Aero: Why It's Such a Player
As I was rushing around the halls at Aero this week, I still took the time to pause and talk to lots of people, many I know and many I just met. Like any major aviation show, Aero draws from all over the world, but there's a strong concentration of central European attendees.
If I were searching for a single phrase to describe this show, it would be that it's a self-priming pump. Nearly everyone I spoke to—especially vendors—started the conversation with how much they enjoy coming to Aero. I don't hear that as much at either AirVenture or Sun 'n Fun. There are several reasons for this, but the biggest is that Aero is operated by Messe Friedrichshafen, a professional, purpose-built trade show organization. So when vendors are setting up, they get plenty of help from the show because that's what this event is all about. In this podcast, I thought Trade-A-Plane's Cosby Stone described it well. For my part, I'd say the press office here is second to none in terms of professionalism and support. Sabine Zorell, the press center's daily ops person, takes a personal interest in the job does it superbly. There are actually two press rooms here, one at either end of the complex. Very helpful.
Second, unlike the major U.S. shows, Aero is short—just four days from Wednesday to Saturday. I could have used another day to tie up lose ends, but that's okay. As they say in the comedy biz, leave them wanting more. Ignoring the cost of airfare, the show itself isn't overly expensive to attend. A day pass is 18 Euros or about $24 bucks or $44 for two days. Hotels aren't cheap, but neither are they in Oshkosh or Lakeland during show week. Ninety Euros ($120) will buy decent accommodation, but I talked to several people who paid twice that for hotels in Friedrichshafen. (I stayed across the border in Austria.)
As far as attendance numbers, the general feeling was that it was down a little over last year, although I don't have official numbers from the Messe yet. If so, that would follow the pattern of other shows. There's definitely more North American participation. As Thomas Borchert and I mentioned in our opening-day video report, Cessna had a major presence here this year and both Cirrus and Garmin upped their games noticeably. As is typical of many of the booths here—they actually call them stands—Cirrus had a full-blown pilot shop with all the logo wear you could ever want.
All of this must-do sentiment toward Aero reflects the increasing globalization of aviation and aerospace. There's less Chinese presence at Aero than at AirVenture, last year, but there are still Chinese companies here. Brazil, Russia and all of the Euro Zone countries are well represented, both by vendors and attendees. If you want to trade globally, I'm told, Aero has to be on the agenda.
This was much on the agenda here and it's a potentially big deal. I say "potentially," because I'm a little worried that the revision of CS23/Part 23 is being oversold in terms of its effect on the price of new airplanes. In a nutshell, regulators from around the world are coming to detailed agreement on how to streamline the basic regulatory framework for light aircraft. This could—and should—substantially reduce the cost of certifying an airplane. All good, no question.
But don't get the idea that this will make airplanes cheap. They are still going to be expensive to produce. Case in point is Pipistrel's impressive Panthera. In this video, Pipistrel's Vid Plevnik estimates the price on the Panthera to be in the range of 470,000 Euros or $611,000 in 2013 dollars. And mind you, this airplane will be certified under the new regulatory structure, such that Pipistrel can anticipate its outlines.
That's not a cheaper airplane, even if it is more capable. So in my view, the regulatory rewrite won't dramatically reduce airplane costs, at least initially, but it will arrest their rise and it will allow easier integration of more technology that could improve performance and safety. That's a step in the right direction. We'll just have to see how effective it is.
A shout out here to Brad Marzari who was working the Pipistrel static stand and, in addition to helping me with the video, he afforded me a good long sit in the airplane.
This thing oozes quality in build and design. It's just a test article, but the seats were exceptionally well detailed and comfortable. The stick comes up out of the floor right in front of the seat and sweeps back, so it doesn't impede legroom. Although the airplane is on the smallish side, the interior has plenty of room, including head room when I closed the hatch. Speaking of hatches, do you recall seeing that famous NASA picture of Jim Lovell and Frank Borman after splashing down in Gemini 7? They're floating comfortably at sea with the hatches open. For some reason, that's what sitting in the Panthera reminded me of.
Visibility out the sides is generous—those hatches have a lot of glass. Forward, it's a little less so, so I suspect landing it well will take an acquired touch. The backseat is entered, Diamond DA-40 style, through a large rear hatch. Plenty of room back there, too, and the seats have that perfect recline that suggest someone paid attention to their design. A lot of attention.
If Pipistrel gets this airplane through the cert process without significant compromise, it's going to be the modern world airplane to beat. Pipistrel is a scrappy, innovative company and the fact that they haven't put some downmarket lowball price on the Panthera suggests they're realistic about what it will take to get the airplane to market. For what it's worth, I find this company refreshingly honest to deal with.
The Mogas Subterfuge
Lots of talk here at Aero about mogas burning engines. In fact, the Panthera is advertised to burn mogas. But there's a certain slight of hand going on here and it ought to be explained.
Morphologically speaking, there are two kinds of mogas. When we say mogas in the U.S., we think of what you buy at the local Shell station or maybe the marina if you want E0. When engine makers say mogas, they're referring to 91AKI and mainly they seem to be tilting toward the UL91 that the French refiner, Total, is trying to deploy throughout Europe as a certified aviation fuel. But the two fuels aren't the same thing nor are they sold at anything close to the same price.
UL91 is essentially 100LL without the lead and it sells in Europe for only a bit less than avgas. Some pilots here complain that Total is actually charging as much for UL91 as for 100LL. It makes both.
In this podcast, Lycoming's Michael Kraft insists Lycoming is not going to sign off on supporting actual mogas or what it calls pump gas. We published a series of guest blogs explaining this. (part 1, part 2, part 3) Continental is on the same page.
So when you see these engines approved for mogas, it isn't the same kind of mogas you're probably thinking of.