for a lead-free future while we still argue the pros and cons in the U.S.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | April 23, 2012 12:58 PM    Report this comment

Pipistrel never certified an aircraft? Maybe not to Part 23, but they have been making sailplanes for leading German gliders manufacturers for many years before they started building powered planes under their own label. The Pipistrel Panthera makes our spam cans look like Model Ts. It is powered by the Lycoming IO-390 engine, an autogas-burner according to Pipistrel people I spoke with.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | April 23, 2012 1:02 PM    Report this comment

All EAA members get in free to AERO, at least in the past 3-4 years. Hard to say what will happen in 2013.

A good place to stay is the 'Hotel zum Fliegerwirt' located on the Mengen-Hohentengen airport, an easy hour drive north of Friedrichshafen, which is typically shortened to 'FN'. You will find the hotel on the 'net; it is new, costs far less than in FN, and is owned by a local pilot. The German reps for TL Ultralight and the leading European UL/LSA manufacturer Comco-Ikarus are located on this popular G.A. airfield.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | April 23, 2012 1:14 PM    Report this comment

For those wishing to visit the Friedrichshafen area, I wrote a small tour guide two years ago to all the aviation-related sights within a 100 km radius of the town. The region is home to Dornier (where I worked in the early 1980s), Zeppelin, Pilatus, and many others. The first Learjet was designed across the lake from Friedrichshafen as a joint effort between Bill Lear and FFA, a Swiss aircraft company. If you want a copy of my tour guide to my second home, I'll send you one. You'll find me at AeroSouth dot net

Posted by: Kent Misegades | April 23, 2012 1:19 PM    Report this comment

"Maybe Paul missed the great engine display at AERO "

Maybe Kent should actually read AVweb coverage before commenting. If I missed it, a guy that looked a lot like me with a camera just like mine spent two hours shooting a video in the engine area with Thomas Borchert, whose Fliegermagazin sponsored the display.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 25, 2012 5:32 AM    Report this comment

I guess I am not as good as you at good-natured sarcasm, Paul. Your reporting was good and I am pleased that AERO gets more coverage each year; I have been attending it since the early 1980s, when it was mainly a show for hang gliders and early ULs. The engine exhibit was excellent and well visited. Despite paying attention to engines and fuels more than most, I was pleasantly surprised that every engine in the display was placarded for 95-98 RON autogas, diesel or jet fuel. I would have liked to ask Michael Kraft and the UL91 people at TOTAL what they thought of this. Did you? Was this the first time Continental showed their new O-200-AF? I do not recall seeing or hearing about it before AERO. Ron Humphrey of Continental told me they plan to have their diesel in production by the end of the year. Given the apparent success of Austro Engines on the Diamond aircraft, Conti's timing looks good.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | April 25, 2012 5:45 AM    Report this comment

"Michael Kraft and the UL91 people at TOTAL what they thought of this. Did you?"

I did, actually. Went to the TOTAL stand and sat for a half hour waiting for someone to interview. They apologized and said no one was available at the show. I have to do it later, I guess.

It was the first showing that I know of of the O-200-AF. We've already covered the O-360 version for the C-4. I spent a lot of time on diesel coverage and interviews, especially with Austro. I plan additional coverage of the autogas/low-octane trend.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 25, 2012 7:24 AM    Report this comment

Excellent. I spent a lot of time with the Austro and Diamond people and these engines appear to be serious. Continental too appears confident of their future. Autogas is perhaps so popular in Germany as the avgas producers also supply it and make sure it meets the octane/RVP needs. US avgas suppliers could do the same in a heartbeat I'd bet. Perhaps TOTAL is already doing this with UL91, a sort of 'perfumed', pricier 98 RON mogas. TOTAL people I met seemed to most interested in draining autogas tanks at airports and replacing it with UL91 at a higher price. I wonder if any of this information will find its way into the CRC meeting next week? KM

Posted by: Kent Misegades | April 25, 2012 7:56 AM    Report this comment

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