Sun 'n Fun Wrap: Drifting

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The major shows like Sun 'n Fun and AirVenture may be imperfect reflections of the industry they promote, but they are nonetheless reflections. And the image I saw this week in the mirror of attendees, vendors and perhaps even fellow journalists was of a general aviation community that's adrift, lacking a sense of what the next direction will be and definitely sensing a sea change with no clear inkling of how the market is evolving or what it's evolving to. There may also be an understanding approaching consensus that nothing on the horizon is going to change the fact that the masses just aren't that interested in flying airplanes, no matter how passionately we believe we're just not packaging the message correctly.

If you've seen us darting around at these shows, you know that we wear bright, chrome-green newsteam shirts. We do that for a reason. We want to be stopped and engaged, as we are many times a day. And every year, the questions are the same: What have you seen? What's your sense of the show? But this year, I turned that around and asked readers and viewers their opinions. None of the responses surprised me. I must have asked several dozen people what they thought about the FAA's tower closings, the state of the market and what they wanted to see at Sun 'n Fun—both aspirationally and specifically ahead of actually buying something.

Many commented on the lack of new airframes. But what can we expect, really? Sales have been anemic for four-plus years now and as I've pointed out, even with Wall Street soaring, aircraft sales remain soft. There's a sense of having entered a period in which this is the new normal. Not that I blame manufacturers in the slightest. What rational business person would spend multiples of millions to certify new products with no strong evidence that the market is waking up? The second half of this year and 2014 may look different. And, in any case, we did see some new experimentals and LSAs and these count for something.

Another source of distraction—and I heard this several times—was that both major GA organizations are now leaderless. And while AOPA and EAA don't necessarily drive sales, they do set a certain tone and the fact the members don't have the slightest idea where these two organizations are going doesn't sit well. I find myself wondering if part of the sea change is a growing sense that these two organizations have less relevance. Let's see what happens when they get new leadership, which I hope happens sooner rather than later. Jack Pelton, EAA's chairman of the board, said the organization's search has been suspended until after AirVenture.

That leaves companies of all sizes to fend for themselves, finding business and growth where they might. Redbird Flight Simulations continues to impress as a company moving forward with innovative ways to train pilots more effectively and economically. Whether this will put a measurable dent in the erosion of the pilot population is an unknown, but it pencils out to me. My former colleague Jeff Van West was demonstrating the new JayBird system, a purpose-made desktop simulator intended to introduce scenario-based training in an affordable format. Redbird CEO Jerry Gregoire asked if I thought a $2500 dedicated box would be a player. Frankly, I haven't a clue; nothing quite like this has appeared before. It's fresh new ground. What it represents is a creative melding of available technologies into a hitherto unseen whole. My guess is if it doesn't make a difference, what it leads to might.

One rising trend is spurred by the manufacturers emerging grasp of what we've been saying for years: New airplanes are just too expensive. Although there's plenty of wealth out there, real wages are flat or in decline, but the price curve on airplanes has been going in the opposite direction. I'm reminded of a story Premier Aircraft's Fred Ahles told me once. When he started out selling for Cessna in the Midwest, he could find plenty of airplane customers among autoworkers. Not anymore.

So sales efforts now focus on wealthier clients, but there's a clear effort to make aircraft affordable by engineering group or multi-member buying or other creative approaches to getting people into airplanes. John Armstrong, a Diamond dealer, is having good success doing this with DiamondShare and told me he's selling about as much as he can, which is a couple of airplanes a month. At Tecnam North America, Phil Solomon is about to launch a couple of aircraft access programs that envision leasing programs similar to the auto industry and a block-time sales effort for pilots needing to build time at economical rates. We'll have a podcast on this later in the week. Although it wasn't at the show, Cirrus did announce this week an aircraft access idea of its own, which would allow non-pilots to buy a Cirrus and for an additional sum, have what's essentially their own corporate flight department to get them trained to fly. The Aviation Access Project has its own version of making flying more affordable, primarily based around light sport aircraft.

Following the Aircraft Electronics Association show in Las Vegas last month, I commented on the profusion of small, specialized boxes meant to stitch cockpits together into a modern whole, with ADS-B. What's really needed is a single-product solution that puts everything into one box—flight instruments, radios, transponder and ADS-B. This is no fever swamp delusion. The major players—Garmin, Aspen, Bendix/King, Avidyne—know this as well as any of us. I have a strong inkling that these products have moved beyond the conceptual stage and that you'll see the first market overhanging version in 18 months to two years. It won't cost $25,000, but not $10,000, either. My guess is high teens somewhere. The only question is, who announces it first? The demand for this could be strong as the 2020 ADS-B mandate approaches, but I'll wager it won't be as strong as some people think. There's a resignation out there. Many owners will simply exit aviation or just restrict themselves to airspace that doesn't require ADS-B. (I'll certainly be doing that in the Cub.)

And that brings us to a common thread in my conversations at Sun 'n Fun. With so many portable ADS-B options, there's massive confusion about what these have to do with the mandate. Nothing, of course. They're simply the sharp point of the wedge of the next tech wave. But welcome as they are as a choice for some, none of them address the ADS-B out requirement. They are the 2013 equivalent of Garmin's 1998 GPSMap 90—a mere signpost on the road to what comes next. And what's that likely to be? I heard speculation about adding air data to portable ADS-B boxes that already include AHRS. Easy in an LSA, I'd guess, but less so in a spam can.

Likely or not, I'm ready to be surprised—or not—about what comes next.

Comments (119)

Diamond had a placard next to 464DS, "fly this aircraft for $999 a month, ask us how". Last week a major news outlet printed a story that only three major markets in America could still afford new cars. And Tampa, right down the I-4 from Lakeland, has average incomes so low the majority cannot even afford newer used cars. A grand a month? Sure, the kids can sleep in the back seat. Gosh, I wonder why personal aircraft sales are sluggish?

Posted by: MICHAEL MUETZEL | April 15, 2013 5:41 AM    Report this comment

289K for a C172, plus the insane operating costs. What else needs to be said.

I started flying in the late 70's, and I left the profession in the mid-90s. I saw the self-destruction. The EAA has done a tremendous job trying to keep it afloat, but that will only attract the purist extreme of the bell curve. The masses just want to own or rent. $110/hr for an ancient C172.

Oh well I left my passion. Congrats to those who have managed to figure out how to keep it going. I keep renewing my CFI to keep a bit of hope.

Posted by: Nick DiBiase | April 15, 2013 6:34 AM    Report this comment

I attended SNF this year as I have done for the past 8 years. Frankly, it was depressing! The crowds were not there, favorite vendors have given up do to absurd SNF costs and the usual fly-in fields that used to be covered with aircraft were non-existent. Sign of the times I suppose but I also believe that SNF needs a major face lift and new direction. I don't see myself returning anytime soon......

Posted by: ANDREW ELWOOD | April 15, 2013 7:10 AM    Report this comment

"Another source of distraction—and I heard this several times—was that both major GA organizations are now leaderless. And while AOPA and EAA don't necessarily drive sales, they do set a certain tone and the fact the members don't have the slightest idea where these two organizations are going doesn't sit well." A microcosm of the country. Uncertainty about the economy and lack of confidence in our government to provide any meaningful direction makes any capital investment too risky.

Posted by: Dave Fisher | April 15, 2013 7:17 AM    Report this comment

It's easy to disparage SNF as an entity when we only attend once per annum. I can see great efforts have been made to keep year-round activiy/interest going at the LAL venue. The same goes for GA. No matter who takes the lead, it's up to us, the consumers, to keep the passion going by flying, or at least getting others into flying, et al.
At the risk of sounding corny, let's not quit now: We must have the energy to self motivate, to keep our "leaders" on task, and to promote GA to kids and others any time we can.
OK, corny, but from the heart!

Posted by: BOYD CANTRELL | April 15, 2013 7:32 AM    Report this comment

I think your overview and comments about the event are very accurate and descriptive of the event this year. The new revitalized Paradise City area worked but there was just not the crowds there to keep us busy all day. Apologies with the following comment but the air show in the afternoon was a waste of time, sometimes it had been completed and from the Paradise City area we didn't even know it had been on... Airshows normally = noise and there was no noise to attract visitors to the flight line. Anyway, our booth went really well with a lot of extremely interested customers, the lack of crowds allowed us to spend quality time with our customers and educate them more about our products. Obviously, changes are needed the changes are not so much to do with the event that how we can get more people to attend !

Posted by: Michael Coates | April 15, 2013 7:37 AM    Report this comment

Well said as usual, Paul.

I realize that this comment is off-topic, but I'd like to propose expanding the subject of ADS-B to include something of concern to me that I've not seen discussed. Maybe it's out there and I'm not aware of it, but here goes:

In two-crew member airplanes with TCAS, my copilots and I had a strict rule about our response to traffic alerts. The flying pilot never went head-down, and the non-flying pilot talked his eyes to the section of sky with the potential collision hazard. For both pilots to go head-down is the antithesis of see-and-be-seen, which has to remain our primary collision avoidance tactic no matter what system is being used to help us out.

I simply can't imagine ADS-B being a consistently safer option when a single pilot, or one with a passenger, or even two pilots who haven't planned ahead for this scenario, abandon the basic concept of looking out the window. And that's what I fear will be a common and predominant end result.

Might this be a topic suitable for a Bertorelli blog post?

Posted by: Tosh McIntosh | April 15, 2013 7:41 AM    Report this comment

Our society, including our leadership, frequently fails to remember that is takes more than the top 2% of the population to have a successful country. The causes of our diverging wealth and income and reduced social mobility are complicated and interwoven, but when you have the benefits of increasing automation, efficiency, offshoring, and financial gimmickery going to a smaller and wealthier portion of the population, then there won't be enough demand for other non-essential or expensive hobbies, no matter the passion. Thus the decline in our specific interest. And when your hobby is federally regulated and requires significant infrastructure and labor to operate, then the polarized and useless Congress becomes more of a problem. Only the money making operations (airlines, corporate charter) will be sufficiently supported, if barely, in a situation such as this. The average recreational flyer will be considered more of a nuisance than an income stream or a community to be reliably served.
Ouside of highly passionate (and rare) individuals, flying is for the wealthy or childless. Without a broad-based economic strengthening, I see no reason to expect a resurgence of recreational aviation. No, I am not an optimist. I get paid to think about how things will fail, so maybe this colors my vision, but I don't think so.

Posted by: Scott Thomason | April 15, 2013 7:48 AM    Report this comment

How many attendees at Sun-n-Fun are retires that have their health care provided by Medicare? When I retire in 15 years, I doubt there will be much left of Medicare for me, so I basically will be uninsured. Seriously, what insurance company is going to offer an individual policy to a 67 year- old geezer? Even if available and I could afford it, I know the first time I filed a claim it would be denied. Talk about putting a damper on retirement dreams. Heck, I'm facing a few more years of attending Airventure just to look at stuff (sure not going to be buying anything), and then I'm broke!

Posted by: John Williams | April 15, 2013 7:53 AM    Report this comment

I agree that The tone at SNF this year was very subdued. It seemed like I was watching zombies roaming the vendor pavilions. There was a lot to see but at least for me very little that I could relate to or afford. My priority was finding ways to keep my aging Bonanza in the air and not necessarily updating to the newest gadget. I have 40 year old radios that work very well but I thought I would explore newer (new to me) radio options. I looked at a digital 25 year old King radio and was surprised that they wanted $2000. Add some money to install and it was beyond my "what I spend for what I get" limit. I did consider and will mostly purchase an ADS-B capable GPS to replace my XM weather system. The capability of free weather after the initial capital purchase is cost positive. I'm very pessimistic about the future of my passion. I'm coming up on needing to replace/rebuild my engine and it will be a difficult decision on spending the money or simply getting out of aviation.

Posted by: RoberT Bailey | April 15, 2013 7:58 AM    Report this comment

I attended SnF Wed & Thus. Sure seemed like fewer folks to me. Starting to charge $5 to park a few years ago was bad enough but when I found admittance for a qualfied organization member at $32 ... this might be one of the last times I attend!

A way to guage what's hot and what's not is to see which vendor booths were mobbed and which were not. Same thing with the forums ... now in the nice airconditioned building. Seemed like anything ADS-B related was hot.

One thing no one has yet mentioned is that the Cessna kiosk area did NOT have a SkyCatcher anywhere in sight. VERY telling! Between the Hecho en China move and the price increase, they've shot themselves in the foot. As a serious shopper for updating two older GA airplanes with ADS-B and minor glass, I was disappointed. The subtleties of assembling an ADS-B certificated system is a pain. And, I'd love to put a Dynon SkyView system in my Skyhawk but obviously cannot. The new Zenith CH750 Cruzer was a nice surprise and I'm interested ... when they make installation of a 912iS an easy prospect.

Wanna reinvigorate GA some, do the following:
1. Pass the AOPA / EAA 3rd class medical exemption
2. Allow non-TSO-ed avionics in Class I GA airplnes, possibly as a ASTM certified alla LSA.
3. Raise the ridiculous MGTOW for LSA to something more usable ... say 1800 pounds or so.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | April 15, 2013 7:58 AM    Report this comment

Even if I could afford a new piston single, why would I? A previously-owned one is 10 to 50 percent of the cost, and -- here's the big item for me -- the older it is, the more useful load it has. A six-seat plane with 1100 pounds of useful load doesn't make sense to me, but if you buy one built when Lyndon Johnson was president, you get 1500 pounds or better. Besides, I've read in Aviation Consumer that a new plane has roughly the same annual maintenance costs as an older plane. The question we seem to be asking is, how would you make a non-pilot into a renter, a renter into a buyer, and a used aircraft buyer into a new aircraft buyer? I dunno, and I don't think anyone else does either. But listing the disincentives is a good first step.

Posted by: John Schubert | April 15, 2013 8:08 AM    Report this comment

The S&F infrastructure continues to get better...the new roads being an example. On the other hand, the show was very disappointing, with noticeably lower attendance and many major vendors missing or under represented. No Cirrus, no Rans, only two planes at Vans. I am interested in electronic ignition for my RV6 but Lightspeed Engineering was nowhere to be found. And my head is going to explode if I see another portable adsb box.
The missing vendors should not complain if they do not support S&F.

Posted by: William Bergner | April 15, 2013 8:11 AM    Report this comment

I just attended a home and garden show here locally (because it was too far to S&F)and I didn't see any large crowds of people with money in hand here either. In fact, it appears to me that messing around with houses makes airplanes look cheap. Yeah, you can't live in the airplane, but you can't fly the house either.

Posted by: Stephen Phoenix | April 15, 2013 11:06 AM    Report this comment

To add to Larry's comment steps to reinvigorate GA, I'll add:
4. Caps on damages in civil suits, limitations on manufacturer liability, an an exemption from "deep pockets" rules.
5. Allow owners of simple GA aircraft to perform their own maintenance if the aircraft are used for non-commercial purposes (see the Canadian Owner-Maintained category)
6. Grant blanket approval for non-ethanol mogas for all normally-aspirated aircraft without high-compression pistons.

Posted by: Bob Martin | April 15, 2013 11:22 AM    Report this comment

Just returned from Sun 'n Fun myself. I had also attended Sport Pilot Expo this past January. I clearly felt more of an upbeat mood at Sun 'n Fun from the attendees. However compared to my previous visit several years ago, I did not see a lot of passion (or even knowledge) from the vendors, the folks I was with could have made purchases if the sales people just even made a modicum of an effort to be polite and informative. I am not talking about the small guys but companies like Garmin. The biggest and most telling embarrassment and perhaps a major indicator of the state of the industry was the Bendix King booth. A huge space to promote their WingMan iPad app (made by Seattle Avionics) and their new Audio Panel (made by PS Engineering), oh how the might have fallen.

Posted by: STEPHEN MALKINSON | April 15, 2013 11:42 AM    Report this comment

William Bergner: Rans was in Paradise City with 5 (I believe) airplanes.

Posted by: Randee Laskewitz | April 15, 2013 11:57 AM    Report this comment

Nothing less than a top-to-bottom overhaul of the FARs will work. In additon to some of those mentioned:

Divide airplanes into "simple" and "commercial" catagories. Example: The charter FARs are in place to protect the "non-flying" public--those without knowledge of airplanes. Charter regs are so complex that the industry has all but died. Restrict charter to modern and capable singles and twins--and let older, simpler singles be restricted from engaging in it. Without that liability, Cessna could produce a new Skyhawk for far less money--the design and tooling have been long amortized, and the liability for Cessna without coverage drops dramatically. Treat them like an experiemental--even put a sign in the window if that's what they want.

Posted by: jim hanson | April 15, 2013 12:02 PM    Report this comment

(cont). Treat them like LSAs--driver's license--do your own maintenance if you take the course. Not only will it make it simpler to learn to fly, but the 172/cherokee will be safer and more useful than the current artificially limited LSAs. As for the manufacturers--it would make it easier for them to introduce new products for the hundreds of thousands of legacy aircraft--example: Electronic ignition--or the new Garmin products for experimentals and LSAs. The cost would be lower, and safety improved if we could put that equipment in older aircraft--aircraft that are privately flown, just like the experimentals and LSAs--NOT approved for charter.

We have amended the FARs for decades. Time for a top to bottom re-write!

Posted by: jim hanson | April 15, 2013 12:08 PM    Report this comment

From all of the above, sounds like there is enough passion out there.

Not sure I agree with the assessment there is no economic mobility and the wealth gap is the source of our problems. The idea fewer people have the resources to fly is simple, but there are two things you can say about simple answers to complex problems. One is they are extraordinarily appealing. The other is they are generally wrong. In this case, the data (not the talking heads or their talking points) suggests there is a lot of movement among economic tiers in both directions.

Not sure cost explains everything either though we all know it's expensive to fly. If cost is a barrier to entry, the fact cheap (OK, lower cost ;-) is emerging from LSAs and experimentals should be heartening. Lot of comparatively cheap new products out there, especially in avionics. There must be a pragmatic business reason Garmin is experimenting with low cost gadgets -- sustainable business strategy? At the higher end there is the surge in turbines, though not among those of us with merely mortal resources. Still, this suggests there are people intent on a long-term business in aviation who've crunched the numbers and think it can work.

Posted by: DANIEL DEDONA | April 15, 2013 1:21 PM    Report this comment


I wonder about simple appreciation of aviation's benefits and accessibility. I flew a few folks around the area on a charity flight a week back, and commented that aircraft demolish distance. They were all amazed at how fast we went from one side of the 25nm radius area to the other, and we spent some time overflying a number of interesting sites like Gettysburg, Harpers Ferry and Antietam. They were amazed while I kept a 182RG at 120 or slower, with a notch of flaps most of the time ;-).

I also flew a lot of young gals at the Women Fly It Forward event at Frederick before that, and I fly a lot of Angel Flights (at least I do when the recent weather allows). Lot of excitement there. Lady on my first WFIF flight said several times to her friend "I sure am glad you got me up this morning." In my experience most folks outside aviation simply don't know, and seem to assume it's completely inaccessible. 99s clearly don't think that's the case.

Is it possible, in spite of our best efforts in the aviation press and among the alphabets, our biggest problem is we're preaching to the choir? That we've so embraced the mystery of flying and all it's myriad technical and regulatory details that we've created barriers to appreciation of either the pragmatic benefits or the simple joy of flying. I know my eyes never glaze over when flying -- only when reading what FAA or TSA is doing "for us" this week.

Posted by: DANIEL DEDONA | April 15, 2013 1:22 PM    Report this comment

VisionsMissionsGoals [VMG] - A Satellite View - we say "Hang In There" we are almost there...*
The 20th century focus was distance...
The 21st century focus is time...
and since the lowest time between A&B is a straight line [GPS/ADS-B] then aircraft win and with ADS-B we will in time travel faster than 250 at low altitudes.
Or what we at FASTA USA call the soon to be the 21st century Interstate SKYWAYS vs the 20th century Interstate highways.
The EAA+AOPA+NASA+FAA+DOD,NBAA, all state aviation departments should be designing the National Interstate FLYWAYS now and spot-locate Global airports as the Hubs.
The USA will need a minimum of ten Global airports that in-turn make all airports gateways to the SKYWAYS, the Globals and to the global marketplace.

What USA aviation needs is a consortium mass produced primary pilot trainer LSA category two seat tandem battery powered pusher motor-glider under $50,000, the sooner the better!

Posted by: NEIL COSENTINO | April 15, 2013 2:23 PM    Report this comment

This is going to shock many people, but I think the main problem is that the government is trying to do away with General Aviation. My main reason for thinking this is drones. Thousands of agencies, departments, from federal, state, and local on down, have applied to fly drones. Add to this the military and Homeland Security, and you have a situation that would be unworkable for drones if general aviation were to recover to its former self. Today we see a President who is anti-business aviation, has a run-away EPA trying to keep us grounded by outlawing leaded fuel, closing towers randomly according to political reasons, and this all goes along with his bigger picture for our country by taking us warp 9 speed towards Socialism, to be generous.

General Aviation, in summary, is a pain in the President's backside, as it is to all in power who share his views, and I honestly believe the goal is to end general aviation as we know it. No other country in the world has the freedom of flight that we currently do, the rights or the availability of resources, and it is my humble opinion Obama and Company want this changed. Sad to see, as I spent my life in aviation teaching, as an FAA controller for 24 years, as a commuter pilot, and finally a corporate jet pilot. I barely hear an airplane anymore, it's gotten that bad here in New Hampshire.


Stuart Harnden

Posted by: Stuart Harnden | April 15, 2013 2:27 PM    Report this comment

@Michael Muetzel - Michael, I do understand that in certain regions, average economic reality can be far beyond what is required to participate in GA, especially new airplanes. HOWEVER, as much as we would like it to be different, the financial ability and budget of a hotel chambermaid (no disrespect intended) does not likely allow for an easy path to airplane ownership. Look at the average income stats and you will find some interesting facts. In 1979 at the height of the GA boom, the average income of all wage and salary workers adjusted to 2011 dollars was $37,569. The same average in 2011 is $38,108. That number only topped $40,000 in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005 and 2006 and in all other years in between was between a low of about $34,000 to $39,000.... continued

Posted by: JEFF OWEN | April 15, 2013 2:40 PM    Report this comment

.... continued....
In other words, the average buying power in adjusted 2011 dollars has been relatively static for the average person for 30 years. Unfortunately this is not so with the price of airplanes, fuel, maintenance, accessories, etc. A $50,000 in 1979 equates to $160,000 in 2012 dollars. Many of us know that the cost of popular new certified GA airplanes is well above that number. As a result it appears that with static average incomes and cost of airplanes what they are, new programs to access airplanes are critical. That is what the Diamond Share program is all about. Maybe not for everyone, but certainly makes new airplanes economically accessible to many more people. We need to continue to find different ways to keep as many people involved and participating financially or the consequences of not doing so are not going to be pleasant.

Posted by: JEFF OWEN | April 15, 2013 2:40 PM    Report this comment

Part of the problem might be preaching to the choir. But the biggest part of the problem is the cost and what you can do for that cost. Do you think a person who is not "passionate" about flying will consider spending $200 on the weekend to spend a couple of hours flying around the pattern or to breakfast a great value for the money? Or do you think they would find a motorcycle they can ride the whole weekend with their buddies for the same amount of money, or less, a better value?

I still say it comes down to the cost and the destinations. Just getting to the airport in most cases gets you nowhere.

Finally, is the DiamondShare program creating new aviators or just immigrating them from one place to another. I'll bet on primarily immigrating aviators.

Posted by: STEPHEN EGOLF | April 15, 2013 2:41 PM    Report this comment

In other words, the average buying power in adjusted 2011 dollars has been relatively static for the average person for 30 years. Unfortunately this is not so with the price of airplanes, fuel, maintenance, accessories, etc. A $50,000 in 1979 equates to $160,000 in 2012 dollars. Many of us know that the cost of popular new certified GA airplanes is well above that number. As a result it appears that with static average incomes and cost of airplanes what they are, new programs to access airplanes are critical. That is what the Diamond Share program is all about. Maybe not for everyone, but certainly makes new airplanes economically accessible to many more people. We need to continue to find different ways to keep as many people involved and participating financially or the consequences of not doing so are not going to be pleasant.

Posted by: JEFF OWEN | April 15, 2013 2:41 PM    Report this comment


Glad to see that you and "the boys" are on-board with my "magic box" idea! ;-) FYI, the reason that I picked the $10k price point is this: that's what I think that it will take to motivate the (very many, IMWO) pilots for whom 2020 represents a fish-or-cut-bait moment in time. Mid-teens won't do it for those guys, like it or not. First, they ain't got it to spend. Second, they won't put much beyond 30% of what their plane is worth into an upgrade. Nobody's going to finance this for the upgraders, so they've gotta be able to swing the whole load (including installation) plus an annual, in the space of one calendar year. $10k pretty much is the limit for a LOT of the guys (sorry, gals, but it's still 90% guys out there) who are in that boat... um, plane.

The volume would be so large at that price point, that somebody still could make a phenomenal profit selling these "magic boxes." And the more-well-to-do boys would insist on buying two of them. Now, THERE's your mid-teens-to-$25k market sale.

Garmin's got the talent and the money to do it. Do they have the required combination of brains and balls? A month ago, I would have said no. Now, I'm somewhat hopeful..........

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | April 15, 2013 2:42 PM    Report this comment

I would like to hear from the FAA on their forward vision for General Aviation. After all, part of their charter is promoting aviation. Haven't heard a thing in years.

Posted by: Tom B | April 15, 2013 3:08 PM    Report this comment

With the costs of airplanes skyrocketing, it may be best to just buy a beautiful model of your favorite airplane. Check out and have you own custom airplane built for pennies on the dollar of a real airplane. Seriously though, FDM displayed at the show and did well this year. Traffic was down but I think that is because the "air show" crowd did not show up, but many pilots did so the traffic that was ther was qualified - from a vendors point of view.

Posted by: Mike Gibson | April 15, 2013 3:28 PM    Report this comment

Was at S'nF 6 of the 7 days, booth tending and cruising about. My synopsis, which as usual is a bit different than Paul's: Kudos to Lites & the S'nF team for improving the facility itself, and for improving mobility across that vast acreage. Attendance was consistently weak, historically speaking, as validated by many long-term booth owners and many of the parking crew. Admission pricing is now dysfunctionally excessive, pressuring customers to visit a single day if bringing the family. Cost aside, the show had two obviously hollow spots: new & interesting aircraft (tho' there were a few exceptions) and the 'airshow' (underwhelming despite talented pilots). Bright a/c & other sales spots were there. Aerotrek's Prez seemed constantly swamped (I never did get to interview him) about a reasonably priced, versatile LSA, Glasair's Sportsman '2 weeks to taxi' program has a long backlog for an innovative product & build option, and all things 'tablet' seemed golden - the best example being Aircraft Spruce & Sporty's being swamped with Stratus action. Paul's comment about a 'leaderless' AOPA & EAA was simply offensive, given both organizations currently have hard-working leaders...but that's just Paul being a bit hyperbolic for effect.

Posted by: Jack Tyler | April 15, 2013 3:29 PM    Report this comment

Drifting along is a spot on title for what is going on in our country.
Regulations, administrative rules with less accountability, ridiculous liability constraints - cause long tedious procedures leading to higher costs hard to recover. Sure way to kill our industry! Efficiency from new technology has been eaten up as a result.
What lies beyond? What R the ROOT causes for most of the problems this society is facing?
The sick care system (ironically “health care” system), which through lobby and corruption has turned into a money stripping system that most everybody either feels helpless about or does not want to see.
In an emergency at a hospital you might only need a gauze pad, you will be billed $ 75.00 for this 50 cent item. Insured, your co-pay will already pay for everything. In many cases $ 50,000 are charged for a 3-day stay in an intensive care unit catapulting families into poverty even though they R insured. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
The foxes are guarding the henhouses. The industry thru Gvmt is regulating and stripping all the money from anyone who gets sick and submits to their system. The mandatory / enforced health care insurance (Obama health care bill) ensures that everyone participates in this money “milking” system.
Else the industry must revert back to the Hippocratic oaths to help people. Only when this countries citizens realize this fact and stop feeding the giant with money, will there be a chance to reverse this doomed country.

Posted by: Gerhard Paasche | April 15, 2013 5:33 PM    Report this comment

Drifting has led to our rights been stripped in the name of safety. Our money is being spent on home-land securitey like the 30 000 drones in OUR skies in the year 2020. We are not even being asked at all. Anyone working in this “Drone industry” is actually adding to our own GA-surmise. There is no value being added as we do in the GA industry. Stop watching the depressing news and TV altogether because it serves the only purpose of diversion, depressing and brainwashing the people into using drugs. Instead - start voting with your money. The last 4 elections have shown that voting does not do much at all. We R being lied to just to buy time while they continue their agenda. Being awake and aware of what you spend your money on will make a difference if we all collectively do it at the same time. This is really the nutshell. Corrupt systems like the FDA and other three letter agencies are of no use other than wasting OUR money on projects designed only to hurt us or slow us down. Not to protect us as initially designed. I can see the frustration of leaders of EAA and AOPA and how little they really can do to change the outcome, unless there is a shift in how we look at the big picture. Ignoring the obvious never works. Throwing crap in a lake will eventually show when it piles up to the surface. By then you can’t swim anymore. WE ARE AT A TURNING POINT. IF WE KEEP DRIFTING AND DO NOT TAKE ACTION, THERE WILL BE NO WAY BACK!

Posted by: Gerhard Paasche | April 15, 2013 5:54 PM    Report this comment

Aviation does preach to the choir, and it always has. Although I've been flying now for more than 40 years, I still remember how little I knew about GA before I started taking lessons--and yet I was a voracious reader of everything aviation in the popular press. Aviation has never gotten the message of the joy of flight or the benefits of flight out to anyone except others who already know those things.

We complain about the inaccuracies about aviation in the media, yet we do nothing (or at least very little) about it. So while the US population in general is growing, the US pilot population is shrinking.

And then, for the few who have heard the message and want to respond to it, we tell them that it'll take them $10,000 and anywhere from 6 months to a couple of years to get that basic license to learn. What???? You've got to be kidding! I can't afford that--I don't have that kind of time--isn't there a less expensive way?


Posted by: Cary Alburn | April 15, 2013 8:03 PM    Report this comment

Well, you could go the Sport Pilot route--but the airplanes aren't any cheaper, they just have less power, and you can't take your family along--and you can never fly on instruments. Besides, just buying all the instruments for a certificated airplane will cost as much as your new car.

Really??? Yeah. See that little box there? $13,000, plus installation.

And then gas costs almost twice as much as car gas, but the airplanes only get about 13 mpg, instead of the 30 mpg you can get in your average 4 door. Oh, and your wife (or husband) will have to pack light, because there are only a couple of 4 seaters that can take 4 people and baggage. Huh??????

Well, thanks. I guess I'll find something else to do--but really, I did want to be a pilot, honest.


Posted by: Cary Alburn | April 15, 2013 8:05 PM    Report this comment

I have to agree that GA is drifting. It will continue to do so because corporations require return for investors, and frankly there are better returns to be had than by building products with a drifting or dwindling market. Private aircraft owners are being regulated out of the air at an ever increasing rate. ADSb at $10-15K will cut a swath out of the heart of GA. I think pilot/owners will still fly, but they may well be outlaws - and probably sooner than most think. Orwellian? Perhaps, but this appears to be the direction we are all drifting to. Perhaps it will be "discovered" that flying aircraft is not good for us and the government will protect us from it.

Posted by: Tom Mitchell | April 15, 2013 8:58 PM    Report this comment

Sure, cost is a factor.

But lots of money floating around. -- at boats.

I think the issue is safety. And complexity -- the two go together.

I see huge growth in flying when we have "automatic" planes.

Many will disagree. :) Maybe they already have licenses. :)

Posted by: David Sucher | April 15, 2013 9:18 PM    Report this comment

Yes, there was no Skycatcher at the Cessna display.
I was at SNF Friday and there was no Skyhawk on display either. I made the comment to a Cessna rep there that a small diesel in the Hawk should be considered if at all feasable. The answer I got was that the beancounters at Cessna are pushing to stop
producing the Hawk because Cessna loses $50k on every
one they sell. I like the 172 and am flying one now
but that was a real shocker to hear that the airplane
is a money loser. With the tooling costs amortized eons ago along with certification costs how can building one be a money loser? I guess the old saw about aviation being a way to make a small fortune out of a big one is true.

Posted by: Joe Sikora | April 15, 2013 9:49 PM    Report this comment

Aviation in decreasingly affordable, even for the upper middle class. Last weekend, I rented an antique Cessna 152 and it cost $92 per hour, wet. There is no way that FBO is going to be able to afford a new Cessna 172 or Piper Archer or Diamond DA40.

The culture has changed, and not for the better. Kids aren't interested in flying or for that matter anything mechanical. Just silly stupid things on presented on smartphones, tablets and computers. Yawn.

Posted by: Kenneth Katz | April 16, 2013 5:03 AM    Report this comment

We live in western OK in the "Oil Field". Out here wages are high and the only unemployment problem is there are not enough people to fill the jobs. We just started a Sport Pilot Flying Club, We just purchased a new Tecnam Eaglet which I flew from Virginia to Oklahoma. It only took me 5 days with weather delays. Even using the Garmin Aera 795 flying x-country in an LSA is a lot of work because there is no auto-pilot and maintain a constant altitude in light turbulence is a chore. But, I love "Peanut" the nickname we gave our Eaglet. It is the easiest and most fun airplane I've ever flown because it comes down to basic stick and rudder skills. This Saturday April 20th is our first fly-in. We've been advertising in the newspaper and radio and we've got a huge positive response from the community. The weather is going to be good on Saturday and I'll let you know what kind of turn out we get. Quite frankly, our biggest fear is that we'll have too many people. In my opinion, it's time to stop thinking about the future of GA and focus on the future of Sport Aviation. The retail price on "Peanut" was $144,000. Is that high? Compared to what? Operating an airplane is the price of flying not the price of the aircraft. We people look inside the wide cockpit they say, "Wow!". When they fly it they get a funny grin on their face, giggle, and say, "Wow!". If I never have to fly another Cessna 172 again it will be just fine with me.

Posted by: David Hill | April 16, 2013 5:08 AM    Report this comment

"Cessna loses $50k on every one they sell."

Hardly seems credible, does it? Average invoice on these airplanes is about $307,000. Sub-assemblies made in Mexico.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 16, 2013 7:01 AM    Report this comment

I just don't get this 10-15k for ADS-B out. We're talking about an off the shelf WAAS GPS receiver with a parts cost of maybe $20. Couple that with a small embedded processer to process it and a pretty simple transponder. And, before all the flame throwers turn my way, I know perfectly well it has to be a "certified" solution. If the alphabet groups really care about us they will work VERY hard to support (maybe co-finance with some of that 70M and a small agile company like Trig or Dynon) a one-box solution to at least solve ADS-B out for $2000 or less. And, while they're at it, make the thing adaptably pin compatible with a GTS-327 and KT-76 to reduce installation cost. It's this kind of creative problem solving that seems to be completely absent from our advocacy groups.

Posted by: neil cormia | April 16, 2013 9:08 AM    Report this comment

And why only ADS-B out? Because ADS-B IN is already available in several portable formats. Certified cabin class operators can panel mount the -IN solutions if they want to spend more air-bucks.

Posted by: neil cormia | April 16, 2013 9:17 AM    Report this comment

GA is the equivalent of a stich 'n bitch knitting club. NO ONE outside of GA knows or cares about our issues. If GA is serious about its future, get AOPA, EAA, NBAA, etc. to take out commercial slots during the Super Bowl and press its values hard. Otherwise, it'll be just another year of crying over the same bottle of spilled milk that we've been crying over for the past decade.

How come Cessna, Diamond, Piper, etc. don't run commercials like Ford, Honda, Nissan, etc.? Probably because they know just how small their target market is. Now that's telling.

Posted by: Amy Zucco | April 16, 2013 9:41 AM    Report this comment

FAR's need to be adjusted to encourage low end commercial activities. Flying a package or giving joy rides, instructing, allowing more in the way of owner/operator maintenance, allowing a broader range of products for upgrades to a/c could spur aviation commerce w/o threatening life and limb hardly at all. If the FAA doesn't promote GA they will kill themselves as GA is the incubator for everything else, aviation. They had better loosen the noose and soon.

Posted by: Michael Mahoney | April 16, 2013 10:41 AM    Report this comment

We fly because we love it. Not to make money or some statement, although flying my little Ercoupe just cries out FREEDOM. Flying seems to have become more and more about money. From insurance to fuel and everywhere in between, costs continue to increase. There's your drift. The two don't go together well. One needs too much disposable income in proportion to the joy and fun flying can bring. One positive development: Electric powered flight! I hope one day I can put a "kit" in my Ercoupe to make it electric, like I did with my mountain bike. Don't give up!

Posted by: Tom Hammer | April 16, 2013 10:48 AM    Report this comment

In total agreement with the high cost of GA. LSA, the hope for addtional aviation dreamers, is not effective do to $. LSA rental opportunities are few in Cincinnati, Ohio plus the availability is very limited and the hourly rate exceeds $110/hr. Self lauching glider aircraft with reasonable speed and fight time prior to recharging, simply cost too much. However, with advances in battery powered aircraft, there may be some hope regarding affordability if the units can become more reasonably priced.

Posted by: AL KENKEL | April 16, 2013 11:57 AM    Report this comment

There will be no renaissance for GA until the FARs are changed--for both pilots and aircraft certification.

Aircraft are designed to meet certification requirements--and we've reached a technological dead end. Is it any wonder that homebuilt kits seem to thrive, compared to factory-built aircraft? Homebuilts don't need to meet the same requirements as certified aircraft--the 61 knot stall speed or the complex formulas for weight, climb, etc. Is it any wonder that most production aircraft have the same performance? Look at the problems in certifying the experimental Lancair as the Corvallis (TTX).

Real innovation comes from the kit-built sector--in airframes, engines, and avionics. Like many others, I'll gladly forego the "protection" of the FAA in return for airplanes that actually work.

Consider the "game changing" aircraft eras over the years. The biplanes gave way to the light airplanes like the Cub and Champ. The industry changed again with the introduction of the Bonanza--an airplane that cruised as fast as the airliners of its day. The light twin introduction changed business flying--turboprops and pressurized twins did so again--as was the business jet. In the meantime, we haven't had a game-changing aircraft in decades--so manufacturers have their old aircraft as competitors for new models. We need a game-changing aircraft--and we won't get it until the FARs allow the design to be built.

Posted by: jim hanson | April 16, 2013 12:06 PM    Report this comment

Even commenting here is a waste of time, and I know it. However, I simply cannot help myself. As a senior in high school in 1961, I could not wait for graduation. My Dad had a Cessna 180 and had promised flying lessons as a graduation gift. I spent the summer flying and had my ticket in the middle of August. My mother, a younger brother, and I even had the chance at the end of that summer to fly with Dad to Texas for a business event with which he was involved. I continued to fly for a few years, got married, ran out of money, always thought that one day I would be able to get back to the sky. It will never happen! Those joyful days of anticipation, of charging off to the airport, of jumping into the blue for a few hours of joy are long gone. They are buried in the morass horrendous prices and complicated procedures. The days of pure pleasure at being aloft have been stolen from the genuine airmen/women of the 21st Century. I resent that. But I never miss the chance to thank my Dad for those magical days when all of the future had wings.

Posted by: Theo Katsbold | April 16, 2013 4:26 PM    Report this comment

We got into this mess through the stroke of the regulatory pen.

And that's what it will take to get us out.

Until we can throw off the outdated, cumulative, and nonsensical regulations--there will be no new designs, and no increase in pilot starts.

The U.S. has become like the rest of the world--a regulatory system that chokes innovation. That system hasn't worked for the rest of the world, but those failures stopped the big-government regulators from foisting the same failed regulations upon us!

Posted by: jim hanson | April 16, 2013 4:36 PM    Report this comment

"The U.S. has become like the rest of the world--a regulatory system that chokes innovation. That system hasn't worked for the rest of the world, but those failures stopped the big-government regulators from foisting the same failed regulations upon us!"

I hafta say...this is demonstrably false on the pure innovation test. I'll be in Europe next week and if it's anything like last year, there's no lack of innovation. Look at Diamond. Look at Pipistrel. Look at Rotax, Thielert, SMA and Continental. Look at Garmin and Dynon (U.S.) and a handful of others. And Europe's regs make the U.S. look like the wild west. Further, the LSA segment isn't heavily constrained by regulation and is doing little better than certified airplanes. Regulations do add cost; we know this. But cost is just one factor of many.

I know it's fashionable to bitch about this and sometimes I do, too. But there are multitude of factors impinging on GA, not just regulation. It's quite possible we're in the midst of a sea change that's not fixable for the foreseeable future. Think film versus digital cameras, blueprints versus CAD.

My guess is you could remove all FAA regulation, including pilot cert, and a new Cirrus would still cost $300,000 and the system would soon devolve to regulation by tort.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 17, 2013 4:59 AM    Report this comment

Good point Paul!

There are lots of factors. Light Sport reminds me of the automobile industry at the turn of the 20th century. There were literally hundreds of car makers and virtually no infrastructure like highways, gas stations, parts stores, and garages. The automobile didn't dominate American life until the mid 1950's. There were no interstate highways until the 1960's.

One of the key things I've learned about LSA is that the airworthiness certificate is only as good as the balance sheet of the manufacturer. If your manufacturer goes out of business you now own an experimental aircraft and you have to get a new airworthiness certificate. With the poor economy there is going to be a fall out of aircraft companies and quite frankly there needs to be. There are almost over 200 companies that build LSA and they all can't survive. As the marginal companies fail there will be a glut of used "new experimental" LSA's on the market. My advice. Before buying an LSA ask to see the manufacturers Financial Statements. In 1910 who would have ever dreamed of giving up a good horse for a motorized buggy? In 1910 airplanes were racing around horse tracks and if they could stay up for 3 minutes before blowing the engine they could win the race!

Today we have the safest aircraft ever built on the planet. And if you want to slip the surly bounds of earth and fly

Posted by: David Hill | April 17, 2013 7:17 AM    Report this comment

Paul, when I reflect on the innovations in communication tech, nanotech, genetic tech, medical tech, energy tech where each seem to thrive in a much less regulated business environment I remain unconvinced that aviation is NOT over-regulated. Look, the FAA regulates screws, nuts and bolts, replcement light bulbs, fabric. I can fly a plane load of people anywhere under a relatively simple set of rules but if I charge them $5 over the cost of the flight the rules become much more of an issue. Same people, same plane, same pilot, same flight. Just add five bucks and it becomes a mess.

Posted by: Michael Mahoney | April 17, 2013 8:18 AM    Report this comment

There is a bell shaped curve for the economics of Sun n Fun. All they did this year was prove what we already knew, that the market will bear what the market will bear. SnF raised prices and reduced benefits to attendees and booth owners this year to the point where 40% of the normal crowd just said "IM OUT." Pulling back on the stick during a stall should gain you more altitude, but there are times when you have to push it forward to get speed so that you can go up. SnF just doesn't get that. They need a recovery technique right now and they don't even know that they are about to crash. Drifting isn't the word. Clueless comes to mind.

Posted by: Dan Gryder | April 17, 2013 8:24 AM    Report this comment

I got my certificate as a teenager 42 years ago. The FAR/AIM was half as thick as it is today. The ticket takes a year of effort to get. A boat just takes money. How many boat owners go out with an instructor every two years?
At 40, I bought a lonesome 182 and made improvements on it for over a decade. It cost me Fuel, insurance, tiedown, and some maintenance since I was willing to do the dirty work. Don't know if that is possible today. The current bird started as a 1965 Mooney. It cost less to buy than a decent mid life crisis car. The car costs $0.555 per mile to drive and takes about a minute per mile. The plane costs about $1/mile and takes about 25 seconds to fly. From this perspective, flying costs less than driving. On the other hand, that $100 hamburger can easily turn into a $25000 bypass operation.

Posted by: peter koza | April 17, 2013 9:12 AM    Report this comment

LOL! Peter, you're right on. The most dangerous and expensive part of the $100 Hamburger flight is the hamburger!! LOL!!!

Posted by: David Hill | April 17, 2013 9:27 AM    Report this comment

SnF prices are a reflection of the dying avocation we're all in. Fewer SnF patrons so ... raise prices. Fewer buyers of new airplanes so ... raise prices. If Cessna can't make money on a $300K+ Skyhawk we're in BIG trouble. Cessna raised the price of a FlyCatcher by almost 50% and now they don't have many takers and buyers are walking away from it. It's always about the chicken vs the egg syndrome with respect to cost. And, with more and more onerous regulation and an unpredictable future on numerous issues, they're driving us away from our avocation in droves.

SnF may well be the canary in the coal mine.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | April 17, 2013 9:55 AM    Report this comment

one interesting thing that is being done in Sweden is that you can put an older certified aircraft into an Experimental classification. this allow it to be maintained etc as an experimental aircraft. I know this because friends of mine in Sweden fly Seabees as experimental aircraft. It is much cheaper to fly them as they do most of the work themselves, use auto gas and (probably as importantly) they can install safety up grades like electronic ignitions on their airplanes without any hassle.

there is no wonder that the RV's have done so well. Experimental is a category where the purchase costs, etc allow you to fly an airplane and use it normally. you can fly IFR, at night and into Class B if equipped appropriately.

The Faa should allow us to put these older but good airplanes into experimental and we will find a lot more people flying.

Posted by: BILL LAWSON | April 17, 2013 10:54 AM    Report this comment

Paul--I usually find your insights spot on--but this time I have to disagree. You cite the innovation of the following:
Diamond--AUSTRIAN company--certified in Europe, assembled in Canada--avoid much FAA hassle in certification.
Pipistrel--not a Part 23 certified aircraft in the US.
Rotax--initially certified in Austria--certified in US under reciprocity agreement.
Thielert--certified in Europe, certified in US under reciprocity.
SMA--certified in Europe, certified inUS under reciprocity.
Dynon--Great products--has chosen to sell to experimental only due to the outrageous cost of FAA certification.
Garmin--has certified products, but again, is choosing to sell uncertified products to experimentals to avoid the cost of FAA "protection".

Why do you suppose all of these manufacturers are choosing to put a border between themselves and the FAA certification--or choosing to sell only to experimentals?

Even the FAA itself is talking about changes to Part 23 certification! FAA certification is obstructive--expensive--and stifles innovation.

Posted by: jim hanson | April 17, 2013 11:17 AM    Report this comment

FAA obstructionism, continued.

A year ago, I wanted to add weather to the 530 in our Sabreliner. The avionics shop said "we can do it--but you're not going to like it! Buy a Garminportable instead--it's cheaper--it's better--and it's updateable. The 530 is an FAA approved unit--it costs a fortune to make any changes. Buy the Garmin portable--get your weather on it--the two units talk to each other and cross-fill flight plans. Is the FAA making flying safer? I think not.

Paul mentions the innovation in Europe--and that's my point--the Europeans are now more free to innovate than we are. How many new certifications for airplanes have we had in the last decade (or two, or three)? Is it any wonder that aircraft are now certified in other countries--it's easier to certify them there and then pursue FAA certification. Recall that the Canadian Ministry of Transport built a certification center in Calgary--expressly for Canadian certification (with U.S. reciprocity)?

Every FBO, aircraft restorer, and owner has horror stories of FAA obstructionism when it comes to issuing STCs, PMAs, and field approvals.

Finally, has anybody heard someone say that the FAA "really helps innovation and certification?"

Posted by: jim hanson | April 17, 2013 11:34 AM    Report this comment

William Lawson--Operating older airplanes as experimentals"--something I have long advocated--and which fits with the post on "non-commercial" operations. The manufacturers would lose the liabilty tail, and owners would be able to make the same changes and do the same maintenance as homebuilts. Certainly, these production aircraft would be as safe or safer than experimentals.

We built up an airplane out of spare parts a few years ago. Lacking a dataplate or maintenance records, we certified it experimental--built from parts. Can certifying an existing elderly airplane be any more difficult or dangerous?

I've started discussions with the FAA in moving my Jet Commander to "Experimental-exhibition" catagory--allowing that Stage II aircraft to continue to fly under the same exemption as the jet warbirds.

Posted by: jim hanson | April 17, 2013 11:41 AM    Report this comment

I own a 1946 Aeronca Champ I bought for $15K. It costs me $25/hr direct operating cost. My family put 175 hours on it last year. My Cessna 150 cost $14K, costs $30/hr to fly, it flew 50 hours. My Iphone and a $100 add on GPS receiver give me state of the art nav and weather. I can't seem to work out the LSA cost of ownership. What am I doing wrong?

Posted by: Harry Fenton | April 17, 2013 12:48 PM    Report this comment

Re SNF, not attendance of show planes certainly an issue. It was a lot of fun in the 90's, but just seems to be going through the motions nowadays. It might be better as a smaller, shorter run airshow.

Posted by: Harry Fenton | April 17, 2013 12:54 PM    Report this comment

Jim, I agree with your assessment in trying to keep flying costs down. However, one of the advantages to purchasing new LSA units is the availability of folding wings on some of them thereby eliminating @ $40,000 in hanger costs over a 10 year period. Now, if LSA's themselves would become more affordable?

Posted by: AL KENKEL | April 17, 2013 1:02 PM    Report this comment

In managing 4 airports with about 160 T-hangars, I have never seen anybody fold the wings to put more than one airplane in the hangar (though they can sometimes put 2 or even 3 LSAs in a hangar without folding the wings). I've owned two Kitfoxes--and the only time I've folded the wings is to trailer them to the lake following float installation. Even though we live in a rural area, I've never seen anybody that would regularly store them at home and take them to the airport.

The prospect of folding wings sometimes SEEMS like a good idea--but in reality, few people actually do it. Most aircraft can't be "trailed" behind a vehicle--they need to be on a trailer. Most folding wing aircraft (like my Kifoxes) need to have the wing tanks empty before transport. Most of the factory-built LSAs I'm familiar with do not have folding wings for these reasons.

Perhaps the reason so few actually use the folding wings is that in rural areas like ours (southern Minnesota) hangar rates are only $85 a month--and you can store other things there besides your airplane.

Posted by: jim hanson | April 17, 2013 3:30 PM    Report this comment

cont. Affordable LSAs? Despite all of the wishing--you'll never see a "cheap" factory-built LSA--the engines alone (Rotax, Lycoming, Continental) cost over $23,000 each.

Cheap LSAs--either go with the "legacy" aircraft--or go Experimental Light Sport--used Avids and Kitfoxes abound in the $20,000 range (more if you want the Kitfox IV or higher) with non-certified engines. Don't want 2-strokes (I've never had a problam with a Rotax 2-stroke)? A non-certified Rotax 912 is available.

The need for "approved" engines cannot be blamed entirely on the FAA in this case--but they DID sign on as "approving" the ASTM standard--an action that has driven up the cost of LSAs.

Posted by: jim hanson | April 17, 2013 3:39 PM    Report this comment

I am a professional corporate pilot and have lived aviation all my life. My schedule is very erratic and I did have a break to drive across florida planning to camp out monday eve to attend the first day of the show. I do no want to sound like a complainer but I was totally shocked when I arrived at the camp entrance at 9PM AND WAS NOT ALLOWED TO ENTER . Thankfully the friendly guard let me sleep in my car at the gate. I barely made it through to the end of tuesday. I did meet a few friendly positive peope. On the whole, I have to agree that GA is wandering as you said. I hate to blow my horn but I have been a pilot for almost 50 years, 23,000 + hours in taidraggers to jets . I love all flying machines and will do watever it takes to keeo private aviation alive.

Posted by: Ken Hopke | April 17, 2013 5:29 PM    Report this comment

There are lots of things contributing to the decline of GA, but cost is probably the biggest one. It's a catch 22. Costs won't come down unless volume goes up, and vice versa. If there's an answer to that problem, I'm not sure what it is.

Regarding the leadership comment, I find it interesting that the AOPA is apoplectic about the tower closings. More so than possibly most of their membership. Do they only fly into towered fields? I rarely do and don't feel unsafe. I think a lot of these airports have towers only to satisfy civic egos. I have flown into 4 of the 5 NC airports scheduled for tower closure. Granted, I haven't been there often so I don't have a scientific sampling, but when I have been there, they haven't been any busier than the uncontrolled ones I frequent. In some cases less so.
It would be nice if they could work on doing away with the third class medical. The half measure they are currently proposing isn't any more likely to fly with the FAA. Is it likely to be any more dangerous for me to fly my Cherokee 6 on a drivers license than a Cherokee 180? Given their "baby steps" approach, at 65 I could be dead before it helps me any.

Finally, as an aside, I was at S&F in 2010 (missed the tornado). My biggest complaint was with transportation. I was in GA camping and had a long walk to get to anything. I tried the tram system. It took forever to ride one loop after another with the wait in-between.

Posted by: John Worsley | April 17, 2013 7:35 PM    Report this comment

(continued) I decided to start walking and catch the tram if it came by on the way. Guess what? Never happened. I ended up patronizing a vendor selling overpriced gel shoe inserts and swearing that if I came back I would bring a bicycle.

Posted by: John Worsley | April 17, 2013 7:39 PM    Report this comment

Oh, and BTW, I agree with Gary Baluha's comment about selling the "time machine" aspect of flying. While I like the experience of flying, I probably wouldn't have invested the time and money I have in it without the possibility of taking trips without spending most of the time involved getting there and back, especially with holiday traffic.

Posted by: John Worsley | April 17, 2013 7:47 PM    Report this comment

I've been following this discussion closely and find myself in a mood of uncertainty about a plan to sell my RV-4 (pure VFR) and RV-6 (very capable IFR but with steam gauges) and purchase a very nice RV-7 with Garmin G3Xs. It needs an IFR GPS, which I'm willing to budget for, but this decision assumes a commitment to become more aggressive about taking trips.

An optimistic view of GA as it applies to my situation would suggest going for it while I still can (advancing age is a factor). A pessimistic view suggests selling the -6 before the market for any kind of airplane drops like a stone and fly the -4 locally for the occasional burger. A really pessimistic view suggests getting completely out of aviation now and avoiding the rush.

Whatever I decide, it appears that the problems facing us as aviators and the potential fixes have little or no chance of meeting on common ground.

I'd really like to remain optimistic, but it's not going to be easy.

Posted by: Tosh McIntosh | April 17, 2013 8:06 PM    Report this comment

Back when I was learning to love flying, in the fifties and sixties, flying was exciting. Pilots were breaking records and making history. (It was also, at that level, extremely dangerous by today's standards.) It was also social. Pilot's and their families spent time at 'The club.' Somehow the clubs got sidelined in favour of "flight Schools.' "Wham bam, thank you sir, goodbye." Flying became everyday and we no longer tell everyone how wonderful itis. Now there are more and cheaper distractions, the wonder is any young people want to fly, but they do. If you want more to fly then it has to be fun, easy AND social.

We are probably waiting for a new paradigm in aircraft design or construction and we could do with one in regulation and instruction too..

Posted by: Chris Vernon-Jarvis | April 17, 2013 10:06 PM    Report this comment

"Paul mentions the innovation in Europe--and that's my point--the Europeans are now more free to innovate than we are."

Jim, I think you're completely unfamiliar with the perceived regulatory climate in Europe or you wouldn't say that. A year ago at Diamond in Austria, Christian Dries said in an interview that dealing with the FAA was "heaven" compared to EASA and other non-U.S. agencies. He then offered a list of reasons why, almost all related to delays in getting test programs approved and underway, moving of the goalposts after agreements and so on. He said he could do these things in half the time in the U.S. He's not the only one saying that. So the view that the regulatory environment in Europe is more liberal isn't shared by the companies who do business there.

Innovation in the U.S. is less only by degree, by the way. I think it has a lot less to do with regulation than with the belief that the expansionary phase of GA is over in the U.S., but still strong in Europe, Russia and points east. Second, companies like Diamond have a different expectation of return on investment. American business seems willing to invest only in short term plays that deliver high yields, not risky ones that don't. How else can you explain that Cirrus couldn't attract western capital? This is directly related to the financialization of the U.S. economy and aviation isn't its only victim.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 18, 2013 4:55 AM    Report this comment

As for "over regulation," a more accurate term might be "poorly regulated."

No one I talk to doing certification projects has ever said that the regulations in place are too burdensome. Part 23 is routinely described as an excellent guideline by which to build an airplane. Never heard anyone say otherwise.

It's the adjudication and application of regulations that's the problem. It's often done unevenly and capriciously. Two examples: Let's say the manufacturer of a new alternator presents his proposal to the regional cert branch with a proposed test plan meeting the required regs. That gets rejected and back comes a wholly more involved and unnecessarily detailed test plan which the regional office bases on its interpretation of the appropriate regulations. There's some back and forth, of course, but ultimately, the company offering the proposal comes out on the short end of the stick. That delays the project and costs money. Big companies that do high volumes of certification work complain about this far less than small ones do.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 18, 2013 5:29 AM    Report this comment

And that leads to example two: The 787 battery fiasco. Both Boeing and the FAA were acutely aware of fire hazards related to li-ion batteries. Yet even with the regulatory magnifying glass focussed on this issue, between the two of them and for unknown reasons, they blundered badly on this. It's baffling that Boeing's battery design got through the regulatory hoop and into service. In a way, Boeing got lucky. Had they had a hull loss and loss of life, it could have threatened the program, if not the entire company. And by the way, the 787 is nothing if not innovative.

Recall a couple of years ago when the idea was floated to revert certification of airplanes under 6000 pounds to the ASTM process. For a variety of reasons, it didn't get much traction. One reason is that many people think ASTM airplanes aren't uniformly compliant and that self-oversight is uneven at best, lax at worst.
One major company told me that this could lead to a more difficult tort environment and they thought tighter regulation and oversight was a better choice.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 18, 2013 5:56 AM    Report this comment

Note also that innovation under the ASTM method hasn't exactly flourished, although the number of companies offering products in this arena has. That's not all good. I wouldn't describe the LSA industry as healthy, being composed of more than 100 manufacturers, few selling more than handfuls of airplanes. Competition is good, but you can have too much of it. As Dave Hill notes above, this places buyers at considerable risk of purchasing airplanes for which the manufacturers long-term support is iffy at best. That's not a formula for success.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 18, 2013 5:57 AM    Report this comment

Paul, thanks for the reference. We just bought a new LSA (AND I LOVE 'HER' & WE'VE NICKNAMED HER "PEANUT").What I discovered is that an LSA's AIRWORTHINESS CERTIFICATE is tied directly to the Manufacturer. No Manufacturer - no airworthiness certificate. It actually scares me that we were looking at some used LSA's from some companies that aren't doing very well.

Posted by: David Hill | April 18, 2013 6:44 AM    Report this comment

P.S. What I've REALLY learned about S-LSA (Special Light Sport Aircraft) is that AIRWORTHINESS has almost nothing to do with the aircraft and everything to do with the PAPERWORK that shows that the aircraft was manufactured and any modifications (adding nav/com) are in compliance with ASTM and not the FAR's. In standard airworthiness aircraft ONE aircraft has to go through the paperwork nightmare and if all other aircraft are made exactly the same they qualify for the same airworthiness certificate. In Light Sport every single aircraft has to be individually certified. You wouldn't believe all the paper work that has to be KEPT IN THE AIRCRAFT.

Posted by: David Hill | April 18, 2013 7:01 AM    Report this comment

Until the industry finds a way to provide an economical replacement for 100LL, we're all screwed. We shouldn't be aiming for "something close to current 100LL prices", we should be aiming for a less expensive alternative. In addition, LSAs need to be $20-30,000, not $120-130,000. It's ridiculous.

Posted by: Jay Masino | April 18, 2013 9:36 AM    Report this comment

Jay, there seems to be a lot of promotion lately about battery powered aircraft and a few currently are perported to give @ 2 to 2 1/2 hours of flight time. About $1 is required for a charge totaling @ 1,000 charges. The kits are still too expensive but this is a step to affordability. Hang in there--like me.

Posted by: AL KENKEL | April 18, 2013 10:40 AM    Report this comment

Amen, Jay. I think it's important to note the difference in two key aspects of this problem. The first is the overall cost of getting into aviation, and the second is staying in it once you're there. For anyone who has already made the commitment of time and money to own/rent an airplane, the fixed costs are pretty much already set. For those who haven't, the bottom-line figure simply to join the ranks undoubtedly scares them away in droves. But for all, direct operating costs as a reflection of fuel prices drive the equation more than anything else. I have no option other than to fly on a budget, and dealing with more than doubling of 100LL prices has dampened my practical enthusiasm considerably over the past few years. And what really concerns me is a complete lack of optimism that the trend will abate, much less reverse.

Posted by: Tosh McIntosh | April 18, 2013 10:51 AM    Report this comment

Piper and Cessna are competing with Harley-Davidson and coming in 2nd. I have a Super Cub, 2 mid 20's daughters and 2 potential sons in law. Not one of them gives a wit about flying or even a ride. Those Harley's get ridden but an airplane ride? If I ask, they'll go, if only to entertain me. Of course, I don't give those Harley's a second look either.

Posted by: Jim Doody | April 18, 2013 1:21 PM    Report this comment

Amen, Jim. Here's an interesting statistic: based on fatalities per passenger mile, air travel is the safest mode of transportation, 25 times safer than travel by car, and 6,752 times safer than a motorcycle. That's a real good reason for spending our second looks on flying machines.

Posted by: Tosh McIntosh | April 18, 2013 2:43 PM    Report this comment

Tosh, I believe that's true for commercial aviation, but not general aviation. Last I saw, GA travel (part 91) was about the same as a motorcycle, on average. Of course, it need not be that way if we have pilots stop doing stupid things like VFR-into-IMC, flying through thunderstorms, or running out of gas.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | April 18, 2013 2:56 PM    Report this comment

Gary, I (we?) may have drifted off topic here and I apologize to Paul, but someone else just happened to mention that statistic a few weeks ago, and I'm having a hard time buying it. Do you have a source?

Posted by: Tosh McIntosh | April 18, 2013 3:52 PM    Report this comment

Those of use that live in this area known that a lot of the locals that attend SNF go to see the military jets perform. Those people clog up the vender sites and make it seem as if things are really busy. When the announcement was made that there would be no active duty military jets performing there was no doubt that the crowds would be smaller. For those of us that can't afford to fly anymore, it's depressing to go to the shows and look that the exhibits. I had hoped that LSA would make flying more affordable, but am amazed at the cost for aircraft with such limited use. The comment much earlier that autoworkers used to buy new aircraft is true. I grew up in a GM town and knew a lot of assembly line workers that flew. That was when they were paid a living wage. Now a new auto factory worker earns $15 an hour. He can't even afford to buy a new car. Too many older people that might want to continue flying cannot do so because they have lost their defined pension benefits or their 401K's don't return enough to blow on maintaining a plane and flying proficiency. The economy has changed and there is just not enough demand for what is a very expensive hobby. The baby boomer generation boosted GA due to the GI Bill, cheap surplus military aircraft, and a booming economy. That's history and not likely to happen again.

Posted by: Garry Miracle | April 18, 2013 5:15 PM    Report this comment

Paul-- "A year ago at Diamond in Austria, Christian Dries said in an interview that dealing with the FAA was "heaven" compared to EASA and other non-U.S. agencies". And that's my point--we are fast becoming Europe. Regulations continue to pile on--you don't see them repealing many.

Paul--"No one I talk to doing certification projects has ever said that the regulations in place are too burdensome. Part 23 is routinely described as an excellent guideline by which to build an airplane. Never heard anyone say otherwise."

Even the FAA says that Part 23 has become too burdensome! From Flying Magazine, Aug. 25, 2111

"News came down from the feds the other day that the FAA was forming an aviation rulemaking committee to look into overhauling the standards contained within Part 23 of the regs that govern certification of most light airplanes. This is a great thing. These rules are too complex and complying with them is extremely costly."

Nobody ASKED the FAA to revamp the regulations--they came to that conclusion themselves.

Posted by: jim hanson | April 18, 2013 5:17 PM    Report this comment

cont. If FAA certification was NOT an impediment, why would Dynon choose to NOT sell their product for certified aircraft? Why Would Garmin do the same--when they have certification experts? Why are most LSAs certifed in Europe--rather than the US? Note that almost every US manufacturer of LSAs produce LEGACY aircraft. Why have we not seen new GA products certfied in the US (but we HAVE from Brazil and other countries, based on reciprocity). Why has Lycoming chosen to sell an uncertified engine--when they have the experience to certify it? Why does Trio sell non-certified autopilots?

The answer--it's not worth the time and hassle in dealing with the FAA. Consider--certifying the Starship nearly broke Beechraft--they threw in the towel. By the time the FAA got done, the aircraft weighed almost a ton more--the FAA required EMP protection, etc.

It's simply not worth it--put a border between the regulators and your products.

Posted by: jim hanson | April 18, 2013 5:33 PM    Report this comment

Imagine an audience of potential pilots or pilots contemplating their first aircraft buy stopping by this discussion. Unless they are either out of their minds, have gobs of money to blow or are so determined to check off owning a plane from their bucket list they are going to leave THIS discussion deciding to spend somehwere else. And there's nothing honest we can do about it. We have outlined the death throes of GA.

Posted by: Michael Mahoney | April 18, 2013 5:58 PM    Report this comment

"And that's my point--we are fast becoming Europe. Regulations continue to pile on--you don't see them repealing many."

Huh? I've just given you an example of an European entrepreneur saying the U.S. is the ideal regulatory environment and Europe should be more like the U.S.

"Why are most LSAs certifed in Europe--rather than the US? "

That's because the vast majority of them were built under Europe's ultralight rules, which pre-date the U.S. LSA rule. Many of those designs have been around for years.

The question you should be asking is why they aren't cheaper than they are, even with minimal regulatory requirements. Typical price of an LSA is about $130,000 for the top sellers. Why aren't they half that?

And here's the kicker. If we reduce regulatory overburden, how much will that reduce the price of a new airplane? GAMA thinks the revision of Part 23 could reduce cert costs by as much as half. I think that's ambitious, but let's say it's true. How much will that reduce the price of a new airplane? By half? No.Because variable with model, cert costs are a third to 40 percent of the total airplane's price. Just using an example, then, our $307,000 might sell for $250,000 or a little less.

Now the theory here is that when you drive the price down, you scale the units up and you can thus drive the selling price even lower, reaching a happy stasis in there somewhere. Maybe the Cessna 172--or what becomes the modern equivalent, say the Flight Design C4.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 18, 2013 7:09 PM    Report this comment

This is a common delusion in aviation. You suffer from it, I suffer from it, we all do. Vern Raburn had a world class case of aviation price-volume delusion and thought he could produce a jet for under $1 million because he was just so gosh darned innovative.

But we always get dope slapped by reality. The volume is never there, so the prices never quite get down to that magic point even though we bitch that regulations are the problem and if we remove them, why, there will be the Yellow Brick Road.

We are forever hostage to 1978, the glorious year when the industry produced 17,000-plus aircraft, then went over a cliff. No one knows if that was a one-time market anomaly never to be repeated or if it was something else. We keep coming up with all kinds of excuses why it isn't happening and yours just happens to be it's the government's fault. Good as any, I suppose.

The acid test will be this: In our wildest dreams, let's say regulatory reform reduces the price of a new airplane by fully half. So a $600,000 Cirrus now costs $300,000. What do you think the aviation market size Delta is between people who can afford $300,000 things and those who can afford $600,000 things? I'll wager it's enough for a few hundred airframes a year, not thousands.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 18, 2013 7:32 PM    Report this comment

There might be more entry level airplanes, but that's what LSAs are really, and we see how they're selling. So the bitch about regs is part of the story, for sure. But there are larger market, economic and demographic issues, too. Those won't get solved by a Part 23 rewrite. It will take a resurrection involving developments none of us seem to see at the moment.

One thing I think it will take is a real shift in capital investment attitudes in the western world. I don't see that happening. Look east, young man, east.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 18, 2013 7:34 PM    Report this comment

Light Sport Airplane covers a broad category. I don't think you will ever to be able to buy a CTLSi for $20K (the engine alone costs that much), but there ARE vintage LSAs out there for that price. (Not to mention what we once called "ultra-lite.) $130K IS a lot to pay for an entry level plane, but is $70K? A factory new LSA from Pipistrel (Alpa) can be purchased for that price. I think LSA does provide an opportunity for lower operating costs but GA is always going to be an expensive avocation. Our challenge is to find a way to show our youth that its a great way to spend their dollars.

Posted by: Dave Fisher | April 19, 2013 1:13 PM    Report this comment

in Markets like aircraft, boats, jet skies, dirt bikes there are usually two parts to a market. the part where people buy for fun and the other part where people buy because they have a real day to day use. in aircraft that is things like training, business travel, power line observations etc. that part is the only real long term market.Flying for fun eventually becomes a manor part of the total use of aircraft.

A good measure of this long term market need is if you look at the number of engines sold new and engines rebuilt etc in a given class of engine size. right now something like 10,000 engines in the 300 hp class are being built, rebuilt, etc. every year. If the average life of an engine is 7 years that means there are on average about 50,000 airplanes in regular use if you provide a little compensation for the number of aircraft that have two engines. If the average life of an aircraft is 20 years that means a real need for an average of 2500 new aircraft every year. That is nothing like the fleet of several hundred thousand that are registered out there. We have a huge oversupply of good airframes at this point.

Posted by: BILL LAWSON | April 19, 2013 1:31 PM    Report this comment

Thus with this back of the envelope reasoning a market of 2000 to 3000 aircraft per year is reasonable as long as disruptive technology does not come along like a new diesel engine that dramatically reduces fuel cost, range etc. If you go to you will see a diesel aircraft engine under development that is size, shape, weight and vibrations fit with existing technology and uses 35 to 50% less fuel than 100LL engines and burns a fuel available anywhere in the world. (jet A) that engine will change the economic picture dramatically for the user that is using it as a tool in his everyday activities. That engine or other diesel engines under development potentially will drive higher sales but never 17,000 per year

Posted by: BILL LAWSON | April 19, 2013 1:32 PM    Report this comment

Thus with this back of the envelope reasoning a market of 2000 to 3000 aircraft per year is reasonable as long as disruptive technology does not come along like a new diesel engine that dramatically reduces fuel cost, range etc. If you go to you will see a diesel aircraft engine under development that is size, shape, weight and vibrations fit with existing technology and uses 35 to 50% less fuel than 100LL engines and burns a fuel available anywhere in the world. (jet A) that engine will change the economic picture dramatically for the user that is using it as a tool in his everyday activities. That engine or other diesel engines under development potentially will drive higher sales but never 17,000 per year

Posted by: BILL LAWSON | April 19, 2013 1:32 PM    Report this comment

Thus with this back of the envelope reasoning a market of 2000 to 3000 aircraft per year is reasonable as long as disruptive technology does not come along like a new diesel engine that dramatically reduces fuel cost, range etc. If you go to you will see a diesel aircraft engine under development that is size, shape, weight and vibrations fit with existing technology and uses 35 to 50% less fuel than 100LL engines and burns a fuel available anywhere in the world. (jet A) that engine will change the economic picture dramatically for the user that is using it as a tool in his everyday activities. That engine or other diesel engines under development potentially will drive higher sales but never 17,000 per year

Posted by: BILL LAWSON | April 19, 2013 1:33 PM    Report this comment

Paul--" I've just given you an example of an European entrepreneur saying the U.S. is the ideal regulatory environment and Europe should be more like the U.S.

That's one man's opinion. I gave you examples of Dynon, Garmin, Lycoming, Lancair, al who have chosen to NOT certify their products with the FAA. Some of these manufacturers already HAVE certified products--and have chosen not to go down the certification road. In the meantime, we have a paucity of new certified Part 23 airplanes in the U.S. Is it because, as you say, business is reluctant to commit capital? Absolutely! And the reason they are unlikely to commit? The uncertainty of certification (you also mentioned it)and the resultant time and cost. It's much easier to just produce for the home built market,and forget FAA certification. These listed manufacturers are sending a message--FAA certification is just not worth the effort.

It is the same message that charter operators have sent--it is no longer worth the effort to subject yourself to the "one size fits all" FAA certification. We used to do charter--3 King Airs, 3 cabin twins, 2 Barons, and single engine. There isn't a week that goes by that we don't get calls for charter--the need is there. It is indeed an indictment of our regulatory environment that we have all of these very capable business airplanes--already paid for--and the regulatory cost is so high that there isn't a dollar to be made.

Posted by: jim hanson | April 19, 2013 1:37 PM    Report this comment

Just to be "perfectly clear"--I have NEVER been a price apologist when it comes to aviation--charge what you need to charge. HOWEVER

We will never get back to 17,000 airframes a year--especially if new airframes do not have a "game-changer" breakthrough, as previously mentioned. Old and refurbished airframes provide the biggest competition for new--absent that game-changer.

IF Cirrus airplanes cost $300,000--would that increase sales? Yes--not to the thousands of units per year--but I believe that it WOULD more than double them. How about if a new Skyhawk cost half of what the list price is today--or $150,000? Would there be a market for those airplanes? Yes--it might primarily be in flight schools--but isn't that where many of the 1960s vintage airplanes were first used? They eventually are sold to the used market. Face it--what will we do when our existing supply of good used airplanes dries up?

Posted by: jim hanson | April 19, 2013 2:10 PM    Report this comment

It's not just certification rules--consider--during the heyday of piston and turboprop twin production, many companies had the cash to purchase an airplane, but didn't have full utilization. They might have had the use for a Baron--but chose to buy a King Air by putting the aircraft out on charter. Not coincidentally, the demise of corporate twins coincided with the FAA "One level of safety" dictum. Let corporate operators lease out time on their airplanes with minimal regulations, and that market will be back--exposing more people to the benefits of GA. The futility of charter regulation is exposed when less-regulated CORPORATE operators turn in a much better safety record than CHARTER operators--flying the same types of airplanes into the same airports.

It isn't just the financial cost of regulation--it also includes the stifling of innovation--we won't achieve the "game changing innovations" of new aircraft or products as long as we have the stifling regulations--examples include the failure of the Starship--and the decision by several avionics manufacturers NOT to go down the FAA certification road.

Example: Perhaps the next "game changer" is NOT a plug-in airplane--but a hybrid, for example. Who is going to make the investment to get the hidebound FAA to certify THAT? Not Lycoming, not Continental, not the major airframers. It will necessarily come from the relatively unregulated experimental community.

Posted by: jim hanson | April 19, 2013 2:15 PM    Report this comment

One solution is to allow aircraft owners to advertise and operate 1-9 pax scheduled air service...

Posted by: NEIL COSENTINO | April 19, 2013 2:19 PM    Report this comment

The link has been stripped out so Google
"How Certification Rules Are Hurting Us"

Fascinating post and on point precisely with Paul's post here.

The upshot, I believe, is that the necessary game changer for personal flying lies with improvements in safety which can only come from technology.

Posted by: David Sucher | April 19, 2013 3:24 PM    Report this comment

Dave, you can post the non-linkable URL. Just remove http and replace with www.

It's anti-spam software. Otherwise, we get hammered.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 19, 2013 3:46 PM    Report this comment

When turbine power entered General Aviation, the big money went there, and eventually all but abandoned piston power. That was the major technology event that contributed to the current state of personal aviation.

The demographic issues first started to appear in the 1960s when student starts began to drop, and nothing has turned that around.

The cost issue started to get out of hand in the 1970s, when liability, costly regulations (on everything, not just certification), antiquated accounting practices, and the creeping influence of Wall Street analysts and MBA fads seriously reduced the productivity of all employees. Now with production rates so low, and the market so thinly dispersed -- everything is handmade, there are no important economies of scale, and overheads are extreme.

Aviation seems to attract big investors with bad ideas and good ideas with insufficient capital. It's a curse.

Posted by: S. Lanchester | April 19, 2013 4:13 PM    Report this comment

Fwiw, I highly recommend this post and ithe thoughtful comments.

Posted by: David Sucher | April 19, 2013 5:13 PM    Report this comment

I've been wondering lately if the state of General Aviation as a hobby or as a business can be compared to any other industry or vertical directly? I'm wondering if we can learn anything from another similar group ie what has been happening with them, what do the trade groups have to say about it, what did they learn, what is their state today.

The closest thing that comes to mind is boating.

Posted by: Tom B | April 19, 2013 8:06 PM    Report this comment

I think boating is a good example of a technology the everyone was enthused about, bought a lot of boats and then found out after a year or two just driving around was not that much fun. if you fished, water skied,etc the boat was useful.

another example is personal watercraft around here used ones are very cheap.

A good example is snowmobiles. there is definitely a recreational component to the market, but as huge # are used for practical things like feeding the cattle in the winter, maintaining ski area's etc.

Posted by: BILL LAWSON | April 19, 2013 8:32 PM    Report this comment

I wouldn't say past tense(WAS enthused about) with
reference to boating. Our boat storage area on our club grounds on our chain of lakes is always full and
in demand,for a fee. Members plus non-members that use our gas dock are constantly coming up with bigger
and/or more technically innovative and expensive water craft. The boat manufacturers keep coming up with boat designs that are zeroed in on specific activities. Like wakeboarding? For about 40k you can
get a rig that pumps tanks full of water to generate
a huge wake. Fishing? A highpwered bass boat loaded with goodies is another pricy one . Point is, the
boat makers seem to almost generate their own specialty market and it works. They were hit by the down economy but I see no end of new boats coming in.
If two or three owners of these boats could be convinced to splt the cost of a new LSA instead they
could easily afford it. I would guess that boating overall at this time is in better health than GA.
I'm sad to see that because I love flying but also
enjoy boating (I'm on my 4th boat.) A friend in our club flies for Fedex. He has twwo nice boats but no
airplane, gotta be a message of some kind there.

Posted by: Joe Sikora | April 19, 2013 10:11 PM    Report this comment

Joe--I've also noted the comparison between boating and aviation. Boating offers instant gratification--no need for a year of training before going boating in a simple boat.

Boating has a gregarious social component. People take others for boat rides--there is the social scene at the marina. It's pretty rare that you see someone going for a boat ride by themselves. There is also the alcohol issue--with a boat, you can join your friends for a drink (in moderation)--something you can't do in aviation. Not advocating--just observing.

Sailboats have taken a bigger hit than motorboats--I believe it is because we've become accustomed to instant gratification--with a motor boat, turn the key and be on your way. With a sailboat, it requires planning--forethought--physical effort--and a crew. Sailboat production has pretty much followed GA production--caused in part by the lack of people that know how to sail (analogous to the decline in pilots hurting GA aircraft sales).

Posted by: jim hanson | April 21, 2013 1:34 PM    Report this comment

Promoting the social side--Harley-Davidson has done a good job of this--both the social side and just as important,the IMAGE. In GA, we're a victim of our own advertising. For years, airplane ads insisted that ANYONE can fly. Look through old magazine ads--it's straight out of "Mad Men"--"Land-O-Matic landing gear--"Para-Lift Flaps", and "Omni-vision" for Cessna. "Air cushioned landings" for Piper. Pilot's USED to be looked up to--people that were self-reliant--people that could "control" an airplane under difficult conditions--and looked forward to exerting that control. If EVERYONE flies--there is nothing special about it any more. Again--contrast that with Harley ads--"You might be a businesman 9 to 5, but nights and weekends, you're a BIKER!

I'd propose a TRUE "High-performance Aircraft" rating--not the current one that calls a 201 hp retract a "high performance aircraft". Let those pilots fly higher performing aircraft--exempt from certification rules like the 61 kt. stall speed requirement. Most pilots would like to have that on their certificate--and let's face it--the insurance industry already requires this demonstrated ability to fly TRUE high-performance aircraft--though the FAA predictably does not.

Posted by: jim hanson | April 21, 2013 1:49 PM    Report this comment


Posted by: David Sucher | April 21, 2013 1:55 PM    Report this comment

Is GA drifting? Only if YOU let it. Saturday April 20th was our first "Western Oklahoma Fly-In" sponsored by our organization, Stick N Rudder Flying Club. This was the first ever event of it's kind at Elk City Municipal Airport and many people who have lived in Elk City all their lives told us that this was the most exciting and fun event they had ever seen at the airport. We estimate that we had about 200 people in attendance. We gave 90 free "intro" flights, and cooked about 200 hamburger and hot dogs. One of our local radio stations, 101.7 The Zoo did a live broad cast from the airport from 10 am to 2 pm. Many pilots flew in and gave free rides. We also had two gyroplanes on display. At Stick N Rudder we're promoting Sport Pilot flying and we had about half a dozen folks interested in starting to learn to fly. What amazed me the most was the flying community spirit that came together to promote FLYING! Are times tough? Yep. But what do the tough do? They get to work. The future of flying in America is up to us - not the government. Get some people together and do something! (Visit to see photos of the fly-in)

Posted by: David Hill | April 22, 2013 7:37 AM    Report this comment

"Safety"? What do you mean by that?

"Selling Safety" doesn't work--we've reached a point of diminishing return on selling safety--despite millions of dollars in safety promotions, the accident rate has barely budged.

"Selling safety" SOUNDS like a good idea--but promoting "safety" doesn't work, either. Flying a private plane IS more dangerous than driving--you won't win that argument with people.

Even the PERCEPTION of safety won't work. Often, following an airplane accident, people wring their hands about"How this will negatively affect student starts in the area." That's not true--and often, student starts go UP.

Harley's aren't "safe"--but people buy them. Skydiving isn't "safe"--but people continue to skydive KNOWING the record. Same for scuba diving and mountain climbing--you COULD make the case that people are ATTRACTED to swashbuckling sports. These sports have harnessed the IMAGE of being outside of the comfort zone of the general populace--something that sets the participants apart. In the GA heyday, it was one of the things that attracted young dreamers--and midlife-crisis men.

Posted by: jim hanson | April 22, 2013 6:28 PM    Report this comment

Safety is something that the vast majority of people believe is lacking in General Aviation. Whether it's a fact or just a perception, the general population is certain that personal aviation is too risky. This population includes most would-be pilots' wives.

The people in positions of power in GA all have the right stuff (just ask them), so they discount then above fact 100% -- and lose potential pilots (customers) by the tens of thousands.

As an aircraft designer, I can tell you that personal aircraft are far more deadly in a crash than they need to be. A moderate crash shoves the engine into the pilot's lap. Then it springs back, leaving no indication that it crushed the pilot. Ten pounds of aluminum in the forward sidewalls and doors could prevent that.

A side impact causes unnecessary and severe head trauma that mere padding could solve. Side curtain airbags would be better.

The fear of weight has limited the FAA regulations and designers unnecessarily.

I could go on, but no one in the business cares.

Posted by: S. Lanchester | April 28, 2013 11:01 PM    Report this comment

There's a difference between selling safety to aircraft owners, and selling safety to potential pilots.

Most aircraft owners will pay for safety--example: shoulder harnesses for older aircraft, anti-collision and traffic warning--modern avionics and glass panels. Cirrus has done a good job of selling safety to pilots with these features--AND crashworthy structure--AND the caps parachute.

"Selling safety" to the non-flying public, however, is not the same. As mentioned, people willingly engage in sports with at least a PERCEPTION of danger--motorcycles,rock climbing, scuba diving , sky diving, etc.

As pilots, we've lost that unique distinction as someone that does things out of the ordinary--that has adventures--that dares to "take command." We've become victims of our own advertising--"Anyone can fly"--"land-O-Matic gear"--"Air-cushion landings."

Nobody wants to be known as a milquetoast. It's time our advertising returns to portraying pilots as unique, daring, adventurous, and yes, with abit of swagger.

Posted by: jim hanson | April 29, 2013 8:52 AM    Report this comment

Well, if personal aviation is ever going to come out of the essentially moribund irrelevancy it now enjoys, it will have to appeal to humans with today's attitudes, not those of the immediate post-WWII era, when the romance of flight was so strong.

Potential pilots became disconnected from flying like a WWII hero in the mid-1960s, as shown by the fact that student starts have been decreasing ever since then. You sense that it's because airplane makers advertised safety and ease of flight, rather than the adventure and daring of being a pilot.

Maybe you are right, too. I've always thought that a lightplane figure-8 race would draw crowds. I even designed an airplane for it that would allow pilots to survive fiery, head-on crashes, unscathed. The crowds would love it.

Posted by: S. Lanchester | April 30, 2013 1:32 AM    Report this comment

Flying doesn't have to BE dangerous--only perceived as something that "ordinary" people don't do. NASCAR and the car companies have tapped into that--"buy a big-engined car capable of going 150 mph--even though you'll never drive it much more than half that speed." Ditto for all of the ads for "adventure" products--"be out of the ordinary."

There was a time when newspapers had an "Aviation Editor"--newspapers followed the adventures of pilots because readers had an interest. Even the comic strips had pilot adventures--"Terry and the Pirates", "Smilin' Jack", "Steve Canyon." Pilots were perceived as extraordinary people that DID things--people that had an adventurous life.

Quit advertising that "anybody can fly"--publicize the fact that pilots are NOT the same as "ordinary people." We're not going to get the "average person" to learn to fly, anyway (and who would want to share the air with the average driver off the street?) so why not take advantage of being unique?

Posted by: jim hanson | April 30, 2013 10:11 AM    Report this comment

Flying doesn't have to BE dangerous--only perceived as something that "ordinary" people don't do. NASCAR and the car companies have tapped into that--"buy a big-engined car capable of going 150 mph--even though you'll never drive it much more than half that speed." Ditto for all of the ads for "adventure" products--"be out of the ordinary."

There was a time when newspapers had an "Aviation Editor"--newspapers followed the adventures of pilots because readers had an interest. Even the comic strips had pilot adventures--"Terry and the Pirates", "Smilin' Jack", "Steve Canyon." Pilots were perceived as extraordinary people that DID things--people that had an adventurous life.

Quit advertising that "anybody can fly"--publicize the fact that pilots are NOT the same as "ordinary people." We're not going to get the "average person" to learn to fly, anyway (and who would want to share the air with the average driver off the street?) so why not take advantage of being unique?

Posted by: jim hanson | April 30, 2013 10:11 AM    Report this comment

Jim, you're right on. Flying isn't for MOST PEOPLE! So let's quit trying to get land lovers to mount up on man-made wings! Ordinary folks (land lovers) point to the high cost of learning to fly but the truth is that they just don't have the heart of an aviator. So let's stop trying to make them converts.

Posted by: David Hill | May 1, 2013 1:26 AM    Report this comment

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