Is The Icon A5 Aviation's iPad?

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Last week, when AVweb Editor-in-Chief Russ Niles phoned me about Icon’s breaking announcement of its retrenchment, he happened to mention he had been reading Walter Isaacson’s bio of Steve Jobs and … ”Stop right there,” I said, “I know where you’re going and I already have that blog written." And so I did, displaced by a few days by Icon’s newsier announcement.

The connection here will be obvious; the parallels are unmistakable. In our own little backwater of an industry, Icon’s audacious A5 has much in common, at least on the surface, with the launch of the iPad six years ago. Steve Jobs had a vision few could see and it was to produce this handheld tablet thingie running simple, specialized apps to do things none of us realized needed doing. It wasn’t, by any means, the first tablet computer and maybe not even the best one. Anyone with passing knowledge of tech will recall that Microsoft introduced one in 2000 and who could forget Apple’s own Newton, the Palm Pilot and the HP iPAQ to name a few of what became known as PDAs or personal digital assistants, a term now banished to the etymological scrap heap right next to VLJ. The iPad soared because of a potent combination of a competent, if not revolutionary, product, masterful promotion and perfect timing. It happened to work well, too.

Similarly, the A5 is not a reinvention of the airplane, but a blending of (apparently) uncompromised technical development and relentless promotion centered not just on the airplane nor even on flying, but the “experience” of the machine and the activity in a narrow recreational setting: flying off lakes and rivers and perhaps towing the thing back to your garage or camping on a beach somewhere. Icon shrewdly focused its early promotion on the large-circulation general press, not the potentially critical aviation press. Not that it need have worried, given the favorable reports the A5 has enjoyed.

The iPad comparison frays when you examine Icon’s expectations in the hard light of a few numbers. Icon’s Kirk Hawkins has said the company intends to “democratize” aviation and while I’m not certain I can explain what that means, I think it means—as he has said in other words—that the airplane and the company’s sales efforts will reset GA, stimulating anemic sales and expanding the industry.

It's possible to examine the claim if you make some reasonable assumptions based on what we think we know about how airplane manufacturing works. Icon says it has 1850 A5s in the order book and said last week that despite that, it’s not ready for high-volume serial production. As I mentioned in last week’s blog, Cirrus found itself in the same place around 1999. It took the company four years to reach production of 400 airplanes a year. It eventually reached a peak of 721 in 2006. The A5 is a simpler airplane, so let’s assume it reaches 400 units a year in three years time. By then—say 2020 or 2021—it will have manufactured about 700 airplanes and if some sort of frenzied critical mass is thus reached and the world hungers for light sport amphibians, you can imagine, say, 2500 A5s—or its follow-on variant—by 2025.

Does that qualify as a market reset? Does it reach disruptive levels? That depends on how you define those terms, but applying the iPad metric, I’d say probably not. Three years after its introduction, Apple sold 22 million iPads in a single quarter and it owned more than 60 percent of a market it almost invented. If Icon delivers 300 to 400 airplanes a year into a market that’s currently building about 1000 piston aircraft a year, that’s a 40 percent market expansion, assuming the A5 does indeed bring in new participants and doesn’t cannibalize sales from other channels. I’d call that impressive growth. In fact, if Icon sells just a third of what it’s claiming, I wouldn’t quibble about calling it a reset, but I’d say by any measure, that’s still resounding growth in an industry that’s been flat or declining slightly quarter after quarter. Never say never.

But first, it has to get through the rocky patch it admitted to last week. It has to figure out efficient serial production and convince both buyer/depositors and investors to stay the course while it does this. That’s no mean feat and, as I’ve said before, it puts depositors in the unique position of sharing the risk just for the privilege of owning a cool airplane. Call me crazy, but I’ve never seen the sense of this.

As far as market sustainability, I doubt if anyone really knows this. The A5 is still a $250,000 recreational toy and while there’s real wealth in this country and throughout the world, that price tag is still $70,000 more than the median price of a house in the U.S.

What made the iPad such a profit machine was that it was a device that had improved performance over the competition in a precious, pretty package and Apple was able to charge usurious prices for it because enough people believed it was better enough to justify the price, Android users excepted.

Will the A5 be perceived similarly? Since I haven’t flown it, I can’t comment directly but I phoned a fellow journalist friend whom I trust and who has flown it and asked him directly if it’s really that good. He assured me that it was and there flowed forth a five-minute soliloquy of superlatives that ended with me surrendering that the defense so stipulates. Then I asked if he thought it was enough better than competing airplanes to sustain the kind of market expansion I’ve described above. In other words, even if it’s good, is it potentially disruptively good? Once the glow of initial promotion wears off, will buyers sense in the A5 something they’ve never seen before and lust for it? He had no opinion and, actually, neither do I, immersed as I am in writing the obits of so many failed airplane projects.

Is it possible to cheer for such a project to succeed while still maintaining clear-eyed, non-emotional neutrality? I think it is. It’s in everyone’s interest for Icon to have 2500 new airplanes out there that don’t exist now. You can’t help but admire the cheekiness of the entire enterprise. All we can do is watch and wait to see if it happens.

Comments (44)

Oh, the humanity. Or better yet. Oh, are you kidding me? The Icon A5 is more like oblique toast rather than parallel to the iPad. Come on Paul. May Larry or Jim move out of the country if you ever get to test drive the A5.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | June 1, 2016 2:20 AM    Report this comment

If nothing else, Icon is a great example of how to market an airplane to an audience outside the traditional GA pilot circles, and on a related note, how to incorporate modern styling into an airplane (again, for purposes of driving sales). I don't know about the quality of the engineering or the industrial planning, but present and future manufacturers should take note--if we want GA to do anything other than die a slow death, we're going to have to change how we market and promote flying. Icon appears to be on the right path there.

Posted by: Robert Gatlin-Martin | June 1, 2016 5:00 AM    Report this comment

You can buy one heck of a boat for $250,000.00. It will sleep 8 or more and you can take delivery before your kids are all grown up and off to college. Oh, I forgot, it won't fly.

Posted by: Thomas Cooke | June 1, 2016 6:07 AM    Report this comment

I don't know what was written in that book you read, Paul, but I can tell you one thing for sure ... there ain't no way that you can compare an iPad to an Icon. HEY! ... maybe if they rename it an iCon?

Icon is following the same playbook as a certain political figure, these days. Why pay for advertising when you can get it for free by careful marketing ploys toward the unsuspecting non-aviation public using outrageous claims and slick kiosks followed by onerous contract requirements and so on when you figure out you can't deliver on your production promises. The blogosphere will take care of the rest.

Comparing something nipping at a grand for an iPad -- that I can have instant gratification with and has a useful purpose in many other facets of my daily life -- vs a quarter of a million and having to wait years so that once in a while I can have a fancy flying jet ski isn't even in the same solar system. An iPad is a techie thing which -- in some cases, aviation included -- can actually give great performance while simultaneously saving money (a poor man's glass panel). An iCon will never be anything but a toy for people with more money than sense. It is NOT a useful airplane even with it's LSA weight accomodation. I had a boat once ... but I came to MY senses on my second best boat owning day.

Cessna has sold ~40K Skyhawks over now 60+ years for a reason ... much the same as the iPad. Comparing those two items would be closer to reality. IF someone could figure out a way to make an updated Skyhawk performance and sized airplane at a reasonable price again, THEN we could compare a red delicious to a rome. Years from now, we'll see what few Icon A5's are produced in museums ... right next to BD-5's and Skycatchers. We may even see a few used for wind direction indicators ... like the BD-5 on a pole at L05. I wish I could envision otherwise but Icon committed corporate suicide with its recent shenanigans. Cirrus never did that.

Everyone remembers the BD-5 for a reason. Jim Bede was gonna have one in everyone's garage at a starting price of $2K -- he said so in Popular Mechanics. He, too, came up with an idea that stirred the masses but proved that there is a major difference between marketing and production and sustainable sales volumes. IF Rotax engines had then existed, maybe it would have gone differently but ... as you say ... timing is everything !! BTW: Does anyone have a spare Hirth?

And, RAF, I'm already hiding from the DAB epaulet wearers in the north woods :-) Do I have to go to Canada, too?

Posted by: Larry Stencel | June 1, 2016 7:47 AM    Report this comment

"He assured me that it was and there flowed forth a five-minute soliloquy of superlatives that ended with me surrendering that the defense so stipulates." -Great sentence.

Posted by: JOHN EWALD | June 1, 2016 8:21 AM    Report this comment

"I don't know what was written in that book you read, Paul, but I can tell you one thing for sure ... there ain't no way that you can compare an iPad to an Icon."

Maybe you should actually read the book? Or would that be too radical?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 1, 2016 9:25 AM    Report this comment

On my wall I have a large framed advertisement from 1945 featuring the Goodyear Duck. It's a beautiful painting showing an enthusiastic group of three people pulled up on a remote beach in the North Woods in an amphibious airplane that looks a lot like a progenitor to the Lake Buccaneer. They have unloaded copious amounts of gear on the beach including fishing rods, heavy metal coolers, lanterns, tents, and miscellaneous camping gear (by the way did anybody check weight and balance?). Smiles abound on the sandy beach as a blue sky arches overhead framed by the water and the surrounding stands of magnificent evergreens. It's everyman's airplane for the ultimate in recreational use. I remain mesmerized by this dreamy scene every time I walk by it.

After the initial GA-1 Duck prototype was built in 1944, Goodyear built 18 GA-2 versions not for sale, but to loan to dealers across the country as demonstrator aircraft. They obtained type certificates and prepared to build a Duck for the mass market. In the end, they could not make production cost targets to meet consumer expectations and eventually shut the project down (but not before attempting to sell a prototype 4-seat version to the military who was uninterested). Not a single Duck was ever sold to the public. According to Peter Bowers, the 18-aircraft demo fleet was returned to Goodyear and scrapped... the sole survivor, the 4-seat military prototype, remains in a museum today.

In 2087, somebody will have the Icon A5 ad framed on their wall and look at it wistfully as they walk by every day...

Posted by: A Richie | June 1, 2016 9:25 AM    Report this comment

The iPad (or iPhone for that matter) did not emerge magically on one day in 2010. It was the somewhat iterative result of many other products (iPhone, iPod, Palm, Newton, etc.).

And the Icon is the iterative result of a lot of single-hull amphibs, from what I've seen. I'd compare them more to Cirrus in terms of marketing or, as you did, for their quality decisions.

If Icon has one genius maniac with a taste for design at the helm then I'll cede part of your point. I think it's a pretty thing with no more utility than a SeaRey which can be had for 1/3 the price and no lawyers.

Posted by: neil cormia | June 1, 2016 10:11 AM    Report this comment

"...with no more utility than a SeaRey which can be had for 1/3 the price and no lawyers." Yes sir, Let it all hang out! Best comment thus far.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | June 1, 2016 10:33 AM    Report this comment

"I think it's a pretty thing with no more utility than a SeaRey which can be had for 1/3 the price and no lawyers."

And that's exactly the pivot point. Searey is about half the price, actually. And there's the SuperPetrel, another competent design that's fun to fly. Does a would-be buyer fly both and say I gotta have the A5 or conclude the Searey is just as good for less dough?

Check back in two years, I guess.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 1, 2016 10:35 AM    Report this comment

AVWEB--WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH THE REAL PAUL BERTORELLI, AND WHO IS GHOST-WRITING HIS COLUMN? I can't believe this was actually written by Paul--he is too much of an aviation agnostic to be taken in by hype.

Larry--you beat me to the BD-5 reference. I need to start reading this blog from home in the morning, instead of waiting until I get to the airport!

Those of us who have been "around the patch" for more than a few decades have seen this before. While the aviation (and non-aviation) press has swooned over "the next big thing" in aviation--Jim Bede's dream is not the only example. Recall that Ercoupes were sold at Macy's department store--the skies were to be filled with the "everyman's airplane." The cost of the initial Cub was set at $1300--as an engineer, Taylor knew that was unsustainable, and that was part of the the parting of the ways with Piper (the cost of new Cubs had to be raised to a more realistic $2195). Piper didn't learn its lesson, and tried the unrealistic promise again in $1961 with a $4995 price tag on a new Piper Colt. A decade later, American Champion was also going to cause "market disruption" with their 2-cylinderFranklin-powered version of the old Champ--also priced at $4995. Though they fielded over 10,000 inquiries, only 72 were produced--and almost every one of those were converted to 4-cylinder engines. Even the large aircraft companies can be victims of their own hype. Republic Aircraft was going to produce "5000 Seabee's per year"--that didn't happen, and at $3500 per copy, they lost money on every one. North American was similarly going to sell thousands of Navions--but like Republic, also lost money on every one.

BD-5s, VLJs, flying cars, Piper Colt's, Cheap Champs, and an Ercoupe sold in department stores. Lessons learned? 1. While hype may generate a lot of buzz--it doesn't necessarily translate into sales. 2. While the aviation public may SAY that they want a certain product at a certain price--that doesn't necessarily translate into sales, either. It's all hype--and that isn't good for the industry.

Back to the I-pad/I-con comparison--the genius of the I-pad is that it is SIMPLE--it is AFFORDABLE--it offers both FUN and UTILITY, and most of all, the I-pad becomes only a vehicle that OTHER COMPANIES can find use for to make it even BETTER for the user. The I-con offers none of these traits.

Larry and Raf--I'm headed to the far north of Canada in a couple of weeks--150 miles from the nearest road. The trip is only supposed to be for a couple of weeks, but it would be tempting to stay there until December. It may be cold up there, but it may be better than the "Hotter than Hades" political climate of the coming few months! (laugh)

Posted by: jim hanson | June 1, 2016 10:42 AM    Report this comment

Jim, I will flatly reject your charge of being taken in by the hype. I am simply adopting the view that it's fair to standby and let a success in general aviation happen if indeed it can happen.

I notice in this industry a constant pattern of complaint and reverential, eye-glazing paens to the past, the Cub, the Champs, the Skyhawks and a wistful hope for a return to 1970. That past is done. It's never coming back. Affordable airplanes are part of that past. New ones are now playthings for the well-off, the wealthy and the super wealthy.

So there is some kind of future for general aviation in new airplanes and Icon is trying to paint one version of it.They may succeed brilliantly or fail miserably or something in between. But the simple reality is this: here's a company that's trying something that's incrementally new and different. It's an effort to grow the industry.

For the life of me, I can't see why anyone would not see this success as being desirable. While I'm not going to march at the head of the promotional parade twirling the baton, I am similarly not going to stand on the sidelines throwing s&^t just to maintain my reputation as a cynic.

If I had a better idea for industry growth, I would do that, however. But I don't, so I won't. I haven't seen any other better ideas, either. The $60,000 new Skyhawk that goes 200 knots or even the continued manufacture of a 50-year-old design is not one of them, either. We should all wean ourselves from the pathetic grieving about a lost past and see if there some's glimmer of a future.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 1, 2016 11:07 AM    Report this comment

Paul--agree on the "lost past"--and that's the point.--all of these overhyped airplanes not only didn't live up to their promise--but weren't real in the first place--the manufacturers lost money on every one--from the Ercoupe to the Eclipse.

While most of the aviation press joins the parade of hype on new products, Aviation Consumer and Avweb have taken a different approach--looking beyond the hype for the actual attributes of the product. In the case of I-Con, so far it has been more hype than reality.

You'll never find me advocating for unrealistically low priced airplanes--we need to take those lessons of unrealistic low prices from the past--that was the purpose of my post.

"I can't see why anyone would not see this success as being desirable"--I don't think any of us are not wishing them well, only that this product is not likely to be a "game-changer". By AvWeb's own poll, over half of the people responding to the level of interest have no level of interest in the product.

Even your I-Con reporting friend was cynical--though he loved the product. As you wrote, "He had no opinion and, actually, neither do I, immersed as I am in writing the obits of so many failed airplane projects" and "All we can do is wait and see if it happens." In this case, a $250,000 new airplane from a new airplane company is likely not to happen. Not wishing them ill will, but if an aviation neophyte came to me and asked "Do you think I should buy one of these?"--I would have to counsel against it--as I'm sure most readers would. That's not being a cynic--that's recognizing reality.

Agree that a "disruptive" event needs to take place to reignite aviation. In the past, it was the ascension of monoplanes over biplanes--the invention of high-powered engines, and the jet engine that separated the old from the new. I don't see that quantum leap in technology on the horizon--but not all disruptive change needs to come from the engineering side. Over-regulation has caused aviation to be over-priced compared to other industries, whether in certification, operation, or manufacturing. That same regulatory pen can be used to DE-regulate to open up technology and manufacturing. Consider the medical reform initiatives--and the almost light-speed (for this industry) change of using non-certified avionics in certified aircraft. The kit manufacturers exist primarily to circumvent the regulation that has strangled the manufacturers--given the choice of a reasonable cost manufactured aircraft and one you have to build yourself--most would opt for the completed aircraft. Icon itself is an example of innovation by elimination of regulation, with their exemption for safety features.

Elimination of over-regulation is ITSELF an innovation and a breakthrough, and is far faster, cheaper, and more likely to be effective than a new disruptive technology.

Posted by: jim hanson | June 1, 2016 12:05 PM    Report this comment

"By AvWeb's own poll, over half of the people responding to the level of interest have no level of interest in the product."

That may also be irrelevant, since I don't believe Icon is marketing to the traditional group of pilots (i.e. us). And that makes sense if you think about it, too, because the group of people that have any desire to become a pilot for the sake of flying appears to be getting smaller, so the only way to grow the pilot population is to build aircraft and market to a different group with different needs and wants.

I personally know a few people that could easily afford flight training and even have a small desire to do so, but they don't see the time cost as worth the effort. That same money could go toward buying a track car (for example) and even racing it competitively for a much smaller investment in time and red tape.

I think even more so than the cost of aircraft, what is really holding people back from entering aviation is the red tape (mainly with regards to medical certification, but also learning all the regulations as well) and the time investment. The sport pilot certificate was a good attempt at reducing the training requirements, but I think the aircraft themselves weren't really up to the challenge. The A5 at least has been designed to be virtually stall- and spin-proof and is a good leap forward. But I think the real innovation will come when the aircraft is mostly automated so "flight training" can be reduced to perhaps a 3-5 day course (much like amateur racing is these days).

Posted by: Gary Baluha | June 1, 2016 12:39 PM    Report this comment

Why would you counsel against it? If the buyer has the money and likes the airplane, what reason is there for you to say don't buy it? Would you haul him through the fields of past failures and say, these guys couldn't do it and so no one can?

The only reason I'd counsel not to buy is on a deposit basis. Early buyers now are faced with the prospect of paying a lot of money to a company that may not survive for an airplane they may never get. If the company appears viable, buying from them is not an irrational act...if you have the money. This is why I dislike the deposit/position holder approach.

The point to be made here is that AVweb's audience is not the target audience for this airplane because it's composed of people spring loaded to resist change and label as overhyped fraud anything that departs from the old ways. We've become so wedded to the past that we can't let it loose. So I'm not surprised at the reaction.

So here's a company, rightly or wrongly, realistically or unrealistically, trying to do something different and you're counseling would be buyers to run away? No wonder we're f&^$d. I think Icon has done some things drastically wrong, to be sure. But I'm still waiting for a better idea other than carping about how it used to be.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 1, 2016 12:49 PM    Report this comment

Jim, add one more to your list; in 1994, for a limited time you could buy a factory-new 160hp Maule (with VFR gauges and no frills) for a mere $44k fly-away price from the factory in Moultrie GA. And it was zero-time, Brand-spanking-new. A family friend bought one; I would have bought one too if I hadn't just spent 20k on a road vehicle. What a deal!

OK Paul, here's to Icon wildly succeeding beyond all expectations in spite of all the headwinds from the curmudgeons (myself included!) I'm watching and waiting.

Posted by: A Richie | June 1, 2016 1:54 PM    Report this comment

Jim ... my point, as well. Like you, I don't wish iCon to fail but -- judging by past history of similar companies -- they sure are paving the parallel runway to ruin nicely. They couldn't do better if they tried.

As you said, those of us who have been around this game for a while have seen this story replayed ... time after time. Once in a while -- and, as Paul said ... Cirrus might be a positive example -- it'd be nice to have something the aviation masses could hang their hat on AND make a positive impact on things within GA.

Between companies that present us with still more "koolaid" to drink and the boys on Independence Ave, we don't need no more stinkin' help. What we need is a reasonably priced airplane with reasonable performance and a bureaucratic environment which fosters growth for GA. Is that too much to ask? I guess -- maybe -- it is? If that's the case, then maybe it's time for me to face my own reality and get ready to hang up my headsets and join the 10K pilots who are going away annually, myself. I'd bet that I ain't the only one here who feels that way?

Whether you're an eternal aviation optimist OR pessimist, the facts are the facts -- aka reality. NO amount of either end of that spectrum is gonna make a difference. If a reader were to go to the other daily online aviation blog today, you'd find an entirely different viewpoint on Icon. Here, it's noticeably optimistic; there, it's overly pessimistic (but in MY mind, realistic). Icon has been blabbing about what it was going to do for 10 years, they've been paying for royal kiosks at Airventure and Sun-N-Fun and taking deposits like mad. They've been taking on investors to the tune of millions of $$, as well. It's time to produce a coherent plan to start producing airplanes in reasonable numbers to satisfy their clients and investors or shut up and go away. Companies like this are beginning to royally bore me! We don't need any more aviation dreamers who make excuses; we need people who can produce what they promised ... on time and on budget.

I would liken the mood of the senior GA subset of the population as being very similar to the mood of the Country vis-a-vis politics right now. People are just plain tired of business as usual. Just last PM I was in my hangar reviving my 41 and 49 year old airplanes after a winters hibernation and wishing there was a way to replace two with one new one ... but I can't ... for what I could get for two decent airplanes, I'd have only 10% of what I need. Sumting wong here, boys.

On your April 26 blog about 'Brand Identity,' you wrote, "Of course, as a professional crank, I am predisposed to see through all the hype that often puffs up "branding" like an overinflated bus tire and to merely ask if the company delivers a good product and treats its customers right." I think Jim was trying to tell you that you didn't do that today, Paul. Wishing Icon well ain't gonna make 'em well.

I wish I could go with you, Jim ... your plan sounds mighty tempting. Do they have beer there? :-)

Posted by: Larry Stencel | June 1, 2016 2:00 PM    Report this comment

I'm not "carping about the way it used to be." A re-read will show that I'm wary of all of the irrational claims and broken promises of startup aviation companies. Did any of us buy Terrafugia stock, or take a buyers position on their flying car?

Note that I mentioned "Aviation Neophyte" as the prospective buyer--that would be someone unaware of the high failure rate of companies trying to hype a new product--a company with no demonstrated capacity to deliver the product--a product without extensive use history--a product that may have a difficult time being resold due to a restrictive covenant in the sales contract--an aircraft that is built of parts unique to that aircraft (and that if it goes under, will be difficult at best to remain airworthy). Given those conditions, how many people would even INVEST in such a company, let alone their product?

Even YOU expressed a degree of skepticism, with " it puts depositors in the unique position of sharing the risk just for the privilege of owning a cool airplane. Call me crazy, but I've never seen the sense of this" abd "All we can do is watch and wait to see if it happens." Hardly ringing endorsements.

"The only reason I'd counsel not to buy is on a deposit basis". We agree on that point--yet ICon is pitching its product towards aviation neophytes that AREN'T aware of the issues in bringing a new airplane to market. The "deposit basis" is the ONLY way you can buy that airplane--so I guess that you too would counsel against it.

It's been said "Don't buy the first (fill in the blank here) serial numbers of any new airplane." I agree--especially from a company with no track record in producing those airplanes. I too wish them well, but I don't think you'll see many people experienced in the aviation business standing in line to offer deposits--at least until the first couple of hundred airplanes are actually delivered.

Posted by: jim hanson | June 1, 2016 2:13 PM    Report this comment

I think the number of consumers that can and actually will pay $250,000 for an amphibious airplane (especially those that don't yet have a PPL or SPL) is quite limited. Assuming that Icon can actually start delivering some planes in 2017, even if they can make 400 per year starting in 3 years as Paul suggests, that still puts them out to 2022 or thereabouts before all 1850 position holders get their aircraft ... and a very long wait for a new customer. Just ask the Cirrus Visionjet position holders who have waited something like 10 years ... and they have a very loyal customer base mostly already flying their aircraft.

There are other options (e.g., the Searay mentioned above) and the upcoming Vickers Wave (still a concept but also an innovative and unique-looking aircraft). Right now, those position holders are essentially 1850 little unsecured lenders who are hoping things work out, right after Icon went to its equity investors for more money (to do production) and actually laid off some of its staff.

I think the jury is definitely out on this project. Do I want them to succeed? Absolutely - a very good thing for general aviation, because the purchaser who buys his Icon as his/her first airplane and loves it, is almost certain to buy another one! Do I think they will succeed? I really don't know ... delivering a few hundred aircraft may or may not qualify as much as longevity, airframe performance and reliability, etc.

It will be an interesting journey that's for sure!

Posted by: Joel Mack | June 1, 2016 2:14 PM    Report this comment

Larry--"I wish I could go with you, Jim ... your plan sounds mighty tempting. Do they have beer there? :-)"

Yeah, but it's LaBatts and Molson. Not a lot of microbrews in Canada, though there IS an active "U-Brew" industry to beat the Canadian "Sin Tax" used to pay for their health care system. You go into a store (usually a converted laundry or gas station)--they measure out the ingredients--you pitch them into the brew kettle, and brew the beer. Come back 10 days later and bottle it. The cost is about 1/4 the cost of the beer with the government tax on it.

It's kind of like homebuilding an aircraft from a kit--you have to go to extraordinary measures to get government out of the equation, keep the cost down, and get what you want.

That's a long way around to connect beer with aviation! (laugh)

Posted by: jim hanson | June 1, 2016 2:27 PM    Report this comment

"The point to be made here is that AVweb's audience is not the target audience for this airplane because it's composed of people spring loaded to resist change and label as overhyped fraud anything that departs from the old ways. We've become so wedded to the past that we can't let it loose. So I'm not surprised at the reaction."

Rationalization 101

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | June 1, 2016 2:35 PM    Report this comment

"Rationalization 101"

The hell it is. It's wise observation. And the defensive responses to being called out on the subject only prove today's obsessive climate of self-assertion, blocking any ability to even consider that one could still be a bit short of absolute all-knowingness about life.

I'll never be able to afford one, but anyone who wants one based on whatever knowledge level they have in aviation should be encouraged to look into it.

Posted by: Dave Miller | June 1, 2016 3:15 PM    Report this comment

AVweb's "audience" is a cross section of qualified and apprentice aeronauts, a base market to be well-thought-out by all aircraft and equipment manufacturers as well as those in the service business. It is senseless to exclude anyone or arrogantly ignore or deny a potential customer arena. It's my opinion that most comments target against what appears to be seemingly orchestrated hype and claims.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | June 1, 2016 4:17 PM    Report this comment

No, no ringing endorsement from me because I think the challenges are daunting. What I'm trying to avoid is to assume that Icon can't succeed because no one in the past has. I can't think of any better way to build a self-defeating attempt at progress.

And I keep asking for better ideas and not getting them. Let me know if you have one.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 1, 2016 4:32 PM    Report this comment

In manufacturing the devil is in the details. Icon has come face to face with the devil. The question is who will win?

Posted by: Leo LeBoeuf | June 1, 2016 6:12 PM    Report this comment

Paul--nobody is being self-defeating--only recognizing the reality that this likely isn't the answer. If you took this proposal to an investment house, would they buy into it? Another option--if you took this to a Las Vegas bookmaker, what odds do you think they would give? Even better--under what conditions would YOU invest in this firm?

Better options? There is no "magic bullet" to cure this malaise. No "one big program." It isn't Young Eagles--it isn't flying clubs--it isn't one single manufacturer--it isn't a government program--it isn't a game-changing aeronautical breakthrough--and it isn't an unproven $250,000 sport aircraft.

What it COULD be is a sea change in the regulatory climate by government--previously mentioned. There seems to be a glimmer of hope there--the FAA finally recognizing that they have effectively killed off their reason for existing. There is a REASON that most of the innovation and new designs now come from Europe (or other countries) rather than "the airplane capital of the world." We got into this situation through the over-use of the regulatory pen--and that same pen can be used to help restore GA.

Like any good business, we need to stop doing what DOESN'T work, and concentrate on what DOES work. Recall that I mentioned that almost all of the decline in the number of pilot certificates were "Private Pilot, airplane single-engine land." The FUN part of flying is doing OK compared to 10 years ago--and the number of pro-pilot Commercial and ATP certificates is holding its own. I'm all for fun--and aviation should be promoted as fun. That's far from being defeatist.

Acknowledging what doesn't work is progress. Recall that the greatest secret of WW II was the breaking of the Enigma German code--allowing us to decrypt their correspondence and act on it in real time. The first computers--"Colossus"--worked NOT be sorting through the approximately 1 billion possible combinations available on any given day, but instead by throwing out what codes COULDN'T be--until the message was clear.


Posted by: jim hanson | June 1, 2016 6:50 PM    Report this comment


We are in agreement--there will likely never be cheap Champs and Cubs--that's never worked. What HAS worked is a regulatory system that enables innovation. We could have that within a year--IF we got the cooperation of the FAA. We should change Young Eagles from the current "give 'em a ride and see ya' next year" to something with continued involvement--something on the order of the CAP, but without the "drill instructor wanna-be" adult attitude. Make it into a youth training corps--an exclusive "club" of achievers--God knows we need more pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers, and other aviation professionals--if the schools are "too busy" teaching the "subject du jour" of whatever is popular today to provide the guidance and training to youth, we should.. We should fine-tune the almost stillborn "Gray Eagles" program for involving retirees--those with adequate disposable income who would like to fly for fun.

Now that it's "legal" to give airplane rides for charity again, let's revive the "penny-a-pound" (adjusted for inflation)--a still-popular way of exposing people to aviation while providing for charity--(how ELSE do people get into aviation?). We should get FAA to enable light plane charter, without the lengthy cost and delay in obtaining a certificate--a move that coincided with the demise of cabin-class twin-engine airplanes (how ELSE would business be exposed to the benefits of GA?) We should get the FAA to adopt a Canada-like private airplane rule--allowing owners to do maintenance on simple, non-commercial aircraft--with the ability to take them back to normal category by simply having them inspected and signed off--drastically lowering the cost of ownership. We should eliminate the need to "protect the non-flying public" by stating that certain classes of airplanes could NOT be used for charter--driving down the cost of insurance (how many Skyhawks are used for charter, anyway?)--perhaps pairing it with the aviation medical issue. We should demand that Congress cease their interminable "continuing resolutions" for funding the FAA--then turn on the FAA to justify their expenditures (why NOT more "contract towers"--why are we funding the development of control systems that are obsolete before implementation?). Why do we have huge FSDO offices compared to the years when there were far more aircraft and airmen to regulate--ESPECIALLY when so much of the work has been farmed out to pilot examiners and Designated Engineering professionals?

GA needs an IMAGE CONSULTANT--we have gone from being people that were viewed as having exciting lives--people that DID THINGS--into "people that are so risk-averse that they never get anything done." I'm not advocating flying inverted under bridges--only that we tale a page from almost anything that is sold today--adventure travel, skiing, mountain biking, ATV riding, and yes, PARACHUTING. Look what the image people did for Harley Davidson!

And yes, perhaps we should encourage start-ups and innovators (why should the Europeans have all the fun with new airplanes?) Give business the freedom to fail--or to make it big--as long as the public is aware of the potential risks.

Posted by: jim hanson | June 1, 2016 6:52 PM    Report this comment

Not to beat a dead horse, but Icon may be facing yet another set of headwinds not yet mentioned. The budding electric aircraft industry that is being heavily supported by big companies like Siemens and Airbus promises to bring forth game changing innovations. Yes, I know, we have already hashed out the problems with battery technology in these pages, but with deep pocket players in the game, they have the financial strength to push ahead. The motors and airframes already exist, waiting for better batteries, which will come. Also, on the "gee whiz" side of things, personal multi-copters like Velocopter and Ehang promise to offer true practicality to aviation neophytes, without needing a nearby lake for a landing strip. If they succeed, no medical red tape or aeronautical training would stand in the way.

As with all of you, I wish Icon well, but will place my betting money elsewhere.

Posted by: John McNamee | June 1, 2016 6:59 PM    Report this comment

....all these negative vibes are hard to digest. The good-ole-days are dead so let's be happy for those that can still aviate in anything from a hang glider to a Gulfstream. There's something for every budget and always has been. Many of these comments sound very similar to people bitching about how lazy kids are today. .....why, back in my day......

Posted by: jay Manor | June 1, 2016 7:54 PM    Report this comment

Jim ... bravo! GOOD job. Couldn't a said it better myself. You've 'nailed' the problem, sir. Nice to see someone besides myself see's the forest despite the trees. I guess being realists makes us pessimistic curmudgeons but ... that's OK ... we've earned the right as we join the 7th age of man.

For almost three years, we've been waiting for that DOT response to the AOPA / EAA medical NPRM that the FAA said they wrote and provided for review ... where is it? For more than 7 years, the ARC has been working on an FAR Part 23 rewrite and ... where is the final product? Oh, I forgot, a few subset words were spurted out about it recently but where is the actual NPRM? Meanwhile, in Vacaville, a marginally capitalized company that blew $85M on kiosks is gonna make it all better if only we're all patient. Patience hell ... I AM MAD! If Icon succeeds or fails, it matters not to GA. It matters not to me, either ... I'm almost done. We're all trying to save something bigger than ourselves but just can't seem to get a break.

OK ... so we can all agree. Icon gets an "A" for trying and an "F" for delivering ... and -- at best -- a potential "C" for future prospects in a perfect world. Now what?

So let's all just imagine for a second that Icon pushed some magic red button and could build all the A5's anyone with the loot to spare wanted. How long would THAT last? And, what sort of 'sea change' would it have on GA. How many of the 1,850 prospects with skin in the game will march up with the rest of the money now that Icon has ruined their corporate image? How many twenty somethings that don't know what causes lift will sign up, too? We all know the answer. If Maule could build a sub $100K 160hp no frills VFR airplane for $44K in 1994 and my military Aero Club almost bought an IFR Cutlass for less than $100K in the same period, why can't the same airplanes be built -- corrected for inflation -- and just to be sure, let's add 50% today. We all know the answer to that, as well.

My friends ... we're all on the Titanic and rearranging deck chairs listening to some mighty fine music played by an orchestra populated by ostriches who think that being an optimist will make it all better. I won't. We're going down the drain until the boys in DC wake up. If they don't ... they -- too -- will be mostly out of work. Be careful what you ask for, Mr Regulators. Aviation will be 100% safe once the last GA pilot leaves the fold.

Jim ... I'll fly for beer! I am, after all, an alchemist :-))

Posted by: Larry Stencel | June 1, 2016 10:07 PM    Report this comment

Magic bullet? Autonomous aircraft. No pilot certificate; no medical certificate; no pilot errors. Just aviating on demand. What it lacks in "romance," it provides in abundance in utility - and it will provide safe fun for many who are not members of the old-guard GA community. And unless the FAA kills it, it's coming soon.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | June 2, 2016 3:21 AM    Report this comment

I've had a bit of a tinfoil-hat theory for a while now, which says that the FAA is (intentionally or not) trying to drive the lightest end of GA to the homebuilt market. It's lower risk for the FAA, less liability for the "manufacturers", and lower cost for us. Put a flying club together (or even a 2-4 person partnership) and build a kit, and you get an affordable, capable airplane outside the onerous bounds of certification and built exactly the way you want. Split the work across multiple people and it doesn't take that long, either.

I don't think we'll see factory-produced airplanes being purchased by "average Joes" ever again, unless someone takes a hacksaw to Part 21.

Posted by: Robert Gatlin-Martin | June 2, 2016 6:03 AM    Report this comment

A good companion book that shows another side of Steve Jobs through the eyes of the folks at Pixar is Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull

ICON is trying to expand the potential pool of buyers so instead of siphoning off a buyer of a SeaRay they are trying for the buyers of a JetSki, Snowmobile, Motorcycle, off road UTVs. ICON engineering reflects it, we are not seeing any breakthroughs in performance or aerodynamics but we are seeing some unprecedented, at least by airplane standards, fit and finish and user ergonomics. My guess would be they will also make the thing as benign to fly as possible to the point where a "real" pilot might not like how it handles, but that "real" pilot is not their market. Not an all bad approach.

LightSport ratings are a key component to the ICON plan, they need to convince these newly pirated buyers that the rating is no big deal, that they will have them flying after a week of training in a vacation setting with an attached spa for the significant other along with drinks at the pool each evening. Same thing that is done for scuba diving qualification or for sailing certification.

I think the fly in the ointment is:
a) the FAA, imagine if the boating or snowmobile industry had the same level of oversight that aviation has

b) actually learning to fly a floatplane. Flying anything and a floatplane specifically is not simple, it's not a point it and pull the throttle experience. We are seeing ever diminishing sailboaters for a similar reason it's too much work to obtain the level of skill to be proficient, too much work and concentration to actually do the task. Much easier than going sailing is to crank up the stereo, twist the key and crack open another beer.

I could see a spin off of ICON being some sort of ground effect jetski/glider where you can goose the thing up into the air on short delta wings and glide for a 100 yards in ground effect. That's the sort of toy that would appeal to the masses.


Posted by: RANDI ERNST | June 2, 2016 9:32 AM    Report this comment

For historical accuracy, the iPad was not considered a revolutionary product, even by Steve Jobs. Jobs had put his visionary efforts into the iPod back when everyone else was using tape. The visionary work about the iPad had been done by Alan Kay back in 1972 with the DynaBook and the vision that such a devise would replace all books for students. This was at a time when even portable computers had not been developed! Steve Jobs recognized this, and simply enlarged the iPhone to meet Alan Kay's vision. Steve Jobs recognized Alan Kay by presenting him with a gold plated iPad as the iPad went to market.

Though I love the ICON, at its current price it is not revolutionary. the Piper Cub was revolutionary because it worked AND was at a very affordable price.

Posted by: Ray Wallman | June 3, 2016 11:55 AM    Report this comment

For a marketer offering a relatively expensive product, there exists considerable wealth in the U.S.A. Icon has made it clear their target customer is not the existing GA community. Who might their target be?

I just spent about 10 minutes bouncing through some spread sheets the IRS provides on their website. In 2011, last full year reported, there were ~4,700,000 returns filed for adjusted gross incomes > $200,000. We all know real income exceeds adjusted considerably.

So, Icon thinks it might be able to sell a unique play-toy aircraft to these people. After all, these people do buy expensive second homes, boats and high end autos regularly. The right sales pitch might work, or not, but for some entrepreneurs and investors, might be worth the effort.


Posted by: Edd Weninger | June 3, 2016 12:26 PM    Report this comment

By the way, IIRC, a Piper Cub pre-war cost more than an average house.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | June 3, 2016 12:32 PM    Report this comment

Edd, median house prices in 1938 was $3990 or about $66,000 today. The pre-war Cub sold for about $1000 initially, a rose a bit after the intro. That's $17,000 in 2016 dollars.

One can draw all sorts of connections between then and now and reach conclusions that may or may not have validity. I don't think they do have validity, frankly. The economies of 1938 and 2016 bear little resemblance.

The IRS data you pointed to is the most telling. There's a lot of wealth out there in the upper tiers and a lot of it is disposable. The great test for Icon is can it reach into the wealth with a compelling combination of good product and promotion to general sales traditional aircraft makers have not be able to produce?

It's that simple. Either it will or it won't or it will fall somewhere in between. People already in aviation aren't the main target, yet we are quick to judge the business plan by our metrics of value. This misses Icon's sales pitch entirely because the folks they're going after aren't like you and me. For one thing, they have more money and for another, they're not aviation dreamers, necessarily. And not only are they not stuck in 1974, they've never heard of it.

Like you, I think it's worth the effort. I wouldn't invest myself, but I'm glad someone is.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 3, 2016 1:05 PM    Report this comment

It's going to hit 115 degrees F this weekend where I live, so every time I step outside I'm going to imagine I'm making a hard, splashy water landing in an A5 with open doors and a fire department hosing at my arrival...hey, it's not just dreaming, it's survival! :-)

Posted by: Dave Miller | June 3, 2016 1:30 PM    Report this comment

Paul, sometimes the effect of inhaling rarefied air in the vicinity of Vacaville has its benefits. Cheap delusions. But the A5 ain't no iPad. Instead, it appears to be a "not aviation dreamers'" conundrum. So I'll let it go at that. Today's temp will reach 118 at KTRM and I have two private pilot checkrides in a C172. Leg cramps here and there but I think I'll just ignore that desert heat, wind and sand and wind down my CFI practice for the summer.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | June 4, 2016 8:00 AM    Report this comment

Geez Raf, honestly, this heat is dangerous. Be careful out there, head straight for the ocean eh!? You're a dedicated instructor, sir.

Posted by: Dave Miller | June 4, 2016 1:47 PM    Report this comment

Yeah, sometimes I amaze myself. First applicant passed - we now have another private pilot. Second applicant in the oral now. Only 115 degrees at 1320 hrs.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | June 4, 2016 3:20 PM    Report this comment

Saturday June 4, 2016.

Second applicant passed the Private Pilot Practical Examination. This has been a satisfying day for me and my students Eric Rotelli and Nicolas Cummins. Both would like to be professionals in this wonderful world of aviation - so off to Alaska they'll go for summer work at a fish cannery to earn money for their instrument rating.

GA is not dead but it is critically wounded and unattended while the majority of the players, remain static and disorganized. No action - just talk. It appears as if they are conditioning their minds to a lower standard without a sense of urgency.

I choose to exempt myself from this crowd. GA is in bad shape and getting worse and commercial aviation and peripheral businesses are feeling the pain. The Aviation industry as a whole needs a fix; it needs a joint effort, an extraordinary grass-roots effort that will benefit all. Simply put, the more pilots the greater the demand for goods, equipment and services. So what are we waiting for?

(I'll take that "hard, splashy water landing in an A5" now)

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | June 4, 2016 6:48 PM    Report this comment

Of course they both passed! Congrats to them and their instructor. Way to go, guys.

On that cooling water landing....first, close your eyes, then, imagine........

Ha, that's all I can offer! Get cool Raf and be proud.

Posted by: Dave Miller | June 4, 2016 7:56 PM    Report this comment

The take off distance on water in the Icon is 920 ft. The climb rate of the Icon seems not to be published?? The take off distance in a Searey Elite on water is 350 ft w climb rate of 1100 fpm.
Mort importantly you can actually own fly a Searey.

"relentless promotion" is the relevant information in this article - comparing and airplane to an ipad - no so much.

Posted by: Randy Williams | June 6, 2016 10:29 AM    Report this comment

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