AirVenture: Diesel, Drones And High Energy
With the new aircraft market seemingly in semi-permanent stasis, Cessna surprised us at AirVenture with the announcement of a diesel-powered Skyhawk, the Turbo Skyhawk JT-A. The new model presumably complements the 182 JT-A that’s been struggling through certification for more than two years. Cessna says the Skylane is close to completing the final hoops, something we’ve been hearing for quite a while now.
The Skyhawk JT-A is not exactly a new airplane for Cessna. Recall that in the fall of 2007, Cessna announced this very airplane at the AOPA show in Hartford, only to withdraw it in the nick of time when Thielert Aircraft Engines got into trouble and went bankrupt in 2008. The new version was done by an entirely different team at Cessna, but it still has the same 2.0S diesel engine developed by Thielert and now produced (and renamed) by Continental. Inevitably, the buzz is that now that Cessna is in the diesel game, the market has somehow been “validated.”
Oh, please. We said the same thing about the LSA market when Cessna announced the Skycatcher and we all know how that worked out. The Skyhawk JT-A is just another market offering in the diesel segment and will live or die on its merits. As for diesel validation, Diamond Aircraft did that in 2002 with the DA42, which is and will remain the fleet volume leader in diesel for a long time to come.
I’m sure Cessna will find some sales for the Skyhawk JT-A, but at $420,000, it’s hard to see how it will ignite much market expansion just because it’s a Cessna. It gives away $170,000 to the near-new Redbird Redhawk conversion, which is a lot of change to pay merely for the smell of a new airplane. Diesel engines cost more than twice as much to manufacture as gasoline engines do and although their fuel efficiency gains back some of that investment, if the complete aircraft package is too pricey, the debt service will eat up any savings, making a new aircraft not just unattractive, but unaffordable. I haven’t run the numbers on the JT-A yet, but I can tell from previous analysis that there are definite limits.
Drones Over OSH
I guess some mystery person can claim to be the first drone pilot to bust the airspace over Wittman Field—in the middle of AirVenture, no less. Paul Millner and I were standing on the deck at the BendixKing booth early Monday morning when a quad zoomed over at about 75 feet. I recognized it, too—it was a DJI Phantom.
It zipped by, descended a little and disappeared behind one of the exhibition buildings. I asked EAA’s media rep, Dick Knapinksi, if the association had authorized drone flights as a first at AirVenture. Nope, he said, it had not. EAA was trying to find out who flew the quad and hopes to have a little chat with them. Was it a coincidence that the drone’s flight line appeared to come from the general direction of the GoPro booth? Maybe, maybe not. But whoever flew it, not cool guys. Even though it was early in the morning with little traffic around, a drone doesn’t belong in this airspace. Especially this week.
It seems as though every time we’ve made crowd estimates based on just wandering around the grounds at AirVenture, we’re proven wrong. In years when attendance has seemed sparse, EAA’s published numbers have indicated the reverse. This year, the place seems relatively packed and vendors are telling us booth traffic is strong. It certainly looks that way.
The North 40 camping area appeared nearly full on Sunday and I haven’t seen that for quite some time. There’s clearly more energy and more vitality in this show this year than last and the number of announcements and new product introductions seems to suggest more market confidence. We’ll just have to see if that translates into ringing cash registers, but the gloom of past years seems to have receded.