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Sport Aviation Expo 2011

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It may seem like only yesterday, but the light sport aircraft rule is coming up on its seventh birthday and if everyone or anyone was expecting explosive growth out of this segment, they've had to settle for mere endurance. That's my impression of the mood at the seventh U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring which closed on Sunday.

Modest though it may be, there are several reasons to like this show. One, it's small. A determined visitor can do the show in a day or two and not just see everything, but see it in detail. Second, would-be buyers can actually fly airplanes right there on the show grounds and the fewer barriers to doing that, the better. Some manufacturers will—and did—connect directly to customers and actually sell airplanes. Third, Bob Woods: He's a tireless organizer and promoter of this show, placing the exhibitor concerns ahead of all else. You don't see that often in trade shows and it deserves a tip of the hat.

Attendance at Sport Expo tends to be thin but potent. "This is a focus show. Everything is LSA. No warbirds, no military, no airshow and no bands at night. It's apples to apples," said Bill Canino, who was showing off his iCub at Sport Expo. Other exhibitors told me the same thing. Contacts and leads they develop at this show payout through the rest of the year.

Last year, we did a couple of stories on market outlook for 2010. While everyone was hoping or predicting some kind of recovery in 2010, it didn't happen. In fact, according to Dan Johnson, overall sales for 2010 were down over 2009, which was itself a dismal year. So this year I didn't bother with market outlook stories. I sense that people don't want to talk about it and, frankly, neither do I.

Still, there are bright spots. American Legend's Darin Hart told me production has picked up a bit for its popular Cubs, to one a month or perhaps a little over. But bear in mind, Legend was doing five to seven a month at its peak. At Kitfox, John McBean told me his LSA production is booked up for the year, with six orders and kits are sold out well into the second quarter of this year. That's good news.

Among many good things about this show is that people who attend aren't just tire kickers and most would-be buyers understand that $120,000 for an LSA is right pricing. Still, you run into a few people living blissfully in the 1950s. When I was shooting a video in the Legend booth, I overheard one observer draw a breath when he heard that the base price on Legend's Cub is $118,000. I'll kept my yap shut, but I sometimes want to sit such people down and explain to them why the sky is blue, why the sun rises in the east and what it costs to build a decent LSA for which the manufacturer earns a slim margin.

Related to that, I might note that would-be buyers in the LSA segment will have to make adult judgments, both in terms of what a decent airplane has to cost and which companies are likely to be able to produce one. Some of the companies themselves will not be capable of such judgments because we continue to see new entrants into a market which is already vastly over supplied, in which even the major companies are struggling and where there will never be large profits. I'm all for competition and feeding the passion for flight, but at some point one can at least hope for a shard of rational thinking by new entrants. Why some of these companies introduce airplanes that have zero chance of selling more than ones and twosies, if that, is baffling. So buyers will have to ruthlessly weed through the choices, ignoring the noise factor of me-too airplanes that just aren't going to succeed. Remember, when you buy an LSA—or any airplane—the airplane is almost secondary. What you're really buying is a company.

And that gets me to Piper. In my view, we are not getting the full story on its decision to exit the LSA segment. In a tersely worded statement a week before the show, Piper said it was terminating its relationship with the Czech supplier of its PiperSport LSA, citing "differences in business philosophies." That phrase is code speak for a significant behind-the-scenes blowup. In my opinion, either Piper concluded the margins on LSAs weren't worth the trouble and it would rather focus on jets or its Czech supplier was doing something it didn't like. Or both.

But here's where things get murky. Piper had a big booth at Expo and a couple of PiperSports on display under Piper flags. This we did not expect to see, given the termination announcement. When we asked why, Piper said it had contractual agreements to promote the airplane for several more months. Fair enough. But wait a sec. As was explained by then Piper CEO Kevin Gould when the airplane was introduced at Expo last year, the whole point of the Piper/Czech Sport Aircraft Works relationship was to be symbiotic. Piper would get a shake-and-bake LSA entrant for potential step-up sales, while Czech would get powerful brand and sales support. A marriage made in heaven, right? Evidently not.

The sticky question: What about those 40-some buyers who bought a PiperSport thinking that Vero Beach would stand behind it? And what about buyers who will purchase from Piper in this twilight period where the company is still selling airplanes for another company it has already divorced? This is not just confusing, it's downright weird. What about Piper support for those orphaned airplanes? Piper says it never promised support from Vero Beach, but that it set up an independent network of dealers and distributors to provide support and since that network still exists, nothing has changed. Huh? The whole idea behind flagging the Sport Cruiser as a Piper product was, to a degree, the credibility afforded by doing this. We now learn that, evidently, this was just a paint job and emblematic of the uncertainty in the entire LSA community.

It's hard to imagine why Piper would trust its brand protection and promotion to dealers not specifically in its own orbit. If those dealers don't do well by support, Piper won't benefit from step-up loyalty, which we assume was the point in the first place. This is why Cessna did its own LSA and why it has sold about 1000 of them.

A mea culpa is due. If I understood this not-so-nuanced dealer thing a year ago, I didn't report it. In the March 2010 issue of Aviation Consumer, we said this: "Although Piper will support the aircraft with parts and supplies, the airplanes won't ship through the company's Vero Beach factory." We then said "Piper" distributors would handle the assembly and support. If Piper didn't clarify this, I must not have asked because this non-Piper dealer network development is a surprise to me. A year later, I can't tell if it just got glossed over in the reporting or if Piper changed its strategy.

Either way, it's something that buyers need to know about before writing the check to the Czechs. We owe it you to ask these questions and it's not clear to me that we—I—did.

Comments (58)

I believe the Sport Cruiser was evaluated by the British LAA (Light Aircraft Association previously PFA the equivalent to EAA) and passed it’s very sever scrutiny. This evaluation includes the manufacturer and its premises to ensure a high standard of production and the aircraft (or kits) can only be sold in the UK if this standard is kept and maintained. If the Czech company deviated from this high standard, LAA would immediately withdraw their licence and stop any further sales in Britain. I am sure Piper did a similar exercise. Having said that I do know that the business ethnics of East Europe and USA are vastly different. Remember Czech Republic was part of Czechoslovakia and part of the Russian Union. The marriage was doomed to failure from the very first. Piper would have been better to develop a LSA on its own as did Cessna and I believe that if they had they would have had more sales.

Looking at the LSA market world wide is there any areas where there are good sales? I doubt it because for around the same figures one can purchase a good tried and tested second hand GA aircraft of the PA28/C172 etc. Most LSA aircraft are very weight limited and if the person buying the aircraft is over 190lbs they will already be touching the top limit of the aircraft. My own weight of 220lbs means that when I wish to fly a Sport Cruiser I would be able to get to the runway ready for takeoff but with no fuel in the tanks. So that rules out most LSA aircraft for me.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | January 24, 2011 4:16 AM    Report this comment

I also was surprised to find that Piper's support for the PiperSport was entirely separate from the mainstream company. I discovered that fact at last year's Oshkosh when I talked to some dealers. To me, it almost feels like a snow job. Anyway, for what it's worth, we shouldn't forget that Cirrus also pulled out of the LSA market after pretending to support the low end of the GA market for about a year. Only Cessna has really stepped up, and I for one really appreciate their efforts.

Posted by: Michael Wise | January 24, 2011 5:11 AM    Report this comment

I agree with you, Paul, that buying an S-LSA airplane is as much about the manufacturer as it is about the airplane itself. Any S-LSA owner will find himself in an awkward position if the manufacturer goes away.

I admit I was a little surprised at the Piper decision to become a marketing arm for another manufacturer. To me, any manufacturer of any product must focus their business on the manufacturing while the marketing and other parts of the business are secondary.

Cessna has shown that it is a big step to start designing new light planes after not doing so for decades. Piper tried promoting another manufacturer's product and found that to be a poor choice. Perhaps Piper's next move will be to buy a good design from a budding small company that failed to become a great manufacturer. I believe it is possible for a single engineer or a small team to design a great plane but it takes a lot of organization and administration to become a good LSA manufacturer. Piper already has most of this organization in place and has lots of experience in the actual manufacturing business. It already knows how to support a design with parts and all the other stuff that is required.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | January 24, 2011 6:24 AM    Report this comment

Great article. Cessna has not actually "sold" 1000 LSA's, it's delivered even less aircraft than Piper has so far. Cessna took deposits on the new plane and THEN announced it would be of Chinese manufacture (most early depositors believed that was a bait-and-switch).

Not sure what really happened at Piper, perhaps that they just don't have deep enough pockets to support LSA or that the gamble of a foot-in-the-door of a booming LSA market that never came.

What's obvious is that Piper & Cessna are no longer capable of making a simple aircraft in the USA.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 24, 2011 7:49 AM    Report this comment

I bought a PiperSport at the show last year and I couldn't be happier with the plane. I knew, from speaking with the Piper Sales folks that they would not be handling the sales of the type. But after some getting to know one antoher, I found US Sport Aircraft very easy to deal with and have had no trouble to report. I spoke with Don Ayers, CEO of US Sport, at the show on Saturday and he assures me all will be good. I think Piper rushed into the LSA Market too soon and is rushinhg out of it too soon.

Posted by: Joseph Klagholz | January 24, 2011 8:24 AM    Report this comment

Paul, Cessna has about 1000 orders for their 162, but has only delivered hence sold, about 60 or so. And they had those 1000 orders for the last 3 years or so, right?

Enjoy your comments!

Pete Schoeninger

Posted by: Pete Schoeninger | January 24, 2011 8:33 AM    Report this comment

I think there is a parallel with the large number of manufacturers of light sport airplanes now and the large number of manufactures of regular airplanes in the 1920's and 30's. By the 1970's it was Cessna, Piper and Beechcraft that had 90% of the market and a few others ( Moooney, Grumman, Waco, Taylorcraft, etc) that had the rest. It took 30 years, a great depression, a world war, and a decade or two of boom times for that to settle in. The light sport market may evolve the same way although I bet it will not take as long. Heck, that presumes we are still flying ourselves around in 30 years what with all the regulations and fuel issues we have to to deal with.

Posted by: peter vans | January 24, 2011 9:24 AM    Report this comment

Great article! I would like some one at Piper to define "core business principles" for us. I'm guessing that that ignominious term was used to side-step a debate in public about the real reasons. It's important to remember that there is more to LSA than just airplanes. Most post war aircraft manufacturers were "Skunks Works" by today's definition, and that was a good thing! Innovation is what LSA is about. Developing a concept, and bringing it to market in an environment where the "self certification" aspect of LSA allows us to try out radical new ideas and proving them in a low speed, low altitude, VFR only arena. I believe in the future all of the "latest and greatest" technologies will be found first in LSA's to prove them worthy, before companies start that long slow road to FAA Certification for General Aviation. I believe that LSA has a bright future!

Posted by: Douglas Fredlund | January 24, 2011 10:35 AM    Report this comment

Mr. Ktatz comments highlight what I dont like about the vast majority of mostly-European S-LSA's currently on the market, Rotax power that I dont trust. Yes, the O-200 is heavier, complicating design of a severely weight-limited aircraft. Cessna made the right choice there.

Posted by: Jim Lo Bue | January 24, 2011 11:16 AM    Report this comment

Fritz/Jim, BINGO. The LSA weight rules make engines becomes hypercritical. Lighter ones can have reliability issues while and heavier certified ones push toward a single-place only ride. Thanks for the MIA06LA078 report on QC issues of the manufacturer.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 24, 2011 11:31 AM    Report this comment

Ah Mr. Katz. Thank you for filling me in I now see it was the customers that forced LAA into certifying the SC. Either way I’m not interested in it, I’m still too heavy to fly it with any decent fuel to go places with a passenger. Experience has taught me not to go and be the first to buy the latest and “greatest”. As for flying I bought a Robin 200 and discovered after buying it that it couldn’t carry me hence the continual reference to carrying weight. What a shame because as you say it is a nice looking aircraft.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | January 24, 2011 12:33 PM    Report this comment

I had to delete a couple of your comments, Fritz, because of the tone and content. No name calling or other nastiness, please. Russ Niles Editor-in-Chief

Posted by: Russ Niles | January 24, 2011 1:59 PM    Report this comment

Sorry, Fritz. You're cut off. The rules apply to every inch of this site and it is not a forum to spout off in this way.

Posted by: Russ Niles | January 24, 2011 6:14 PM    Report this comment

Before purchasing a Quicksilver GT500 I did a lot of research into the S-LSA category. My GT is registered as a the S-EAB. What really concerned me about S-LSA is maintenance. As I understand the S-LSA regulations, if a manufacturer has not documented a maintenance procedure it cannot be legally performed. For example (from real life), if an S-LSA develops a crack in the elevator, the repair is not in the manual and the the S-LSA manufacturer is out of business, you are out of luck. If Piper is not the manufacturer, who is going to provide the maintenance manuals and support the aircraft? Piper reselling S-LSA aircraft made no sense to me. S-LSA is great start to increasing innovation and reducing the cost of aircraft but regulations still need some work. Unfortunately most of the S-LSA buzz is about fiberglass airplanes from Europe. There are some very good tube and fabric designs under $50K manufactured here right here in the good ol' USA. These airplanes are very affordable from a purchase and maintenance standpoint.

Posted by: Dana Nickerson | January 24, 2011 8:05 PM    Report this comment

Dana,

You did your research very well. Alas, there is information you failed to catch - some of it unavailable to you.

First, the maintenance issue: You are partially correct. However a licensed mechanic (A&P) can work on nearly all parts of any LSA. There are some crazy limits, but if the manufacturer isn't around then those limits won't apply. Without a manufacturer, an owner who is not a mechanic can't fix problems that are not documented. Parts for an orphaned LSA might be difficult to find, but this is also true for TC'd planes.

The "Fix" for disappearing manufacturers is to convert the aircraft from S-LSA to E-LSA. I'm not sure exactly how this fixes all the problems, but it is supposed to do that. I don't think anybody has done it yet so there is still some testing "Under fire" to work out.

Yes the standards need work. To that end they all have required review cycles (from 2 to 5 years?) when the appropriate ASTM committee (F37) must review them and revise anything that needs revising.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | January 25, 2011 1:39 AM    Report this comment

Pete, I asked Cessna about those 1000 orders. All of them are deposited orders, many from flight schools. I have no reason to believe they aren't real because of Cessna's track record in making such claims.Cessna is usually spot on with its schedule and cost estimates and tends not to say anything unless it has good data to back up the claim.

I suspect by the end of next year, they will be at the top of the LSA sales list.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 25, 2011 6:13 AM    Report this comment

Paul, regarding LSA maintenance you are close, but I need to point out NO ONE can do any maintenance, repair, or alteration on an S-LSA that is not in the maintenance manual - regardless of whether they are an A&P. They also cannot use a 337 to document their work. That said, the aircraft owner or mechanic can contact the Aircraft OEM and request authorization to do the work. The Aircraft OEM must approve the work in writing (an email is not acceptable) and provide complete instructions for performing the work including any required changes to the POH or maintenance manual for the specific Serial Number being changed (not just the model). You are correct about an owner being able to change an S-LSA to an E-LSA. However, to accomplish this they must surrender the S-LSA airworthiness certificate and request an inspection for an E-LSA airworthiness certificate. Before this is done they should check with their insurance company to be sure they will still insure the E-LSA. The other 'problem' with E-LSA will be finding the engineering data as the Aircraft OEM will no longer be required to provide support. The standards are constantly be reviewed and updated as needed. However, with review and ballot cycles it can take a few months for the committee to approve an update which is released for international use. However, it is not approved for USA use until it has gone through the FAA process which can take a while.

Posted by: Richard Norris | January 25, 2011 6:48 AM    Report this comment

Paul:

Most of Cessnas 1000 orders were booked 3 years ago, before they announced the airplane was going to be made in China.

As a long time airplane salesman (40 years) I can also assure you there is a very big difference between signing a contract and giving a deposit, and actually closing the deal.

That said, I hope everybody sells a lot of LSA's!

Posted by: Pete Schoeninger | January 25, 2011 8:04 AM    Report this comment

>>>That said, I hope everybody sells a lot of LSA's!

To do that, dealers and manufacturers alike need to get the customer service thing down which includes being responsive to consumer communications. Cessna aside, many of the companies and distributors are very small. When calls go unanswered buyers should and do go elsewhere. As I walked the show last weekend I was taken back by the arrogance of some of these reps trying to sell airplane. This won't cut it. These under-performers have lots to learn from the folks at Legend, Vans and other veterans who got it right and have the sales numbers to prove it.

Posted by: Larry Anglisano | January 26, 2011 5:47 AM    Report this comment

Startup growing pains aside, LSAs are appearing with increasing frequency everywhere. Flight schools are adding them into their mix of old iron, and new flight schools are focusing on SP/LSA exclusively. The 2000 hr TBO Rotax 912 series of 4-stroke engines has an excellent track record and an astounding power/weight ratio. Like any piece of fine German engineering (OK Austrian) the engine must be maintained and operated according to the book. Our 50+ year old US aircraft engines may be more forgiving of neglect and abuse, but the future is in these new engines. Who can argue against a 9gph fuel burn for the 4-seat Tecnam P2006T twin or sub-5gph consumption of just about new LSA powered by a Rotax or Jabiru? Now, if we could get ethanol-free Mogas back onto our airfields, we'd put a real dent into the cost of sport aviation.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | January 26, 2011 8:20 AM    Report this comment

I wonder why Piper did not look at doing deal on a overseas manfactured version of Van's RV-12, which has nearly 500 kits under construction and 90 known to be flying. The the completed kit costs look to be $75K-$80K, depending on the paint job, and the build time for experienced builders is under 700 MH. A production line could cut that number significantly, and overseas prodcution costs (Cessna's model) would still provide decent margins for Piper and dealers.

Posted by: John Salak | January 26, 2011 8:24 AM    Report this comment

John, great point. I'd bet the problem is that the profit comes from delivering a complete plane. I'd love to see a non-experimental RV-12 airframe built (w/o engine, avionics or paint) for $35-40K that the owner could finish out. Won't happen though...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 26, 2011 8:39 AM    Report this comment

John and Mark: I won't speak for Piper, but you have to keep in mind VANs is selling the RV-12 kit as an E-LSA. This means they built and certified one RV-12 as an S-LSA then developed the kit and Kit Instructions.

This means the builder has to assemble the exact same configuration of the E-LSA in accordance with the kit instructions. They cannot modify the aircraft in any way until after the flight test hours are completed.

Even though LSA are not restricted to the 51% rule, the same requirements would apply to the bare airframe 'kit'. The aircraft OEM would have to build and certify one version as an S-LSA, then create the 'kit' which the builder would have to complete as noted above. The builder has to complete the E-LSA in the 'certified' configuration until after flight testing is complete. This includes the engine and avionics, but I don't think the paint is an issue.

Posted by: Richard Norris | January 26, 2011 9:04 AM    Report this comment

I was thinking more along the line of a complete production verion of the RV-12 that would sell in the $110-$130K range. Piper knows the high volume manfacturing, distribution, and support side of the business well. The low wing design fits the Piper mold for single engine, prop aircraft. Its hard to beat the RV-12 design based on the flying reviews it has received. I am sure a startup manfacturing operion in China, Taiwan, etc. is not a minor undertaking, witness the initial problems with the Skycatcher production.

We could almost get back to the good old days of Piper vs Cessna arguments over low-wing vs high wing, Rotax vs the O-200D, and 100LL vs Ethanol MOGAS between the two top dogs in LSA.

Posted by: John Salak | January 26, 2011 4:39 PM    Report this comment

John,

I'm having a hard time understanding your proposal. You want Piper to sell Van's design? What ever made you think Van would sell it?

You say "We could almost get back to the good old days of Piper vs Cessna" but you are not including the nearly 100 other manufacturers already making some very nice S-LSA airplanes. Without Cessna or Piper you can buy nearly any variation of airplane already. You want high wing, low wing, all metal, composite, tube and fabric, fast (120 KCAS), slow, tricycle gear, tailwheel configuration, Low price, fancy sports car interior, steam gauges, glass, etc. etc. You can buy almost any variation of all those qualities already. I don't see what would be gained by pretending there were only two manufacturers in the market.

By the way, almost none of the new airplane designs use old O-200 or O-235 engines. There is a very good reason for that - they are too heavy for the LSA spec. Those planes that use these old engine designs pay approximately a 100 pound penalty in empty weight but must limit the gross weight to 1320 pounds just like the designs using Rotax, Jabiru, or potentially other modern light designs.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | January 26, 2011 6:58 PM    Report this comment

Mark, $35k-$40k is unrealistic. The RV-12 kit is already in a form that is nearly snap-together, and Van's is doing its best to buy the components from Rotax, Dynon and others at the lowest possible price. A new Rotax engine costs around $25,000, the instruments $10,000, that makes $35,000 without an airframe. Van's needs to make a profit or they'll go out of business. Reality is that a solid, no frills E-LSA kit is going to cost us around $70,000 until lower cost engines and avionics can be found. If someone can do it for less, they need to demonstrate how it's done and deliver the same performance, safety and quality as from Van's aircraft.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | January 27, 2011 5:58 AM    Report this comment

Kent, I agree with you and this just points out why a certified S-LSA costs so much. A while back Paul did another Blog that pointed out it costs an Aircraft OEM about ONE MILLION dollars to certify an S-LSA to the ASTM standards. This does not include on-going compliance costs.

Why? One reason is few people (not flight schools, etc.) who are buying S-LSAs want a basic, no-frills, steam-gauge, airplane. They want the glass panels, auto-pilots, etc so that is what the Aircraft OEMs are building.

Posted by: Richard Norris | January 27, 2011 6:17 AM    Report this comment

Richard - Bingo. Successful companies deliver what their customers want, it's that simple. There are plenty of simpler planes out there, for instance the nice planes from RANS. Frills aren't free. Those who think that the current LSA makers are all getting rich need to go visit a few, but should do it quick as we lose a few each year. Without our passion for aviation, few would risk everything to design, build, test, certify, manufacture, sell and support airplanes to a market full of competition, ambulance-chasing trial lawyers, airplane-noise-hating groundlings, freedom-killing bureaucrats and the chaos we face with aviation fuel, taxes and a myriad other problems.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | January 27, 2011 6:32 AM    Report this comment

freedom-killing bureaucrats <<

Actually, I think it is the additional freedom we get with the new SP/LSA rules that makes them so successful.

Just think how much of a surge we would get in GA if the bureaucrats gave up on the 3rd Class Medical Certificate and allowed all pilots to fly for non-commercial purposes on a state driver's license - just like Sport Pilots do now.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | January 27, 2011 6:39 AM    Report this comment

Paul, based on what I've heard from several people, the typical S-LSA buyer is over 45, male, and paying cash from the sale of their bigger GA aircraft which they sold to down-size to a simplier aircraft or to avoid the 3rd Class Medical.

So if the FAA should drop the 3rd Class Medical, any guesses as to what simplier aircraft they might buy instead of a $110K plus S'LSA?

Posted by: Richard Norris | January 27, 2011 6:46 AM    Report this comment

Richard,

Wow, that is a loaded question. I don't know if I can even keep track of all the variations of choices you mentioned.

First, I suspect your "over 45, male, and paying cash" describes the whole GA pilot population as well as the S-LSA buyers. We just don't have enough poor young wanna-be pilots in training now.

The issue of "simpler aircraft" is a curious one. I don't think we can determine how many pilots want simpler aircraft because they can fly them without a medical certificate vs. wanting a simpler aircraft to make their flying easier. My own take on that is once you learn how to fly heavier, more powerful, more complex airplanes actually continuing to operate them is pretty easy.

There are many thousands of TC'd light planes available on the market for less than the $110K you mentioned. They are all older single and twin engine planes that have made up most of GA for decades. If any pilot could fly any of these planes without a medical certificate, then they could buy and fly nearly any light plane.

The most interesting question is how many would choose LSA vs. TC'd older light planes. I don't know the answer, but I suspect LSA would continue to earn approximately the same market share they now have. These are wonderful new planes that offer a great flying experience at low operating cost. I do think sales of the older light planes would pick up if we have lots more buyers confident they will not be grounded by their next AME visit.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | January 27, 2011 7:06 AM    Report this comment

"Mark, $35k-$40k is unrealistic. "

I guarantee that Cessna is in that price ballpark for a base airframes. That's what I was saying; given an airframe at low cost that can be completed with at least 2 different engine options. It's doable, it just won't be done.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 27, 2011 7:15 AM    Report this comment

Paul and Richard - As the president of a large (185+ member) EAA chapter near Raleigh I have a pretty good sense for who is buying/using LSAs in this part of the country. Initially it was the aging pilots who feared loss of the medical, sold a Bonanza/C210/Cherokee/RV and bought an LSA with all the bells and whistles. My impression is that this gave a false impression to the LSA makers that only the luxury models would sell, which is when one started seeing dual glass panels and leather interiors in Remos, Tecnam, Sport Cruisers, etc. In the meantime, flight schools have started adding LSAs to their mix, and a few new flight schools have appeared that focus solely on SP/LSA. Our local GA repair shop added an LSA/Rotax repairman two years ago (my 22-year old son!) and are seeing gradual growth of customers with LSA planes. The market for used LSAs is also growing, lowering the cost for some really nice airplanes. Young pilots appear far more impressed by the sleek lines, plush interiors and modern glass panels of the latest LSAs, and who can really blame them. I have only owned 40-50 year old airplanes and honestly I am tired of fixing things that break. I have flown a number of the latest LSAs and they are superbly designed and built airplanes, and most fly very well too. Maybe it's time we parked our old iron and embraced the latest technology.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | January 27, 2011 7:16 AM    Report this comment

Kent,

I agree with everything you said. I have been flying one of those fancy high end S-LSA planes for the last two years. I am really impressed with nearly everything about it.

Still, there is a real market for inexpensive planes that can be flown without a medical certificate. Perhaps a $20,000 C-150 or PA-28-140 would allow one of the folks complaining about the cost of fancy new S-LSA to own a plane and fly it.

There are a lot of pilots out there who are not flying. Even those who have or could easily get a current medical can be really concerned about the next AME visit. The freedom to be a pilot without having to deal with FAA medical bureaucrats and their completely unfathomable reasoning could be a real boon to GA.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | January 27, 2011 8:02 AM    Report this comment

"Maybe it's time we parked our old iron and embraced the latest technology."

LSA's are NOT the latest technology. LSA's are a step up from ultralights and down from experimental aircraft (LongEZ, RV10) and down from certified aircraft (SR22, Cirrus Vision jet).

LSA's are just new construction low performing piston singles. Nothing revolutionary and many are less than superbly designed. If you want latest and greatest and sleekest and cost effective, then the unrestrained experimental is the path.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 27, 2011 8:11 AM    Report this comment

Paul - agreed on the AME issue and it sounds like there is a real chance that the FAA would expand this beyond LSA. We all know that AME exams are pretty basic really. I really doubt we'll see any change to the current MTOW limits on LSAs though. I understand that when the MTOW of 1320 was established, it was based on an inflection in the statistical probability of an accident as a function of weight. This makes sense, as seen by countless (low-speed) UL accidents where the pilots walked away from a ball of metal and fabric that was once an airplane. Over in Germany, most of the planes we know here as LSAs are limited to only 450 Kg (992 lbs), which is why they make use of composites and light engines such as the Rotax and Jabiru. This results in amazing useful loads in the latest LSAs. Light airplanes also allow more people to operate safely from their own airfields, removing another bureaucratic hurdle, our government-owned airports. In fact the latter point is one of the secrets to Europe's success - many LSAs and gliders operate from private airfields owned by local flying clubs. No user fees and often with their own training programs and maintenance. There are several thousand such clubs in Europe whereas we in the U.S. still like doing our own thing but are dependent on government airports. Clubs share airplanes making even the latest ones quite affordable.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | January 27, 2011 8:24 AM    Report this comment

Mark, I suggest you check out the new Tecnam P2008, which combines an aluminum wing with a finish that is nearly as good as composite, with a sleek carbon fiber fuselage. The wing features frise ailerons giving it superb handling. The interior is as good as anything you'll find in a new Cirrus. Some LSAs have indeed evolved from ULs, but many, like Tecnam and RV-12, are the latest in a long line of efficient G.A. airplanes. The new Tecnam P2006T Twin Rotax has set a new standard in light twins and burns only 9 gph Mogas. E-AB is a great way to explore new technologies that become LSAs one day, eg Van's RV-12.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | January 27, 2011 8:55 AM    Report this comment

I guarantee that Cessna is in that price ballpark for a base airframes<<

And how, exactly, do you guarantee this, Mark?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 27, 2011 9:45 AM    Report this comment

The 1969 Yankee has slick rivetless aluminum wings and superbly light roll response. It also has and extremely stiff/light fuselage. It also gets 5.5GPH on MoGas with a 1500# GTOW. Not bad for 1969 tech.

That's why I said that LSA's are not new technology at all. The technology is wasted on LSA's for the overriding purpose of achieving a weight limit (not faster and cheaper or ultimately better).

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 27, 2011 9:50 AM    Report this comment

"And how, exactly, do you guarantee this, Mark?"

$40k is reasonable for an all aluminum airframe made in China. Add the cost of U.S. assembly at a plant, paint, avionics, an O-200, interior, a sales department, insurance, and reasonable profit, it will roll it to $110K.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 27, 2011 9:55 AM    Report this comment

I would have my dream airplane right now (old Mooney) if the third-class medical wasn't hovering over my 43-year old chrome dome...

...doesn't help LSA much, but eliminating the medical would be a big adrenaline shot in GA's arm at every local airport.

When oil averages $100/barrel in the not-too-distant future we probably will see an elimination of the third-class medical.

Posted by: Pete Kuhns | January 27, 2011 10:14 AM    Report this comment

Pete,

I hope you are right. But . . . what relationship do you see between oil price and medical regulations? Do you think the FAA is more likely to eliminate the 3rd class medical if oil goes higher?

The FAA is already tasked with promoting aviation. I can't think of a single idea that would promote it more than eliminating the 3rd class medical. I also have heard it would save the FAA the majority of its medical department costs. But, I can't imagine the bureaucrats paying any attention at all to costs and especially oil costs.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | January 27, 2011 10:28 AM    Report this comment

The FAA's idea of promoting sport aviation was performing ramp checks on airplanes visiting last week's EXPO in Sebring. How's that for throwing cold water on us all?

Posted by: Kent Misegades | January 27, 2011 10:31 AM    Report this comment

In regard to your somewhat arrogant statement about LSA aircraft being right-priced at $120k and anyone who winces at that price blissfully ignorant and living in the 50's I would respond by saying that a Cessna 150 when introduced in 1958 was priced at $6995. If we correct for inflation, today that would be $51,900 not $120k. The LSA manufacturers would do much better if they tried to appeal to the average entry level pilot of what sport pilot was supposed to be instead of focusing on the high end buyers. If LSA really wants to surge, they need to be able to compete with the funds that are spent on a bass boat, motorcycle or sports car

Posted by: Robert Blakeslee | January 27, 2011 10:36 AM    Report this comment

I have not seen Piper Sport other than in the picture, but years ago I had a chance to talk with Czech engineers in their language and see their education system up close.Unlike some of the commenters, I would not be so condescending towards Czech "Eastern European" partners of Piper, their quality of work or their business ethics. Czech Republic also was never "part of the Russian Union" as someone here mentioned. Maybe a history refresher as part of the BFR would be a good idea? :-) Now Czech Republic is part of the EU, with all accompanying standards, costs etc., and is even less resembling "third world country" from "Eastern Europe" - as some people apparently think. Probably Piper expected dramatically lower costs from this deal? This is not going to happen, not when they are essentially importing from the EU. Cessna importing from China will indeed have lower costs, but not Piper importing from across the pond. Difference in "core business philosophies" is nothing more than belated realization on the part of Piper that they cannot have their cake and eat it too, financially. Perhaps somebody at Piper simply re-run the numbers and called it quits. Given that they were very much half-heartedly into this deal anyway ("independent dealer network") it was somewhat easier to accomplish. Shame on Piper. Perhaps Czech company can find a way to market their craft at lower price point without Piper? Price of little LSA should indeed be closer to 60K than to 120K to be palatable.

Posted by: Andrei Volkov | January 27, 2011 12:27 PM    Report this comment

"....I would have my dream airplane right now (old Mooney) if the third-class medical wasn't hovering over my 43-year old chrome dome...."

Not picking on Pete, but it is not clear to me why a lot of people think a 3rd class medical every few years is such an impediment to flying.

They're not expensive, they are far from medically comprehensive, and they're still probably a good idea from a general health point-of-view.

Can someone explain how its elimination would open the flood gates for new pilots?

Posted by: Edd Weninger | January 27, 2011 12:55 PM    Report this comment

Edd,

I am one of those who think the 3rd class medical impedes general aviation. I will try to give a few details of my thoughts:

The FAA bureaucracy is both secretive and arbitrary in their decisions. This is particularly true when it comes to prescription drug use. Their policy is to keep their thoughts on drugs secret. Oddly enough, their "Parent" the DOT has done a number of studies which show prescription drug use just doesn't correlate with transportation safety problems.

I have never found any information that suggests medical problems are a significant cause of aviation accidents.

Most pilots realize that running afoul of the FAA medical bureaucrats will ground you forever. This is not because of safety issues but rather because of bureaucratic power envy.

For anyone considering boarding a plane with a Private Pilot or Sport Pilot I think the most important issue is the pilot's attitude as well as the skill level he has maintained since receiving his license. Worry about the pilot's medical condition is so far down the list it just doesn't matter.

Using AME visits to get review of general health is misguided. They perform a strictly restricted FAA medical exam which covers only specific issues. Anyone who is concerned about maintaining their health would be well advised to schedule a general exam from a normal doctor (internal or family medicine) for a comprehensive health assessment.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | January 27, 2011 1:23 PM    Report this comment

Paul, I have to agree with you on the Third Class Medical. Statistics have shown very few GA accidents were caused due to the pilot's medical condition. I happen to be current, but find it an on-going 'hassle' to keep the records straight (ie: prescriptions, doctor visits, doctor letters, etc.).

Using your AME as your 'doctor' and ignoring health symptoms can be fatal. A good flying friend of mine who was 54 years old, smoked and drank some, but in what I thought was good health, passed his Third Class a few months ago. The week before Thanksgiving he complained to his girlfriend about a little back pain and less than an hour later colapsed in front of her from a massive heart attack. He died from complications a week later.

One reason I think pilots are going to S-LSA rather than renewing their Third Class Medical is because if they should ever fail an exam not only would the be grounded from GA aircraft they would not be allowed to fly S-LSA.

Posted by: Richard Norris | January 27, 2011 1:40 PM    Report this comment

Mark, your numbers are close. You didn't give a source for them. Do you have a line into Shenyang or are you just making up numbers?

From the day it announced the Skycatcher, Cessna set the goal at $100,000, but Textron made it clear the project couldn't be a loss leader. Base is $112,000. Close. But nobody buys base airplanes, so guess what--typical invoice is $130,000. If you draw a bell curve of sales, the fat part of it runs from $115K up above $140K.

So the assumption is that these manufacturers are (a) either too dumb to make an inexpensive airplane or (b) they actually are doing that and are pocketing fat margins. If the latter, damn if I can figure out what they're doing with the money. It's not going into plant expansion, advertising or marketing.

Lots of people keep saying build LSAs cheaper and they will sell more and the market just keeps rejecting that, as it always has, even in certified airplanes. That's why Cirrus sells more SR22s than 20s and why Cessna sells more 172SPs than 172s. Except for (few) niche trainers, the bottom of the market has never been big.

It still isn't.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 27, 2011 2:27 PM    Report this comment

Cessna initially claimed a $100K price tag and they saved $70K by using using China. That's why I'm guessing $30-40K for a raw airframe.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 27, 2011 3:16 PM    Report this comment

The $100,000 was the target price all in, according to our reports, not a "claim." All in assumes the engine, airframe, paint, delivery. Subtract the engine at about $20,000, and that leaves $80,000 for airframe and the rest of it. That's not doable here or even in China. And you can't ignore the cost of overhead, development and testing, which for Cessna was close to the price of a full-up cert, because they did that much testing.

These projects always cost more than inexpert people on the outside assume.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 27, 2011 4:05 PM    Report this comment

These projects always cost more than inexpert people on the outside assume. <<

If it is anything like electronic product development, the projects always cost more than the in-house experts predict too.

New product development is an expensive and risky business. I'm sure most LSA manufacturers are hoping to make a profit some day but probably never will. We do see some low cost S-LSA planes - made in America where the weak dollar doesn't matter as much as it does with imports - in the $70k starting range. That is really incredible for a new factory built airplane. New TC's planes seem to start around $200K and very quickly go up from there. My friend in the next hangar bought a new 182 with G1000 panel a couple of years ago for something around $600,000.

I still think those who want to fly without a medical and own their plane should join the movement to get the FAA to drop the 3rd class medical. You can still buy a flying trainer class airplane in the $20 -$30K range. This gives you a plane that flies just fine and may not nickel and dime you to death with broken parts or fuel bills.

Given the freedom to do so without a medical I would opt for a high performance single or very light twin for my fun flying. This won't save me money, but I can't do it now because of the medical restriction.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | January 27, 2011 4:40 PM    Report this comment

"These projects always cost more than inexpert people on the outside assume."

WHICH IS WHY the bare airframe is probably closer to $35K to stamp out. Than means +10K/unit development costs+ 21K engine/prop + 5K Avionics + + 4K interior + 2K electrical + 8K paint + 5K BRS + $1K shipping + 4K final assembly/inspection +15K profit = $110K.

Yes, the basic aluminum airframe has to be very close to $35K ESPECIALLY if Cessna is to get a paltry 10-13% profit per unit. That slim margin also has to cover a sales staff and lawsuit insurance.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 27, 2011 7:35 PM    Report this comment

Paul Mulwitz: - Britain has being experimenting with a licence call the NPPL (National Private Pilots Licence). You can obtain this licence with what is called self medical. The applicant needs only approach his/her doctor to sign off the medical certificate which is completed by the applicant. The information can be found at http://www.caa.co.uk/default.aspx?catid=49&pagetype=90&pageid=873 Additional information is at www.nppl.co.uk

The NPPL cannot fly complex SEP’s or twins but the PA28’s C172’s and LSA are well within the reach of this licence. Europe has declared that they accept the UK NPPL but there are still issues with it and time is needed to sort them out, considering that there was a total ban a few year ago of allowing NPPL’s to fly to France.

So Paul sorry to say this but if FAA follow this route you may not be able to fly your high performance or twin you dream about but you do get to fly and staying current is a lot easier.

Money is never the issue when one is pursuing their sport be it golf, car racing, boating, flying or even the simpler ones like bowls. I believe the problem is the bureaucratic complexity that the FAA and CAA’s have imposed on the pilots all in the name of safety. Hence the need for a medical. They all need to reevaluate their stand and relook at what they are trying to achieve and maybe..... just maybe.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | January 28, 2011 5:09 AM    Report this comment

Mark, you also need to keep in mind the 'technical support' an Aircraft OEM has to provide after the sale. This includes: spare parts, engineering, POH and maintenance manual(s) updates, Service Bulletins, Maintenance Requests and Approvals, Continued Airworthiness, aircraft as-built records, etc. As an Aircraft OEM sells more S-LSAs this effort also grows - especially since it all has to be done by the OEM and at the serial number level for each S-LSA, not just the model level.

Posted by: Richard Norris | January 28, 2011 5:38 AM    Report this comment

Bruce,

I quickly read the page from your link and concluded the American SP/LSA gives me a lot more freedom to fly than the British version - the NPPL. It seems the NPPL medical requirements are virtually the same as our 3rd class with unqualified AMEs. They still have bureaucrats distributing decision instructions for any medical condition they choose and regular exams and paper renewal.

It is not clear what the FAA might do in the medical relaxation area. The latest serious proposal (currently in the public comment phase) would allow pilots to fly any plane that weighs under 6,000 pounds with driver's license as medical. The logic is that if a person can safely drive a normal car he can fly a plane with similar weight.

My own thought is if they get rid of the 3rd class medical altogether that would be a better choice for all. It would allow the FAA to eliminate the majority of positions in their medical department and allow appropriately rated pilots to fly any aircraft so long as they are not flying for hire. The logic here is that the 3rd class isn't (and never was) worth the paper it is printed on.

Of course the FAA can do nothing. However, I believe the pressure will eventually build high enough to get some action in this direction. If the Republicans refuse to raise the debt ceiling (my fondest hope) then eliminating the 3rd class medical would be an easy change which would immediately yield some measurable savings in the emergency situation that would follow.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | January 28, 2011 6:18 AM    Report this comment

Richard, thanks. I was just hitting just some high points to show that the airframe itself has to be fairly low priced to be competitive. Truth be told for the same effort as a C162, they could stamp out some truly great airframes for the same cost as an LSA airframe (but leagues better for load, speed, and range).

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 28, 2011 7:16 AM    Report this comment

Folks I am posting a link on a blog article I read on the EAA web site by J. Mac McClellan former editor in Chief of Flying Magazine. He makes perhaps the most cogent argument for eliminating the 3rd Class Medical I have yet to read. It is based on the presumption that even with a Medical flight physical PPLs self certify their medical fitness every time they fly. Anyway it is more food for thought.

http://macsblog.com/2011/01/the-faa%E2%80%99s-health-guarantee-2/

Posted by: Kevin O'Donnell | January 29, 2011 9:03 AM    Report this comment

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