Continental Motors Learn-to-Fly Day

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I spent a busy Saturday at the H.L. Sonny Callahan Airport in Alabama, otherwise known as Fairhope. Thatís where Continental Motors has its factory and customer support facility and where it does engine overhauls and mods. Itís a nice little airport right by the lower reaches of Mobile Bay.

Continental was holding the first of what it hopes will become an annual event: Learn-to-Fly Day. Lots of airports organize airport days and aviation promotions, but you may have noticed not many big general aviation companies support these, much less an engine company. Continental had a static display of aircraft of all vintages, Young Eagle rides, Discovery flights, free food and seminars. In fact, everything was free; theyíd sell you a t-shirt if you wanted.

The whole thing had the feel of an old-style southern ice cream social and they sure enough had the ice cream to go along with it. Continentalís Bill Ross, who was otherwise giving back-to-back Eagle rides in his Stearman, hauled out a nicely restored vintage John Deere one-lunger which was churning an ice-cream machine. A big one. I tried to show some restraint. (See the video of the event here. Mike Gifford explains Continentalís thinking in detail.)

This is another turn of events in keeping with Continentalís vertical view of the world. Two years ago, it started its own simulator-based training facility in an upscale mall and now itís reaching out to the local community, fishing for possible private pilot candidates. Can this work? Itís hard to say, really. Thereís no doubt that there are niches of wealth out there in demographic slices where people can afford to learn to fly. Continental is betting that maybe some of them just never thought of it and the leads the Saturday event generated may very well scare up some business for both Continentalís Zulu†flight school and the school fleet based at Fairhope, soon to be offering Centurion diesel-powered versions of the Cessna 172.

But what I liked about the event Saturday is what it represented: A major GA company investing in its own future by encouraging flight training. Other GA companies have shied away from this sort of direct involvement because, I think, of liability fears. Or maybe thereís just no interest or understanding in the corner office and itís just easier not to do such promotion and just concentrate on shaving costs and building margin, relying on a parasitic business model. Thatíll work for awhile, of course, but eventually, the host will have nothing left to offer.

Continentalís Rhett Ross has said repeatedly that the companyís business view recognizes that the long game requires getting new people into the industry. To me, this looks like one step in the process. And Iím glad to see it, frankly. You should be, too.

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Comments (30)

Learn to fly day? Sorry Paul but it looks like we have a problem here, I do not support your article.

Continental's Motors is owned by Technify Motor (USA) Ltd, a subsidiary of AVIC International, AVIC is owned by the Chinese government. Zulu Flight School has had their first graduate Chinese (foreign student) with a TSA authorization?

Chinese Cyber espionage is a now a recognized threat in several industries including the US civil and military aviation industry. Drones, F35 and F16 were displayed at the Paris airshow, all American design duplicates, all made in China, a country politically and economically at war with the US. Pretending to be a good neighbor, all enthusiastic about a company run by a political and economic threat, is not to my liking. I am not much for an "old-style southern ice cream social" under the state of affairs.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | May 26, 2014 2:20 AM    Report this comment

The China thought crossed my mind for different reasons - namely the same reason that Garmin relocated their corporate offices to the Caribbean - I would surmise that Continental, and AVIC for that matter has very little fear of liability from the student pilot populations because, as I understand our legal environment (and I am no lawyer), it is much harder to sue a foreign entity. Seems to me that our alphabet groups need to lobby to even the tort environment playing field.

At any rate, I strongly believe that Continental's approach to attracting students is correct. At one of the flight schools I've worked for, I made the suggestion to offer a free learn to fly day and was laughed out of the office. Now that I get to call the shots, we have been very successful with young eagles as an advertising tool. Just imagine a car dealership charging you for a test drive and you'll see what I mean.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 26, 2014 8:26 AM    Report this comment

Chinese-owned or not, I think the concept is a good idea, and one that more aviation companies should support.

As for the liability bit, that likely plays a part in why more aren't doing this. I know just at my own airport, there are a number of things not happening out of worry for liability, and it's a shame. But this is an issue larger than just the aviation alphabet groups, and something that needs to be tackled from a national level.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | May 26, 2014 9:27 AM    Report this comment

Having the school and their simulators in a shopping center instead of an airport gets a lot more visibility as well.

Posted by: JOE HOPWOOD | May 26, 2014 11:36 AM    Report this comment

We're really going to look at this and conclude that China is trying to infiltrate...Young Eagles? Come on.

Posted by: Joshua Levinson | May 26, 2014 1:34 PM    Report this comment

Kudos to the effort and intent of Continental to go grass-roots to connect with potential interest in flying with a small, community-oriented presentation. So rare, it's surprising.

The ice cream setup was super cool, and, was that your Cub showing off in the sunlight, Paul? What a ham - it was so flashy you had to wear shades, eh? (-: Way to go always supporting GA.

Any sincere effort is ok by me, I'm sure the attendees had a good time and maybe a few will make the leap and start flying lessons. But things are changing so much in GA, who knows what it will really look like in 10, 20 years. I'll say this much, I'm seriously considering crossing-over (just in my flying) to a powered hang-glider 2-place trike - no ADS-B, no transponder, no hangar, 2-4gph, 500lb usable, couple hundred miles range - and after an intro flight last month at Lake Havasu, I'm nearly hooked...

Happy Memorial Day to all the pilot Vets.

Posted by: David Miller | May 26, 2014 2:42 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Josh Johnson: Fine - but the person who test drives a $30-100+K automobile, in most cases, ends up BUYING one. Then I guess if 100+ "Young Eagles" save up their allowance for a year, they might muster enough $$ to buy an out of annual 150 OR? Another noble cause perhaps?

Frankly, I'm glad my $$ ISN'T invested in ANY flight school.

Posted by: Rod Beck | May 26, 2014 3:31 PM    Report this comment

Is this the beginning of the end of Continental Motors Fairhope's engine manufacturing facility?

Press Releases
- 10.04.2014
- AVIC International Announces the Founding of the Continental Motors Group and Expands Operations Into China
Friedrichshafen, Germany on April 10, 2014 - AVIC International Holding Corporation (AVIC Int'l) today announced that it is consolidating its aircraft engine businesses under a single corporate structure to continue to build a global, customer service oriented one-stop-shop for aircraft engines. The newly established "Continental Motors Group, Ltd.," as a wholly-owned subsidiary of AVIC Int'l, is based in Hong Kong to integrate the marketing, sales, service, manufacturing, and development activities of its aircraft engine businesses. Our goal is to think globally and act locally and operate as one integrated team marketed as one brand.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | May 26, 2014 5:34 PM    Report this comment

Rafael, Fairhope is not a manufacturing facility. That's done up the bay in Mobile. Fairhope is the overhaul and customer service site. The press release you're quoting here is part of a corporate reorganization to simplify the organization of the company.

Likely it will involve some renaming and rebranding, at least on the diesel side. I would expect Fairhope to expand, if Continental gains traction in diesel conversions.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 26, 2014 6:15 PM    Report this comment

Dave, not my Cub. That was a nicely restored post-war model. If I'd have taken ours up there, I'd still be in it going northbound.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 26, 2014 6:27 PM    Report this comment

Hi Rod. It's true that a young eagle might have problems buying their own Cessna 150, however it's not so hard to convince the parents of a junior or senior in high school who has an interest of being a pilot to drop $7500 to help their kid earn a private license. When you figure a semester of college can easily run $15-20k, it's a pretty easy sell. Not to mention their parents often express interest as well. We've had two 16-17 year olds purchase Cessna 150's, the one guy moved up into a larger aircraft 1.5 years later and has started his own non-aviation related business, the other is flying a Citation for a corporation. The most interesting aspect was how getting their licenses early really motivated these particular students to go after their respective careers aggressively.
As far as numbers go, it appears that somewhere around 50 young eagle rides results in a new customer fairly quickly (within a couple weeks) It will be interesting to see what the longer term effect is.
I'm lucky that the local pilot community helps with the rally, but even assuming they didn't, 1 hour of flight time in a 172 will give 12 young eagles rides, or approximately 4 hours of flying nets a student. $200 in fuel to net a customer isn't bad for advertising in my book.
I will be interested to see what Continental nets in new student starts, I'm willing to guess 50 rides to 1 student immediate payoff is close, but we'll see.
Of course there is the retention thing, but that's another topic all together.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 26, 2014 7:04 PM    Report this comment

Paul thanks for the reply and explanation of the Fairhope facility. The point of my complaint is that AVweb has, perhaps indirectly or hastily, promoted the Chinese (AVIC) connection to the American aviation industry. Cirrus, Mooney, Piper, Continental are being sucked up in a "legal" way. No need to Cyber spy here. Just buy the company and the intellectual property will follow. China is buying the result of decades of work and millions of dollars in R&D. The low level aviation industry has gone into an aggressive foreign environment and out of American control. I think of this as a high price to pay for salvation and that it is not necessarily a good thing as I consider this to be a corrupted admission of defeat. Where is our fortitude and determination?
From the China Daily. "Chinese participation in the aviation industry isn't necessarily a bad thing, and the folks in Duluth and Grand Forks could have suffered a worse fate," said Russ Niles, editor in chief of aviation-industry news website AVweb. (Grand Forks, North Dakota, is home to Cirrus' aircraft-design operations.) I have the impression that the same "support" is being presented by the AVWEB INSIDER.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | May 26, 2014 7:24 PM    Report this comment

"I'd rather spend my time "selling" a gent/gal who HAS the ability; $150K+ income and up, a private course, a pre-owned airplane, maintenance, etc"

$150k+/year income? Yikes, that's a bit of an extreme bar, as it doesn't come close to including me (inching past 600 hours)! There are plenty of pilots making barely half that (and less), some of whom I personally know. The real key isn't capturing the people making a ton of money, but rather those with a true interest in aviation, and the means and discipline to keep their other expenses low enough to afford to complete training and then stay in the game.

But how do you find these people, and where will you find them? The fact is, they're all over the place, and you really don't know who they are until you can get them in the door. Yes, the "rich" ones who can afford to own their own plane outright will often stay in the game, but they don't always make the best pilots. And in some cases, it's the ones who are just barely able to comfortably afford to fly that make the best students, since every tick of the Hobbs is money spent, and they'll be motivated to make the most of it.

You do make a good point, though, on the "need" to fly. I believe anyone with the motivation and finances to fly can complete the training, but that alone isn't enough to stay flying. There needs to be some reason to keep spending the money, be it to visit family/friends/clients, a summer home, or even just to spend time with fellow pilots on pancake/hamburger runs.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | May 26, 2014 10:00 PM    Report this comment

Great to see this happening. I reckon a big part of the benefit is in simply demystifying aircraft. Most people don't know a pilot. Most people have never stood next to an aircraft and touched it, especially one that looks like a car with wings. Simply talking to pilots and realising that aside from being smarter and more attractive, they're really just normal people. I met a 747 Captain once and I'll never forget it. He was a slightly built man who met my eye and chatted with interest about what I was doing. He then poked me in the belly and asked me why I wasn't doing his job. He made a big impression upon me. Aviation still seemed hard to be part of but something changed for me. Looking back that chance encounter is what got me started. I hope something similar happens many times over as a result of initiatives like this one.

Posted by: John Hogan | May 27, 2014 12:06 AM    Report this comment

Gary and Rob, maybe the trick is getting a bunch of people on $75k who can afford 1/8th of a condo and 1/8th of a Cirrus? Seems to be the way the world is heading. I-this, wii-that, face-crowd etc. Most non-essential assets spend most of their time empty, moored or tied down ...

Posted by: John Hogan | May 27, 2014 12:12 AM    Report this comment

Rafael, you'd be much better at my job than I can ever hope to be. You could stand toe to toe with those workers in Kerrville and tell them it would be far better for them to remain on furlough indefinitely until some western company decides to invest in Mooney. And if it never happens, well, the principle must be worth something.

You could also thunder from the high ground about how Cirrus should have just let their jet project whither because no non-Chinese company was smart enough to fund it further. Or explain to the 230 workers at the former Thielert why it would be far better for them to remain in bankruptcy indefinitely, with projects in limbo and no hope of resumed development. This is far preferable, I guess, to accepting Chinese capital.

I can't explain these things. I'm just too dense.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 27, 2014 7:37 AM    Report this comment

But Paul, you're not seeing the big picture! The Chinese are going to get all of Mooney's intellectual property. You know, riveting, welding, screws, bolts, all that sort of thing that's key to the manufacture of such a state-of-the-art airframe. And a laminar flow airfoil! That's some cutting edge stuff. We really shouldn't be letting them get their hands on this stuff.

Seriously, China is just getting it's turn to turn some large fortunes into small ones with aviation. Or maybe after 100 years of Americans trying, they'll finally figure out the secret to turning a profit.

Posted by: Joshua Levinson | May 27, 2014 7:58 AM    Report this comment

Don't underestimate yourself Paul, you are no slouch. The industry decline is constant; Cirrus is primarily reliant on the US market therefore contingent on the US economy. The Chinese per capita income is three times lower than that of the US, their work force is three times larger than ours; consequently jobs will be leaving America at a higher rate. Thielert (read AVIC) is not selling to the US Government for security reasons; therefore, Continental (read AVIC) is approaching the GA market under a handicap - a fragile business scenario. In the meantime, there is a massive flow of IP (intellectual property) heading west or east but not staying. Now I ask those who are selling to the only bidder, where is our fortitude and determination?

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | May 27, 2014 8:27 AM    Report this comment

Dah big picture Joshua.

From the GIPC, US Chamber of Commerce.

Why Are Intellectual Property Rights Important? 2009 December 28

Intellectual property (IP) contributes enormously to our national and state economies. Dozens of industries across our economy rely on the adequate enforcement of their patents, trademarks, and copyrights, while consumers use IP to ensure they are purchasing safe, guaranteed products. We believe IP rights are worth protecting, both domestically and abroad. This is why:

* Intellectual Property Creates and Supports High-Paying Jobs
* IP-intensive industries employ over 55 million Americans, and hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
* Jobs in IP-intensive industries are expected to grow faster over the next decade than the national average.
*The average worker in an IP-intensive industry earned about 30% more than his counterpart in a non-IP industry
*The average salary in IP-intensive industries pay $50,576 per worker compared to the national of $38,768.

Intellectual Property Drives Economic Growth and Competitiveness

*America's IP is worth $5.8 trillion, more than the nominal GDP of any other country in the world.
*IP-intensive industries account for over 1/3- or 38%- of total U.S. GDP.
*These industries also have 72.5% higher output per worker than the national average, valued at $136,556 per worker.
*IP accounts for 74% of all U.S. exports- which amounts to nearly $1 trillion.

The direct and indirect economic impacts of innovation are overwhelming, acounting for more than 40% of U.S. economic growth and employment.

Strong and Enforced Intellectual Property Rights Protect Consumers and Families

*Strong IP rights help consumers make an educated choice about the safety, reliability, and effectiveness of their purchases.
*Enforced IP rights ensure products are authentic, and of the high-quality that consumers recognize and expect.
*IP rights foster the confidence and ease of mind that consumers demand and markets rely on.

Intellectual Property Helps Generate Breakthrough Solutions to Global Challenges

*Nearly all of the 300 products on the World Health Organization's Essential Drug List, which are critical to saving or improving people's lives around the globe, came from the R&D-intensive pharmaceutical industry that depends on patent protections.
*Innovative agricultural companies are creating new products to help farmers produce more and better products for the world's hungry while reducing the environmental impact of agriculture.
IP-driven discoveries in alternative energy and green technologies will help improve energy security and address climate change.

Intellectual Property Rights Encourage Innovation and Reward Entrepreneurs

*Risk and occasional failure are the lifeblood of the innovation economy. IP rights incentivize entrepreneurs to keep pushing for new advances in the face of adversity.
*IP rights facilitate the free flow of information by sharing the protected know-how critical to the original, patented invention. In turn, this process leads to new innovations and improvements on existing ones.
*American's Founding Fathers so recognized the importance of innovation and ensured that strong IP rights for authors and inventors are protected in the U.S. Constitution, thus making America the world's entrepreneural leader-- a fact borne out by the overwhelming number of patents, copyrights and trademarks filed by the U.S. annually.

Bringing all of these important and diverse points together is the fact that protecting IP is a non-partisan issue that is shared by a broad coalition of interests. These rights are embraced by all sectors of industry--small, medium and large companies alike--and by labor organizations, consumer groups, and other trade associations we bring together.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | May 27, 2014 9:42 AM    Report this comment

The original intent of the founders was to establish a patent system whereby inventors would be incentivized to produce new technology so that the society as a whole would benefit. The way you do that is to harness the natural inclinations of man by offering him exclusive rights to the idea for approximately 20 years.

But, the inventor's importance pales in comparison to the entertainer; did you know that copyrights last for not merely 20 years, but for 90 years after the death of the artist! And they cost virtually nothing to obtain (versus tens of thousands for a patent). So, toss that slide rule aside and start writing fluff for the "bread and circuses" industry, that's what is REALLY important!

Posted by: A Richie | May 27, 2014 11:18 AM    Report this comment

Raf, you're getting tangled up here in this intellectual property issue. It's a red herring. While Cirrus, Continental and the former Thielert may have some of their products and processes patented, the real value is in the type certificates, the physical plants and the skill and experience base.

If intellectual property were a player, Superior and ECI couldn't clone and sell Lycoming engines, nor could they build identical parts for those engines. In that case, the PMA serves as the barrier. They're expensive to get, as are type certs.

The real point you're missing is the flow in the option direction--capital into these businesses from China. These companies need capital to upgrade plant, launch new products and continue R&D. In the end, they are still capital-intensive small businesses with high costs and thin margins.

We can build a nice little monument to patriotic principle and declare Chinese money to be a bad thing and the flowers at the foot of that monument will be U.S. workers on furlough or just flat out of work. The capital is not going to come from western sources. It is, at least for now, coming from China.

Although we might wish it to be different, it is not. Neither Continental nor Cirrus should apologize for this. Nor will I. It's just business in a global market.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 27, 2014 12:25 PM    Report this comment

Paul; "Wright-ON"! Bu$$ine$$ is simply about low risk/investment ($$$$) and HIGH return, be it China or Mars, for that matter. How many of US are driving Jap, Korean, or German cars? Me for one!

Posted by: Rod Beck | May 27, 2014 1:00 PM    Report this comment

Apology? I am urging that we revitalize our industry with our capital investments and purchases and stop debasing America's business integrity by justifying China's incredible influence in our affairs.

Your comment "We can build a nice little monument to patriotic principle and declare..." is fatalistic. We have the means to revitalize the industry without what you seem to consider Chinese donations. This is where the American aviation industry should meet and resolve. To do this we need guts and intelligent action, there is no room for wimpy patronizing attitudes.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | May 27, 2014 1:47 PM    Report this comment


Intelligent action? Based on 100 years of history, when has investing in aviation EVER been an "intelligent action?"

Posted by: Joshua Levinson | May 27, 2014 2:16 PM    Report this comment

Joshua, ask the Chinese.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | May 27, 2014 2:48 PM    Report this comment

We're about two years away from the first customer deliveries of what arguably will be the most important airplane since the Lear 23. Without Chinese money, Cirrus wouldn't be able to make that happen. They tried to attract other capital - it didn't work.

The lion's share of the growth in the next 50 years will be in Asia and Africa. Boeing, Airbus, and Bombardier know this. Gulfstream and Dassault know this. Cirrus, Cessna, and Piper know this. At the lower end of the product range, the keys to GA survival and growth will be kerosene-burning powerplants and fully-autonomous vehicle control systems. Even I know that.

Besides, an airplane's contributions to humanity's cause don't end the day the vehicle rolls out through a manufacturer's doors. Those contributions are just getting started, and over the live of the vehicle, the purchase price is a drop in the bucket of the vehicle's expenses - and earnings.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | May 27, 2014 3:00 PM    Report this comment

The significant aviation market, as weak as it stands, is right here in the US, the Chinese know that. Africa and Asia are slowly emerging. Here are some statistics for your information. The Chinese are in for the very long haul (compressed by their massive grab) and what region of Africa are we talking about here?

China Issues Civil Aviation Statistics for 2011 By Joy Wong, | Dec. 29, 2011

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) issued the civil aviation statistics for 2011. The most important figures are recorded as follows:

46 Carriers: China has a total of 46 airline companies at the end of 2011, an increase of 3 over last year. The number of air cargo carriers remains 11, the same as the previous year.

180 Civil Airports: China has 180 airports as of the end of 2011, up from 175 in 2010. The 5 new airports are Shigatse Peace Airport, Arxan Airport, Jinchang Airport, Zhangye Ganzhou Airport and Bayannur Airport.

455,000 Hours: General aviation has witnessed rapid development in 2011, with the annual general aviation flight hours expected to reach 455,000 hours, up 16.3 percent over last year, including a 16.9 percent growth of the flight hours for production operation.

1,745 Aircraft: As of the end of November this year, China's registered commercial transport aircraft reached up to 1,745, a net increase of 148 from the previous year; general aviation aircraft up to 1,124, an increase of 114.

69 Billion Yuan: China's civil aviation industry has invested 69 billion yuan in fixed assets in 2011, 46 billion yuan of which invested in airport construction, 1.8 billion yuan in air traffic control system construction.

27,569 Pilots: As of the end of November this year, China has 27,569 registered pilots working in the industry including 1,716 foreign pilots, an increase of 3,293 from the end of 2010.

1.2 Million Industry Practitioners: China has an estimated 1.2 million civil aviation practitioners at the end of 2011, with 597,000 directly involved in the industry operations.

114 Countries: Up to now, China has signed bilateral agreement for air transport with a total of 114 countries/territories, adding a new one in 2011.

140 Cities: Domestic carriers have launched scheduled flights to 140 cities in 60 countries across the world. The number of Chinese mainland cities operating scheduled flights to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are 43, 10 and 41 respectively. Cross-strait flights between Taiwan and mainland China have increased to 558 from 370 a year earlier.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | May 27, 2014 4:03 PM    Report this comment

Hmm, seems we're looking at a bit of a hijacked thread here - I thought we were debating the merits of a learn to fly day.

I have a couple thoughts - the flight school "expert" who's glad he doesn't have interest in a flight school and wants a donation for his insight really made my day! Go give 1000 hours dual instruction then we will have something to talk about.

Secondly, the idea that a 1930's era piston aircraft engine is 'intellectual property' and threatening the security of the United States - seriously guys? Cruise missile engines, yes, but piston aircraft engines??? I honestly wish that Continental remained American owned, however I'd much rather Continental be a viable company owned by AVIC than to be insolvent. I have tried getting parts for orphaned aircraft - not fun. Those in the business know what I mean.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 27, 2014 6:50 PM    Report this comment

Come on guys, give it a rest or go outside

Posted by: Richard Montague | May 28, 2014 7:12 AM    Report this comment

Please continue this discussion via personal emails, Rod and Josh. We're way off track here and the civility factor is coming into play.

Posted by: Russ Niles | May 28, 2014 1:57 PM    Report this comment

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