AirVenture: Diesel, Drones And High Energy

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With the new aircraft market seemingly in semi-permanent stasis, Cessna surprised us at AirVenture with the announcement of a diesel-powered Skyhawk, the Turbo Skyhawk  JT-A. The new model presumably complements the 182 JT-A that’s been struggling through certification for more than two years. Cessna says the Skylane is close to completing the final hoops, something we’ve been hearing for quite a while now.

The Skyhawk JT-A is not exactly a new airplane for Cessna. Recall that in the fall of 2007, Cessna announced this very airplane at the AOPA show in Hartford, only to withdraw it in the nick of time when Thielert Aircraft Engines got into trouble and went bankrupt in 2008. The new version was done by an entirely different team at Cessna, but it still has the same 2.0S diesel engine developed by Thielert and now produced (and renamed) by Continental. Inevitably, the buzz is that now that Cessna is in the diesel game, the market has somehow been “validated.”

Oh, please. We said the same thing about the LSA market when Cessna announced the Skycatcher and we all know how that worked out. The Skyhawk JT-A is just another market offering in the diesel segment and will live or die on its merits. As for diesel validation, Diamond Aircraft did that in 2002 with the DA42, which is and will remain the fleet volume leader in diesel for a long time to come.

I’m sure Cessna will find some sales for the Skyhawk JT-A, but at $420,000, it’s hard to see how it will ignite much market expansion just because it’s a Cessna. It gives away $170,000 to the near-new Redbird Redhawk conversion, which is a lot of change to pay merely for the smell of a new airplane. Diesel engines cost more than twice as much to manufacture as gasoline engines do and although their fuel efficiency gains back some of that investment, if the complete aircraft package is too pricey, the debt service will eat up any savings, making a new aircraft not just unattractive, but unaffordable. I haven’t run the numbers on the JT-A yet, but I can tell from previous analysis that there are definite limits.

Drones Over OSH

I guess some mystery person can claim to be the first drone pilot to bust the airspace over Wittman Field—in the middle of AirVenture, no less. Paul Millner and I were standing on the deck at the BendixKing booth early Monday morning when a quad zoomed over at about 75 feet. I recognized it, too—it was a DJI Phantom.

It zipped by, descended a little and disappeared behind one of the exhibition buildings. I asked EAA’s media rep, Dick Knapinksi, if the association had authorized drone flights as a first at AirVenture. Nope, he said, it had not. EAA was trying to find out who flew the quad and hopes to have a little chat with them. Was it a coincidence that the drone’s flight line appeared to come from the general direction of the GoPro booth? Maybe, maybe not. But whoever flew it, not cool guys. Even though it was early in the morning with little traffic around, a drone doesn’t belong in this airspace. Especially this week.

Higher Energy

It seems as though every time we’ve made crowd estimates based on just wandering around the grounds at AirVenture, we’re proven wrong. In years when attendance has seemed sparse, EAA’s published numbers have indicated the reverse. This year, the place seems relatively packed and vendors are telling us booth traffic is strong. It certainly looks that way.

The North 40 camping area appeared nearly full on Sunday and I haven’t seen that for quite some time. There’s clearly more energy and more vitality in this show this year than last and the number of announcements and new product introductions seems to suggest more market confidence. We’ll just have to see if that translates into ringing cash registers, but the gloom of past years seems to have receded.

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Comments (11)

"Inevitably, the buzz is that now that Cessna is in the diesel game, the market has somehow been "validated.""

You would think such ideas would have died with the Skycatcher. The 172 JT-A and Archer DX may have value for the training segment, but what I think would really validate the diesel market is a production Cirrus diesel. And perhaps that may become a reality in the near future, now that Continental has announced their 300-hp diesel.

"There's clearly more energy and more vitality in this show this year than last and the number of announcements and new product introductions seems to suggest more market confidence."

It's somewhat ironic that I attended the last two shows (my only two show attendances), but not this year's (the timing of things didn't work out to allow me to attend this year). It's good to hear that the show seems more active this year, and I hope the trend continues for next year.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | July 30, 2014 8:30 AM    Report this comment

We all know that new airplanes are VERY expensive - even simple ones like a 172. Paul's comments about the relative merits (and costs) of a 172 JT-A versus a Redbird 172 diesel conversion are interesting; they lead me in a direction that might seem off-topic, but which I suggest really is not.

My question is this: what prompts people to spend two or three times as much to buy a brand-new plane, as they would spend to buy a very nice used one? I ask this, not because I advocate one approach versus the other. I'm just interested in hearing about the perceived value that motivates today's (relatively few) buyers of brand-new airplanes.

We all know people who would never buy a used car; we also all know people who never would buy a brand-new one. I just think that it's vital to understand the motivations of new-airplane buyers, whenever we consider (or lament) the current state (and possible future state) and size of the new-airplane market.

What makes people choose to buy brand-new versus a used example of the same make and model? Without understanding that, how can we hope to stimulate the new-plane industry?

I'll start with my own example (which might seem a little more on-topic). I'm in the process of selling a plane that we've owned and operated for 27 years. It's unlikely that I'll replace it with anything that doesn't burn kerosene - I just have absolutely zero faith in this government's dedication to providing a suitable replacement for 100LL. That's my own motivation for leaning towards a brand-new vehicle.

But what about the motivations of other people who recently have eschewed re-mans and other used vehicles, in favor of factory-new? People who actually have spent the cash?

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | July 30, 2014 9:27 AM    Report this comment

Thomas, some years ago AOPA Pilot ran an article about "The People that Buy New Airplanes". Can't recall the exact year, but Skyhawks were selling for about $150k then. Most of the folks profiled in the article said something similar to "I just wanted to get a fresh start and thought it would be nice.." and some of them bought new for their upcoming pilot training. I never could draw a firm conclusion from the article except that there are some people out there with an amazing amount of disposable income. Heck, if you can do it, I say more power to ya!

Posted by: A Richie | July 30, 2014 10:50 AM    Report this comment

""Cessna...the (diesel) market has somehow been "validated."" Just like the Skycatcher "validated" LSA. I don't mean to be negative here, but, Cessna's approach, at their price, is unviable, impossible, impractical, unrealistic, unfeasible, naive. Evaluating the providers mentality, I predict an even greater aviation market decline after 2020 if we, the users, do not bond while doing something attainable.

A good option is to organize the flight training world and other interested users to buy 15,000- 20,000 C172s, or equal, airframes and fit them with whatever engine and avionics the buyer would want. The operation could be similar to a world-wide farm co-op program.

Imagine AVweb controlling wholesale purchases and assembly and deliveries. Say a white C172 with no frill seats and interior, wired with a plug-in harness adaptable to sub-assembled avionics and engine monitoring devices. Plug-in pre-assembled instrument panels, install engine of choice all under $170, 000. (Oh man, the idea gives me goose bumps.)

World of GA unite !

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | July 30, 2014 11:29 AM    Report this comment

Yars, the separation seems to be a study in axiology to me. 'More money than brains' is probably the best explanation to this pedestrian.

The reports from Airventure always seem like the feeding of the homeless a nice, big Thanksgiving Dinner during the holidays, to me. The rest of the year instructors search out students, airports close, mogas remains unavailable, and my hangar rent just went up, really.

Enjoy the camaraderie, all you in attendance. It helps to at least appear sometimes we're not losing that which we celebrate.

Posted by: David Miller | July 30, 2014 12:27 PM    Report this comment

Regarding "Drones Over OSH" (a small quad-copter): "... whoever flew it, not cool guys. Even though it was early in the morning with little traffic around, a drone doesn't belong in this airspace. Especailly this week."

Don't have a cow, man. 75 feet AGL isn't going to bother anyone using the airspace over the exhibits. Now, people on the ground at the exhibits -- that may be a different story.

Let the FAA and the police be the only ones to have a conniption every time someone flies an RC airplane these days. Don't encourage and enable them.

Posted by: Joebob Dubner | July 30, 2014 1:17 PM    Report this comment

"unviable, impossible, impractical, unrealistic, unfeasible, naive. "

Raf, what I like most about you is that you never fail to inspire me.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | July 30, 2014 1:46 PM    Report this comment

Paul I am certainly trying to inspire you and others. We have a GA aircraft aging problem. Some mechanics or IAs are refusing to sign off annuals or hundred hours and there is a growing user or renter concern. There is a need to replace these aging aircraft airframes if we are to even maintain flight training and recreational flying status quo. Cessna's approach is unaffordable, not the solution (read; does not stand a chance in hell), therefore the industry remains in a flat spin. Refurbs are a limited option as there is an urgent growing need for airworthy airframes - engines, propellers and avionics are not a problem.

We need new airframes and affordable pricing. Gathering recreational and flight training businesses to buy larger volumes at wholesale prices may help revitalize the industry, thus my pitch for a co-op and working on defining conditions for placing an order for say 15 or 20 thousand airframes. I would participate in this. An undertaking by a credible institution or a group of entrepreneurs is what's needed - perhaps at first as a feasibility study - surely there are others like me interested in revitalizing the GA industry before it becomes a dead horse.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | July 30, 2014 9:21 PM    Report this comment

$420k for a C172 is simply absurd. I know all the reasons why an airplane can't cost as little as a car, but that's still entirely too high. I could order RV-10 kits from Van's at regular retail price, hire a few guys, rent a shop space, and start churning them out with full IFR glass and advanced ignition systems for half of that, except for the certification processes that are entirely too paperwork- and manpower-intensive. We don't need that level of scrutiny on light, private airplanes.
We need to move to LSA-style self-certification and place limits on liability.

Posted by: Bob Martin | July 31, 2014 5:37 AM    Report this comment

The reason a remanufactured airplane costs so much less than a new one is not engineering: it costs MORE to disassemble and airplane, clean up its parts, address corrosion, and put it all back together, than it costs to build one from scratch. The reason it costs less, nonetheless, is that new Cessna "spam cans" selling for over $400k have no competition; and they have no competition because of certification costs.

We've long heard defenders of the system tell us that certification doesn't cost much, because doing the engineering properly costs that much anyway. The LSA/ASTM experience, where a single class of aircraft has, in 10 years, brought more new designs to market than Part 23 has in - well, maybe in its entire history - answers this claim. It's the certification costs.

With the rewrite of Part 23 now admitting to an initial 2-year delay, it's time to move to the next logical step, which is to have the FAA step aside and let others do the job, i.e., "deregulate" light aviation altogether (more accurately, let participants, with a thin layer of regulatory oversight, do the regulating). There is no reason why, for example, EAA, AOPA, LAMA and ASTM cannot create a regulatory framework, with an audit process, based on the LSA program, and apply it to GA generally. The FAA has proven that it is nothing but a barrier to innovation and safety; it has admitted that it doesn't have the resources to do its job; it should now do the decent thing, and step aside. And if it won't, it's time we started to push it.

It's the certification costs, and the resulting lack of competition, that are killing GA faster than any other single thing.

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | July 31, 2014 8:27 AM    Report this comment

Bob Martin, I agree. All we need is a bunch of good ideas, kick the bucket around and come out with solutions. Affordable aircraft now - safe GA!

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | July 31, 2014 8:34 AM    Report this comment

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