The New Cessna Singles: Who's Going to Buy Them?

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While everybody seems happy that Cessna is building piston airplanes again, many question whether the market is ready to pay $135,000 for a new Skyhawk or $200,000 for a new Skylane. But careful analysis reveals that these new Cessnas are truly superb airplanes and the prices are not out-of-line. Prediction: Cessna will sell all they can build.

Everyone in General Aviation — pilots, journalists, alphabet groups and even competitive plane makers — seems to be happy to see Cessna building piston aircraft again. After a decade-long hiatus, the appearance of new piston Cessnas has been widely hailed as a sign that G.A. is finally on the road back from near extinction.

But at the same time, many are asking "who's going to buy them?"

Dear editor...

Ever since Cessna announced the prices of their new Independence-built Skyhawks and Skylanes at Oshkosh '96, the letters-to-the-editor columns in the general aviation press have been brimming with grass-roots criticism.

One letter called the new Cessna 172 "the rough technological and stylistic equivalent of a 1966 Chevy Nova...at the price of two Mercedes."

Another called the announced $124,500 base price of the new Skyhawk "incredible" and suggested that $75,000 or $80,000 would be appropriate.

1997 Cessna 172S and 182R
Figure 1—The new 1997 Cessna 172R Skyhawk and 182S Skylane: definitely not "the same old same old."

Still another pilot (who has a Cirrus Designs SR20 on order) wrote, "I can think of no reason other than nostalgia that would prompt one to buy a Cessna at the prices being quoted when you can buy a composite aircraft for less money...with a cruise speed of 160 knots and a fuel burn of 10 GPH. ... Cirrus has gone out of their way to design in comfort and safety at a price that will blow the doors off Cessna."

Vocal critics

Each time Cessna execs have appeared in public at Oshkosh, AOPA Expo, Sun 'n Fun and NBAA, there have been no shortage of general aviation enthusiasts who stand up and tell them "we're glad Cessna's back in the piston aircraft business, but we sure wish you were building clean-sheet-design airplanes with composite structures, state-of-the-art powerplants and computer-driven instrumentation, instead of the same old strut-braced high-wing spam cans." Or words to that effect.

Even some members of the aviation press have taken Cessna to task for building overpriced, old-technology airplanes, and questioning whether the company can possibly meet its ambitious sales forecasts calling for Cessna to be selling 3,000 piston singles a year by the turn of the century.

I think these critics are wrong. In my view, Cessna is building the right airplanes at fair prices, and I predict they'll sell all they can make. Here's why...

Sticker shock

I attended Cessna's price announcement at Oshkosh '96. And like everyone else in the standing-room-only forum tent that day, I exhaled forcefully when Cessna announced that a new Skyhawk would cost $124,500 and a new Skylane $190,600. A tidal wave of sticker shock crashed down upon the audience.

I had a flashback to the day I took delivery of my first airplane, a brand new Skylane, at the Cessna factory in Wichita in 1968 and flew home to California. The 1968 Skylane's base price was $18,995, but by the time I added IFR avionics and most of the other optional bells and whistles Cessna offered, my airplane cost $25,000. That same year, an average Skyhawk as-delivered cost $16,000.

How could the prices of new Cessnas have gone up by a factor of eight since then?

The answer, unfortunately, is that the prices of nearly everything have gone up by a factor of eight since 1968: food, cars, gasoline...and airplanes. Any way I analyze them, Cessna's pricing seems right in line:

Make/Model Cruise Useful Load Price New

Cessna Skyhawk 122 857 lb. $124,500
Piper Warrior 115 931 lb. $134,900
Socata Tampico 125 926 lb. $170,000
Piper Arrow 137 992 lb. $204,700
Cessna Skylane 140 1,228 lb. $190,600

Table 1—1997 Cessna Prices vs. New Competition

Compared to competition: See Table 1. Cessna's $124,500 base price for the 1997 Skyhawk compares quite favorably with a comparably-equipped new Piper Warrior (7 knots slower and $10,400 more) or Socata Tampico (3 knots faster and $45,500 more).

Cessna's $190,600 price for the 1997 Skylane is a bit harder to analyze, because since Piper stopped building new Dakotas in 1994, there's no new airplane in production that's really comparable. However, the new Skylane certainly looks pretty good compared to a 1997 Piper Arrow, which costs $14,100 more, cruises 3 knots slower, and carries 236 pounds less useful load.

Aircraft
Make and Model
Used 1986
Models
New 1997
Models
%
Difference

Cessna Skyhawk $70,000 $124,500 178%
Piper Warrior $66,000 $134,900 204%
Grumman Tiger $90,000 $166,000 184%
Cessna Skylane $112,000 $190,600 170%
Mooney 201 $107,000 $184,875 173%
Socata Trinidad $132,000 $242,000 183%
Piper Saratoga HP $161,000 $359,800 223%
Beech Bonanza 36 $258,000 $414,000 160%

Table 2—New 1997 vs. Used 1986 Prices

Compared to used Cessnas: See Table 2. Comparing the prices of new single-engine airplanes against used 1986 models reveals that most new aircraft are selling for nearly twice the price of their ten-year-old counterparts. The prices of new Cessna Skyhawks and Skylanes appear to be right in line at 78% and 71% more, respectively, than what late-model used ones are going for today.

Compared to automotive prices: In round numbers, a new Cessna Skylane has traditionally sold for about three times the price of a new luxury car. My new 1968 Skylane cost $25,000 back when a new 1968 Cadillac cost about $8,000. By 1979, a new Skylane was about $50,000, and a new Lincoln around $17,000. But today, a new Skylane costs $190,600 and a new Lexus over $60,000.

Why do these prices seem so stratospheric? There are at least three factors that contribute to this impression. First, inflation has severely eroded the value of the dollar, especially during the runaway inflation of the 1980s. Second, American families have less real disposable income than in the past. Third, changes in U.S. tax laws — notably the elimination of the investment tax credit and accelerated depreciation — mean that the government no longer subsidizes the purchase of new airplanes the way it used to in the 60s and 70s.

So while it's certainly true that fewer people can afford to buy a new airplane today compared to 1968 when I bought my first new airplane, it's unfair to characterize today's new airplanes as being "overpriced." Between inflation and the IRS, most of us are just "underrich."

Old fashioned?

Why (ask the critics) didn't Cessna come out with clean-sheet designs using modern composites and high-tech glass-cockpit instrumentation, rather than going back into production on the same old spam cans with type certificates dating back 40-odd years?

I'm afraid that the folks who ask this question have never had the dubious pleasure of owning a clean-sheet-design airplane. Let me give you a couple of examples.

Piper Malibu

Piper Malibu
Figure 2—Piper Malibu: a great design with a painful childhood.

A decade ago, my good friend Chuck bought a new Piper Malibu. His airplane was serial number 0004 if memory serves.

The Malibu was an exciting airplane, bringing new heights of performance and capability to the field of high-performance piston-powered singles. It was also Piper's first clean-sheet design in many years.

The Malibu's airframe featured state-of-the-art laminar-flow aerodynamics, a huge wingspan optimized for flight-level flying, and a novel egg-shaped fuselage with a pressurized cabin. The powerplant was an advanced variant of the TCM TSIO-520 designed to run very lean with far better fuel specifics than earlier engines. The avionics were Bendix/King's latest and greatest, including a new KFC-150 all-digital autopilot and flight director system.

The Malibu made the cover of FLYING, AOPA PILOT, and all the other general aviation glossies, and received glowing reviews from the press. But the glow started to fade as the Malibu quickly became plagued with problems. (I followed the Malibu situation closely because my friend Chuck owned one.)

The engines started to fail in flight, resulting in a rash of dead-stick landings. Eventually it was determined that TCM hadn't torqued the crankcase through-bolts properly. The problem was fixed, but in the meantime the engines got such an awful reputation that Piper felt it necessary to switch to a Lycoming powerplant, one that used older technology, weighed a lot more, and had inferior fuel specifics.

The Malibu airframe had all sorts of problems, too. The hydraulic flap actuators were unreliable and were eventually replaced with an electric system. The flap tracks started to crack and required extensive wing structure work. Rivets in the tail started to work loose and had to be replaced with stronger ones. It was just one major problem after another.

Then, just as it looked like the last of the airframe and engine problems had been solved, Malibus started breaking up in-flight for no apparent reason, and people started dying. At the insistence of the NTSB, the FAA grounded the entire fleet for weeks and ordered a special airworthiness review of the airplane. The Malibu wound up getting a clean bill of health and the grounding order was lifted, but the cause of the breakups was never established with certainty.

Anomalies with the new digital Bendix/King autopilot were suspected, some changes were made, and an intense campaign to improve the training of Malibu pilots was launched. The rash of breakups stopped, but to this day nobody is sure why.

A decade after its introduction, the Malibu today is a great airplane. But the folks who owned the airplane through its painful first ten years, like my friend Chuck, went through purgatory...or worse.

Diamond Katana

In case you think the Malibu was an exceptional case, consider another clean-sheet design at the opposite end of the general aviation food chain: the Diamond Katana. A two-place primary trainer built in Canada by an Austrian-based firm and marketed heavily in the U.S. market, the Katana seemed like the perfect replacement for the aging fleet of Cessna 150s and 152s at flight schools and FBOs. It featured modern composite construction, a low-cost Rotax powerplant, and a sexy low-wing-and-canopy design. The photogenic new trainer made the front cover of all the aviation magazines, and promised to draw students to flight schools like flies to a picnic.

That's what Spartan Aviation of Tulsa, Oklahoma — one of the busiest flight schools in the U.S. — thought when they leased a fleet of 42 Katanas in October 1995. But it didn't take long before the problems began.

By summer of 1996, Spartan was shocked to discover its new fleet had to be grounded many afternoons because the Katana's composite wing spar couldn't handle Tulsa's summer heat. The airplane has a spar temperature indicator that looks like it was borrowed from a Butterball turkey, and it cried "unsafe" in the afternoon heat.

Then landing gear legs started to snap off during student landings that Spartan's CFIs swear weren't that hard...and that certainly wouldn't have been noticed by the spring steel gear of an old-fashioned Cessna 152. In August 1996, Spartan Katanas suffered two gear collapses in eight days, and Spartan students started asking their instructors whether they could start logging retractable-gear time.

That was the last straw for Spartan, who told Diamond to take their Katanas back. After a brief skirmish involving the lawyers for Spartan and Diamond, that's exactly what happened. Today, students at Spartan are flying Cessna 152s, some of which are older than they are.

I have no doubt that Diamond will fix the problems with the Katana, and that it will ultimately become a great training aircraft. But that doesn't make things any easier for those intrepid early-adopters like Spartan who bought the first ones.

Cirrus Designs SR20

The latest clean-sheet darling making the rounds of magazine covers is the Cirrus Designs SR20. This four-place fixed-gear all-composite glass-cockpit airplane attracted huge crowds at Oshkosh '96 and Sun 'n Fun '97, and is receiving high praise indeed from most of the aviation press.

If the Katana was designed to relegate the Cessna 150/152 fleet in its final resting place, the Cirrus SR20 is being touted as a Skylane killer. And it's no wonder, because on paper the SR20 looks too good to be true, offering speeds 20 knots faster than a Cessna 182 and at the price of a new 172.

But it's important to keep in mind that the SR20 is still very much a paper airplane. The airplane still has a long road to travel before FAA certification, and the prototype Cirrus has been trotting out to the trade shows and the press is a far cry from being production-quality. Among other things, the prototype is way heavier than it should be (a common malady of composite designs), casting doubt on the useful load figures being claimed for the SR20 by Cirrus. The bleeding-edge electronics in the SR20 have no real track record in the field, and Cirrus itself has no track record in certifying, producing or supporting aircraft.

It's going to be very interesting to watch this one play itself out over the next few years. It's entirely possible that the Cirrus SR20 will turn out to be a great airplane someday, and I hope it does. But one thing is for sure: there's no way I'd ever consider buying one until the SR20 has proven itself in the field for a few years (or maybe five or ten).

Don't get me wrong. I'm very happy to see that manufacturers like Piper and Diamond and Cirrus Designs are willing to spend the R&D money to come out with new airplane designs like the Malibu and the Katana and the SR20, because the clean-sheet designs of the 1990s will become the great airplanes of the 2000s and 2010s (provided they survive that long). And I'm glad there seem to be no shortage of intrepid souls out there who are willing to take a chance on buying new, unproved airplanes.

But the fact remains that anyone who buys one of these airplanes in the first decade of its life is in essence volunteering to be a "beta tester." And unless you're very wealthy, very brave, and very patient, I wouldn't recommend it.

The new Cessnas!

Most critics of Cessnas efforts to put the 172, 182 and 206 back into production also seem to believe that the new 1997 Cessnas are just lightly warmed-over versions of Cessna's 1950-vintage designs with new paint schemes and nicer upholstery. But they're dead wrong.

In recent months, I've made two visits to Cessna's new single-engine aircraft factory in Independence, Kansas, during which I inspected the new airplanes in all stages of assembly and went over them with a fine-tooth comb. I've also spent hours meeting with key Cessna engineers in Wichita, going over the details of the new Skyhawks and Skylanes, system by system. And I've spent even more hours poring over the service and parts manuals for the new airplanes.

I have to tell you that I'm incredibly impressed with what I've seen. Cessna has fixed almost all the known problems with the airplanes. Virtually every system was improved significantly, and those systems that needed it received major re-engineering or total redesign.

Powerplant

Lycoming IO-540 engine on 1997 Skylane.
Figure 3—The new slow-turning fuel-injected Lycomings are much quieter, and promise to be more reliable and longer-lasting, too.

Perhaps the most obvious change that Cessna made in the 1997 singles was to re-engine them. The new planes are all powered by fuel-injected Lycoming powerplants.

Although horsepower has not been increased, displacement certainly has. The Skyhawk goes from 320 to 360 cubic inches, the Skylane from 470 to 540, and the Stationair from 520 to 580. This increased displacement provides a number of advantages. The new engines achieve rated horsepower at lower RPMs than before, making the new airplanes far quieter both inside and out. (Noise footprint is becoming a bigger issue all the time.) Their low-compression-ratio design leaves the door open for future certification with lower-octane avgas or even auto fuel, something that would not have been possible with high-compression engines. Finally, the low horsepower-per-cube ratios are an almost sure indication that these new engines should have no problem making or exceeding their rated 2,000-hour TBOs.

The change from carburation to fuel-injection is especially significant for the Skylane. Continental-powered 182s are among the most vulnerable in the G.A. fleet to carburator ice. This safety hazard has been eliminated in the new injected Skylanes.

Airframe

Airframe design has always been a strong suit of Cessna singles. Cessna airframes are incredibly rugged (the Skyhawk has never had an in-flight breakup) and appear to have no structural life limit (some of these aircraft are still going strong well beyond 10,000 hours).

At the same time, Cessna has always been a master at weight reduction, giving their singles the greatest useful load and widest C.G. envelopes in the industry. The 182 and 206 in particular have a well-deserved reputation for being able to carry anything you can close the doors on.

But the Achilles' heel of Cessna airframes has always been corrosion. Cessna traditionally did the poorest job of internal corrosion-proofing of any major lightplane manufacturer.

Look inside the tail cone or under the floorboards of a Beech Bonanza and you'll see green or yellow zinc chromate corrosion-proofing everywhere; do the same with a Cessna single and you'll see bare alclad aluminum ribs, stringers and skin. During the peak production years of the and '70s, most Cessnas had no internal corrosion-proofing at all unless they were ordered specifically for floatplane use.

As a result, many Cessna airframes have fallen victim to corrosion before their time. While they never seem to wear out, they're terribly vulnerable to rotting away from the inside out.

New Cessna airframes are extensively corrosion-proofed.
Figure 4—No bare aluminum on these airframes! Every square inch of every 1997 Cessna is corrosion-proofed with yellow epoxy primer.

All that has now changed. While the 1997 Cessnas are assembled in Independence, their metal parts are all cut, stamped and formed at Cessna's Pawnee plant in Wichita. And before those parts are loaded onto 18-wheelers for their journey to Independence, every one is dipped in yellow epoxy primer. This provides complete corrosion proofing for every part of the airframe, even at lap joints and seams that would be impossible to treat once the airframe is riveted together.

In short, Cessna has now gone from having the worst corrosion-proofing in the industry to having the best. The airframes of the 1997 Cessna singles will undoubtedly last as long as anyone wants to fly them.

Electrical System

J-box houses the heart of the new Cessna electrical system.
Figure 5—The new J-box houses the heart of a totally-redesigned electrical system, arguably the best ever in any single-engine aircraft.

To be blunt, the electrical systems in single-engine Cessnas have never been anything to write home about. Infamous for poor design and cheap automotive-quality components, the electrical systems have long been among the most troublesome aspects of these aircraft. Owners often complain of spurious over-voltage trip-outs, nervous ammeter needles, flickering panel lights, radio noise, erratic fuel gauges, and a host of other common maladies.

Consequently, I was very pleased to discover that Cessna engineering decided to redesign the electrical systems from the ground up for the new 1997 singles. And the new electrical system looks to me like a real winner.

The old electrical systems used what I call a "one wire" design in which a single electrical wire is used to supply power to each electrical device in the airplane, and the airframe is used as a ground path to complete the circuit. This approach is plagued by noise-producing "ground loops" that often drives sensitive avionics crazy. Worse, airframe corrosion often introduces resistance and intermittents into the ground return circuits.

The new 1997 aircraft use a "two wire" electrical system design in which a second wire (not the airframe) is used to complete each circuit. Each return wire is grounded at a common grounding point on the firewall, eliminating the potential for ground loops and the vulnerability to corrosion.

Furthermore, the electrical componentry of the new Cessnas has been upgraded from automotive to aircraft-quality devices. Honest-to-god toggle switches replace those cheap failure-prone rocker switches. Screw terminals instead of push-ons. Weather sealed connectors with plated contacts, instead of those cheap plastic Molexes. These components would be right at home in a Citation or Caravan.

Another big change is that the heart of the new electrical system — starter, ground power and battery contactors, alternator control unit and protective devices, etc. — is enclosed in a sealed, shielded junction box ("J-box") mounted to the firewall. The J-box protects these components from engine heat, exhaust and fluids, confines electrical noise that might otherwise cause radio interference, keeps critical lead lengths to an absolute minimum, and provides a single-point ground for the entire electrical system.

The new system has the potential to be the most reliable electrical system ever seen in a light aircraft. I looked hard and could only find one thing to complain about: the circuit breakers are still of the non-pullable variety. I feel that the pilot should have the capability to disable any electrical circuit in an emergency. Granted the non-pullable breakers cost a lot less, but I hate to see them used in an aircraft.

Fuel System

Sealed-up wing bays become integral fuel tanks.
Figure 6—Permanent sealant is applied to several bays of the wing structure, turning them into an "integral" fuel tank (aka "wet wing").

Skyhawk and Skylane fuel systems have always been a pilot's delight: set the fuel selector on "BOTH" and go fly. No muss, fuss, or tank switching. The same simplicity has been retained in the 1997 models.

What has changed is the tankage itself. Cessna 172s have traditionally used welded aluminum fuel tanks which added to weight and limited fuel capacity. Most 182s were built with bladder tanks which have a nasty habit of getting brittle, cracking, and starting to leak fuel after five or ten years, requiring costly replacement. But the 1997 aircraft all use "integral tanks" in which certain bays of the wing structure are sealed up and filled with fuel.

Cessna used such a "wet wing" design in the cantilever-wing Cardinals and Centurions, and in the late-model Skylanes and 400-series twins before piston production ceased. Although some manufacturers have run into trouble with wet wings springing leaks (notably Mooney), Cessna's integral tank aircraft have a near-perfect track record of remaining leak-free after 30 years in the field. The integral tank design provides more fuel capacity, less weight, and a long maintenance-free life.

Fuel gauges have been another big problem area for Cessna singles. Most were built with automotive-quality float-type sending units that were inaccurate and vulnerable to corrosion. Cessna ultimately switched to capacitance-type fuel gauges in the Centurion and twins, but while these were much more accurate, they proved extremely vulnerable to moisture and corrosion-either of which could render the system inoperative-and required special test equipment to troubleshoot in the field.

For the 1997 singles, Cessna has gone to a high-quality float-type fuel gauging system, essentially the same one they use in the turbine-powered Caravan. Besides being far better made than the old automotive-quality gauges, the new system uses the "two wire" philosophy that is not dependent on using the fuselage as part of the circuit. This makes the new gauges far less vulnerable to corrosion-induced problems.

The new system is also self-diagnosing. If circuit resistance increases more than about 10% over what it should be with full tanks, the system detects this and causes the corresponding fuel gauge to read "empty" and the corresponding low-fuel annunciator to illuminate, making it obvious to the pilot that the gauging system is inoperative.

Instrumentation

The new all-metal instrument panels and lighting are magnificent.
Figure 7—No more plastic overlays or post lights. The modular all-metal instrument panel features the best lighting we've ever seen in a piston aircraft (better than most bizjets), plus AlliedSignal avionics.

There's no other way to say this: the instrument panels of the 1997 Cessna singles are simply magnificent!

Those horrid plastic overlays are gone, replaced by a professional-looking gray segmented metal panel of modular design. Each individual instrument and avionics sub-panel is quickly removable for easy maintenance.

The post lights are gone, too. Each instrument on the new panels is internally lighted and faced with special non-glare glass. To supplement the internal instrument lighting, a variable-intensity cold-cathode floodlight is concealed in the glare shield lip. The total effect is the best night lighting I've ever seen in any piston airplane, and probably superior to most bizjets.

Even the instrument markings are special: although various instruments come from various suppliers, every one uses the same font, size and color so the instruments have the look of a perfectly matched set.

Cessna's attention to detail is astonishing. Sharp-eyed pilots will notice that the little airplane on the Turn Coordinator is a high-wing rather than the usual low-wing. Even the instrument mounting screws have special plastic-coated heads to prevent them or the panel from getting scratched during maintenance.

In addition to all the instrumentation any pilot could ask for, the new aircraft feature dual vacuum pumps as standard equipment. There's also an annunciator panel reminiscent of what you'd expect to find in a turbine aircraft. Warning lights for low fuel (left and right), low vacuum (left and right), low bus voltage and low oil pressure help assure that virtually any sort of critical failure is instantly communicated to the pilot.

About the only thing I might want to add to the panels of the new airplanes is a probe-per-cylinder EGT/CHT instrument like a GEM or JPI. (Single-probe EGT and CHT gauges are standard.)

Interior

The biggest news here is that the Royalite is gone, disproving once and for all the long-held theory that Cessnas fly because of the natural repulsion between plastic and asphalt. The interiors of the new Cessnas are as nice as anything Beech ever put in a Bonanza, with soft fabrics and vinyls wherever you look.

The seats are brand new state-of-the-art designs and dynamically tested to 26g, meaning you have a vastly better chance of escaping a crash without critical spinal injuries. Seat ergonomics are much improved, too, with high sculptured seat backs and cushions offering excellent thigh, lumbar and thorax support for comfort on long cross-country trips. The front seats have vertical and recline adjustments, and inertia-reel shoulder harnesses are standard on all seats.

Cessna seat tracks have had a terrible history of cracking and seat slippage. This problem has been totally solved in the new 1997 models by switching to the much stronger seat track design used in the Caravan.

The cabin ventilation system is redesigned from the ground up. No more "orange juice cans" at the corners of the windshield...hooray! The new system provides individually-adjustable airliner-style Wemac eyeball vents overhead and at chest-level for each passenger, plus floor vents for both fresh air and heat.

Everyone I've talked to who has flown one of these new planes has remarked on how quiet they are. The cabins are far better soundproofed than any previous Cessna singles. The new low-RPM engines generate far less propeller noise. The new ventilation system is a lot quieter, too. The total effect is astonishingly quiet for a piston-powered single.

Avionics

Every 1997 Cessna single is equipped with a stack of AlliedSignal (Bendix/King) digital avionics.

The Skyhawk comes standard with a basic VFR radio package that includes a KX-155A Nav/Com with VOR/LOC indicator, a KT-76C transponder, and a KMA-26 audio panel with marker beacon and intercom. An optional $10,000 package adds a second KX-155A with glideslope and indicator, a KR-87 ADF, and a KLN-89 VFR GPS with moving map. Another $5,000 will add a KAP-140 single-axis autopilot and upgrade the GPS to a KLN-89B IFR-certified unit.

The standard Skylane package includes dual KX-155A's (one with glideslope), KLN-89B VFR GPS with moving map, KT-76C transponder, KMA-26 audio panel with marker beacon and intercom, and KAP-140 single-axis autopilot. An $8,900 add-on package upgrades the GPS to a KLN-89B IFR-certified box, upgrades the KAP-140 to two-axis with altitude hold and electric trim, and adds a KR-87 ADF.

Price as delivered

Other than these optional avionics add-ons, the only other extra-cost option offered for the new Skyhawk and Skylane is wheel fairings, priced at $1,200. Everything else comes standard. I'm not quite sure why Cessna elected to make the wheel fairings optional, since I'd guess almost all buyers will order them. Maybe Cessna felt that something had to be optional?

With top-of-the-line avionics and wheel fairings thrown in, the most you can spend on a maximally-configured Skyhawk is $140,700. A full-tilt-boogie version of the Skylane is $200,700.

Tax and license not included, subject to prior sale, your mileage may vary… Hey, just kidding!

Final impressions

As an instructor for the Cessna Pilots Association, I've spent almost a decade teaching thousands of Cessna owners about their airplanes from the inside out: how each system of the aircraft works, how and where mechanical failures usually occur, what problems are most often missed during annual inspections, and so forth. In the process, I've had to become something of a "what's-wrong-with-Cessnas" expert. And it was with that background that I decided to take a critical look at the new singles that Cessna is now building.

I expected the new airplanes to be better. But I never imagined in my fondest fantasies that they would be improved as much as I discovered them to be. I was genuinely blown away by what a great job Cessna engineering has done with these aircraft. Virtually every known problem and complaint has been addressed.

The new Cessna singles are a perfect example of why it always takes evolution-not just revolution-to create great airplanes. Every new aircraft design has to go through a significant period of field experience before its strengths and weaknesses become fully known. In general aviation, this often takes a decade or two because of our low utilization rates. Then, the manufacturer must have the willingness and resources to engineer and produce fixes for the weaknesses without sacrificing the strengths.

It is only thus that great aircraft come to be. There are no shortcuts.

But will they sell?

The 1997 Skylane 182S. Cessna should sell all they can make.
Figure 8—The 1997 Cessna 182S Skylane. We predict Cessna will continue to sell them as fast as they can turn them out.

At Oshkosh '96, Cessna's chairman Russ Meyer announced Cessna's ambitious sales goals for these new aircraft: 1,000 new piston singles sold in 1997 and 2,000 in 1998.

It's now apparent that Cessna won't make those targets...but not because of lack of demand. So far, Cessna has had no difficulty selling all the new singles they can produce.

The problem is that Cessna is having a hard time ramping up production as quickly as originally planned. It's taking longer than expected to staff up the Independence plant and to get the new workforce fully up-to-speed. So it now looks like the projected 2,000-per-year goal won't be met until 1999.

These slippages only tend to fuel further skepticism about whether Cessna's single-engine program will be successful. But I can't help thinking that once people learn what first-rate airplanes the new Cessnas really are, the planes will continue to sell as fast as Cessna can crank them out.

For additional information about the new Cessna singles, see Cessna's sponsor pages on AVweb and also Cessna's own company web site.