AVmail: December 12, 2011
Letter of the Week: Did Babbitt Have to Go?
Regarding Randy Babbitt's resignation: Randy Babbitt was the head of ALPA for years and a former airline pilot. One of the wonderful accomplishments of ALPA over the last two decades was the realization that alcoholism is a disease and pilots who have run afoul of laws concerning driving, flying, and alcohol may actually be suffering from an addiction that affects health and judgment.
Airline pilots that I know who have gone through "the program" and returned to duty are the some of the safest, driest pilots on the line! Instead of a rush to judgment that resulted in an early end to Randy Babbitt's career, I wish the FAA had used this incident to further raise public awareness of the fact that addiction can hit anyone and of the avenues available to help those who have problems with alcohol.
Let's treat Babbitt the same way the airlines treat pilots now: treatment for the addiction in a HIMS program, resulting in an FAA administrator who is much wiser and [more] experienced!
He made his decision correctly and honorably. Therefore, there is no controversy or inflammatory media publicity.
I'd say the issue is not the charge (not yet before the courts) of DUI, but about the larger issues of political message and personal judgment.
No government wants to be associated with something that screams, "Do as I say, but don't do as I do!" If that sort of stuff goes down too often then a government loses moral authority and the people start to ignore it.
The other shoe is personal judgment. Anyone working in the aviation industry has had "eight hours from bottle to throttle" hammered into their brains since they did their first solo. So, when there's a such a huge disconnect in judgment by someone who's paid to provide trusted leadership as a key component of their job, then I'm afraid the bell rings and the party's over.
I agree that Babbitt should have been able to stay subject to an appropriate apology.
It's incorrect that he would be able to stay like any other government employee. Air traffic control employees would lose their security clearance and possibly their medical certificate, resulting in loss of their job. Babbitt just happens to lead this group of government employees, so it'd be an awkward position. Most controllers are still sad about his departure.
He does not have to go. Face the charges like any other citizen. As a pilot, proceed through the same FAA-approved HIMS program and related medical screenings as any other pilot would do.
Regarding the issue of LSA pricing: I think the very notion of a "sweet spot" in the context of product marketing of any type assumes, perhaps even requires, that a void exists when one compares the details of market demand with what's available in that market. The problem with applying this concept to the flooded LSA market is that there's a plethora of every imaginable combination of feature, price, and capability. There is no obvious "hole," hence there is no opportunity for a sweet spot, per se. The market is more of a continuum, with every potential demand being answerable by one or another specific model already available
Cessna was, in my opinion, just performing a dance. I am guessing that, rather than be everything to everybody, Cessna simply wanted to establish an undeniable presence. If the initial price was too high, the Skycatcher would never have gained any traction and would have been inconsequential. By providing an affordable model initially, the company established itself in a meaningful way. I'll bet most of the market sold itself on the basis of comparison with the Cessna "benchmark."
To be the LSA "sweet spot"? There is no such thing. But to be the most important LSA — now, there's something!
LSAs were supposed to be inexpensive aircraft to get more people flying. Cessna's price hike, if followed by the rest of the industry, plus the possibility of the repeal of the class three medical, will drastically hurt the LSA market and manufacturers. I think X-Air has the right idea in a $60,000 aircraft, and I think the market will show this eventually.
Karl A. Vogelheim
The Cessna 162 new price is only $25,000 more when you consider the options most popular previously are now standard. LSA prices of the top brands have been between $120,000 and $150,000 for fully equipped planes for a couple of years.
I believe that Pipistrel is unrealistic in it price forecast and will not be able to deliver.
There are more than 120 SLSAs nominally on the market but only about 20 are viable. There is bound to be a huge fallout of the marginal models and I don't understand why it hasn't come already.
I now operate five LSAs — two C-162s, two SportStars, and one Tecnam Sierra — and all are in the new price range as equipped.
As someone for whom aviation is a hobby and not a career, I can tell you the number one limit is cost. Kitfox has a fly-away LSA for $89,000, and it appears they sell them as fast as they can build them.
The downfall of the LSA is most younger people that are interested in flying want an A-to-B plane. Many have kids. A two-seat limit just doesn't work. As much as I love cruising around the local airspace, I probably will never own an LSA before I retire in 40 years or so.
As for the sweet spot for price of an LSA, I honestly think it's right at $75,000, which so far no one has been able to do except as experimental/homebuilt. (You can do between $50,000 to $60,000 for a decently equipped eLSA.)
The real questions is whether LSA engines are too expensive. To get the price down to a marketable point, someone needs to design and build a four-stroke engine — naturally aspirated, direct drive, 100HP, 89 octane, air cooled, similar weight to the Rotax 912 — and price it at $13,000.
As a side note, the Skycatcher instrument panel needs more leg clearance. I'm 6'2" and fit in it (barely). In an accident, the first part of my body that could contact the plane is about three inches below my knees, into a hard edge of the bottom of the panel. It would be nice to see some type of crash tests similar to cars done on light planes. A survivable front-end collision (at stall speed) should be easily designed into a $100,000 plane.
LSAs are a tough sell when they typically start at $80,000 and go up to $150,000 for the 162. Considering a decent used 172 that seats four can be bought for $50,000 just clouds the LSA argument. Granted, it'd be a 30-year-old Cessna with higher fuel burn and maintenance costs but the disparity in purchase price would seem to make it a better deal.
I suspect that you will get many comments about changing the date of the Pearl Harbor attack from December 7 to December 6 in the article about the civilian flight that was taking place at the time of the attack.
Thanks to Sam and the others who pointed out this slip of the digit.