Aero Notes: The Skyhawk as Target
Complaining about the high cost of flying is more or less universal, but here in Europe, where the Aero show is in full swing, they seem to be used to it. Just as in the U.S., general aviation at a serious level—and by that, I mean maybe owning a Cirrus or a Mooney—requires significant wealth. Just tanking up such an airplane is a $700 load test of a VISA card.
Yet still, there’s discernible interest in the weak, but persistent narrative that there’s a sea change afoot with regard to the price of at least some airplanes. The other day when my friend and colleague, Thomas Borchert of fliegermagazin and I were walking over to cover Vulcanair’s new V1.0, he asked me if I thought they could really build the thing for $250,000. He asked me the same thing about the Flight Design C4, a similar airplane at the same price point. This is sort of game we play between us, I think, because I have no better idea of whether they’ll hit these price points than does anyone else. I do know this: It’s kind of pathetic that we now think an airplane costing $250,000—the price of a Skyhawk in 2007—is somehow unachievably inexpensive. Like I said, we’ve readjusted our expectations.
Speaking of Cessna 172s, the highwing four-placer seems to be the design of choice for would-be pretenders to the Cessna throne. The C4 and Vulcanair V1.0 are both of that ilk, albeit with different details and performance. On paper, they’re both better airplanes but, unfortunately, they aren’t off the paper yet. My guess is that Cessna will continue to blithely raise the price of the new Skyhawk until no one will be able to buy it, much less want to. Looking over GAMA’s delivery data, Skyhawk sales have trended steadily downward since 2007. Last year, it sold 106 172s. In fact, at its Wednesday presser, Cirrus pointed out that it’s now the world piston aircraft sales leader. In just the high-priced, high-performance segment--the SR22 against the TTx—Cirrus dominates by a margin of six to one. I suppose the Cirrus CAPs is a factor in that, but I also think Cirrus has figured out something that Cessna has forgotten: how to sell piston airplanes that have high value for customers.
We hear rumbling from Cessna dealers and sales people about lack of interest and commitment from Wichita. When we’re offered interview opportunities with Textron execs hoping to hear a return to that full-throated support of piston aircraft, we get corporate platitudes instead; they’re pretty much faxing it in.
This has produced enough of a rising disgust in the market that projects like the C4 and the V1.0 attract cheers for no other reason than someone is trying to tap the brakes on escalating prices, as Cessna is clearly not. The higher the Skyhawk price goes, the more viable are would-be challengers to it. These are mostly likely to come from the refurb side. It didn’t escape my notice that Continental had in its booth a tastily painted up Skyhawk with Centurion 2.0s plastered on the side.
Continental is going after this market aggressively and it's going to cost Cessna new sales, first in onesies and twosies, then in the dozens. Redbird alone already has some 40 orders for its Redhawk conversion. If Cessna is only selling 107 Skyhawks a year, can it afford to lose 25 or 50 of those sales to a combination of Redbird, Flight Design, Vulcanair and other companies getting serious about less expensive airplanes? Worse, will it just raise unit prices to make up the margins? At some point, those curves are going to diverge. I’m just wondering if they haven’t already, with just enough space for a Centurion 2.0s Skyhawk to fly right through.