As editor of Aviation Consumer, I receive a small trickle of e-mail decrying the demise of general aviation. The details of these notes vary, but the theme is always the same: The manufacturers have ruined the industry by tilting toward big-ticket, high-priced new models that only a select few can afford. Or the oil companies have done the same by price gouging on avgas. Or maybe it's the speculators, who have driven up fuel prices by bidding up future contracts. Pick your theory.
But even in the worst of marketsand the current GA market is soft but hardly disastrousthere are always some bright spots. One of these, which we're reporting on in the October issue of Aviation Consumer, is Diamond's DA20 Katana/Eclipse/Evolution series on the used market. (You can get a free look at the full article by clicking here.) These airframes debuted in the U.S. a little over a decade ago to moderate sales success.
Why they didn't sell better is one the minor puzzlements of GA marketing. The airframe is thoroughly modern with well-crafted composite construction, the cockpitwhile not exactly spaciousis comfortable enough and the visibility is terrific. With its center stick, the airplane is easy and fun to fly. While the early models with the Rotax 912 were underpowered and a nuisance to service in the U.S., the follow-on C1 models with the Continental IO-240 have proven a winner.
For anyone looking for an affordable fun flyer that sips gas while delivering decent speed, the DA20s are good bets. They're neither LSA compliant nor IFR certified, but they're easily affordable by a sole owner and two or three owners in a partnership could manage the care and feeding of one for pocket change. And speaking of pockets, the DA20 occupies one as one of the better values in GA for pilots looking to stay in the game without worrying too much about how to afford it. The used market in the U.S. is tilted about six or seven to one in favor of the Continental-powered C1 version and, depending on year, these sell in the $70,000. There are about 50 of the Rotax-powered A1's in the U.S. and these are still supportable and sell for as little as $35,000 to $40,000.
Either way, these are worthy airplanes for the recreational flyer and definitely worth considering.