I spent the latter part of last week at Diamond Aircraft's London, Ontario factory which is, by my estimation, what Hollywood would come up with for an airplane plant. High ceilings with skylights, open bays with airplanes moving down the line and lots of bustle.
The Diamond factory actually dates to the 1940s, when it made aircraft for the RAF and RCAF.
I was there to evaluate the new DA42 NG with Austro diesels. Look for a video on that next week. I have to hand it to Diamond for pulling that project together, given how rapidly the Thielert fiasco unfolded. During my visit, Diamond CEO Peter Maurer and I had a discussion about why Diamond isn't doing an LSA. I don't think they should do an LSA either, but my understanding of why was different than Maurer's.
He pulled out a sketch pad and listed all the basic weight specs for a DA20 C1, Diamond's basic trainer, and a 1320-pound light sport land airplane. When you account for the engine, the people and the fuelall the same for both LSAs and certified two-placersthe Delta is something like 400 pounds. Where does that weight go? "Structure," says Maurer.
Diamond's analysis reached the conclusion that the C1, even though more expensive to buy, will ultimately have the same or lower operating costs as an LSA because it will hold up better. Almost as if to prove the point, there was a 6000-hour school airplane out on the ramp still going strong. The paint was a little faded, but it looked sound.
Because of its training orientationeven the new DA42 NG will be pitched at the training marketDiamond is big on operating cost calculations. Maurer is constantly pulling out bits of paper to scribble down columns of numbers and to engage him on this topic is to enter a gun fight armed with a knife. Diamond figures they'll be better off selling the C1 to schools on this basis and now they've added some glassthe Aspen Evolution and Garmin G500--to sweeten the deal.
My reason for thinking Diamond should give a pass to the LSA market is that there are just too many airplanes in the segment, there's little chance of competing on price, the margins on cheap airplanes are unappetizing and the investment required to bring one to market is unlikely to pay off in any reasonable time frame. Further, it would prove a distraction to other certification efforts where Diamond might actually make some money.
One of those is its D-jet, by the way. Although throttled back, it's still in the test phase and I saw test jets taxi in and out several times. Diamond could very well be the last man standing in this quagmire, now that Eclipse, Adam, VisionAire, Safire and others have tanked. All it has to do is hang on until economic conditions improve.
That's something that could be said of all of us.