New Trainers: Less Likely Than Ever To Be Cessnas
It appears to be happening at a glacial pace, but ever so slowly I realize that Cessna's recent removal of the $465,000 Skyhawk JT-A from its product portfolio underscores the company’s declining relevance in general aviation training, a segment it once owned. What would happen if Cessna decided to exit the piston single market entirely? From the European perspective, not much impact.
Quietly erasing a shelf queen like the TTx out of the showroom without blinking may make sense from a future business-case perspective. Losing dead weight is paramount when trying to get a global enterprise of the size and magnitude of Textron set up for the future. While Cessna acted without much fanfare (again), the industry seemed mildly surprised, especially considering Piper's recent move to equip its PA-44 Seminole with diesel engines after having already done so with the Archer DX.
Diamond has achieved great success with Jet-A burning engines in its twins and the DA-40 single. No other manufacturer has matched that and now Cessna is essentially saying the effort is not worth it. Converting an older airplane to diesel hasn’t been a big business, either
Even though TBRs were raised from 1200 hours to 2100 hours for the Continental CD-135 and CD-155 engines in 2016, an owner still only has 2100 hours to amortize the engine before replacing it. Checking prices on the Continental website reveals that the engine alone will cost owners between $36,000 and $42,000, plus the labor cost for the conversion.
Having flown an early Thielert-equipped Cessna 172 in Germany some 15 years ago, I remember how much money our flying club spent on the conversion. The conversion came to us thanks to a student who attempted to use the aircraft to explore the off-road capabilities of the Skyhawk, bringing it to a sudden and metal-bending stop in a ditch. The outgoing engine was near TBO, so insurance helped make the jump. At the time, avgas was already killing us, even though we were nowhere close to last week’s price point above a high of $13 per gallon.
Even here in Europe, diesel has seen a sharp price hike and the government is actively working to discourage any new diesel sales. Some manufacturers are offering buyback guarantees in case some sudden kneejerk reaction tanks the market.
Even though we see development with electric/ diesel hybrids and further work on fuel cells and pure electrics, anything diesel already looks a bit outdated here in Europe. Volkswagen didn’t help the cause with its scandalous software tweaking and particulate air pollution is looming larger as a public concern. Over here in Europe, we seem bent out of shape by plans to prohibit diesel-powered vehicles from major cities in Germany.
In that context, Cessna’s abandonment of diesel makes more sense. Flight schools who are scraping by are not in the market for new airframes and chances are if the trusted old 172 needs replacement, it may well be another used airplane at a low price. Maybe a Cessna, maybe not.
Flight schools that are doing well and are in the market for new make their decisions based on sharp-pencil calculations, not emotion. The trends seem to be drifting away from the traditional players such as Cessna and Piper and more toward one of the countless LSA-style aircraft, which will more than likely put the pilot behind a Rotax.
Maxing out at 145 horses with its new 915iS, Rotax just isn't quite ready for heavier airplanes or is only attractive on smaller multi-engine applications such as the DA-42 and SeaBears’ new amphibian.
Pure electrics and hybrids will probably gain traction in Europe and even Asia before there’s any meaningful market movement in the U.S. Cessna and Textron have signaled no interest at all in this segment, but plenty of others have. Perhaps Textron is working on something in secret, but if so, it might be a good idea to let the rest of us know before everyone loses interest in anything Cessna.