The Trouble With Trainers

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Here in Florida, September was the hottest month on record. Ever. So on Sunday, when the weather finally delivered the fall temperature break, I luxuriated in simply standing in front of the hangar for 10 minutes watching the world go by. And what went by, among others, was what I sometimes call the Cryin’ Shame.

Otherwise, it’s known as a Cessna 177 Cardinal. This one had been gussied up with fresh paint in the modern style and probably had some glass in the panel, too. At a distance, the low-slung, rakish Cardinal—sans struts—is as good looking an airplane as Cessna ever built. And yet, the design is coming up on a half century and sadder yet, it was displaced and outlasted by the dowdiest airplane Cessna ever built. Yes, the Skyhawk.

This once again proves that pilots who say they want new, exciting designs—at the least the ones who aren’t Cirrus buyers—are just flapping their lips to fill the dead air between bites at the pancake breakfast. It also proves something else that seems a constant: Introducing a new trainer and expecting it to succeed is almost an impossible hill to climb. Pilots in general are conservative about this sort of thing to the point of hideboundedness and schools, ever mindful of the bottom line, don’t have the pleasure of experimenting.

My theory may be flawed, but the numbers confirm its underpinnings. The last really clean-sheet certified trainer I can recall is the Diamond DA20. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but as an instructor, if the flight line gave me three airplanes to fly, the DA20, a PA-28 and the Skyhawk, I’d take the Diamond every time. It flies better than the other two, has a terrific safety record, is cheaper to operate and is just plain fun. Yeah, I know, two seats. But the two-seat Cessna 150 once dominated flight training and not by a little. So what happened?

Whether budding pilots got fat, rich and more fickle or the schools wanted more margin, I can’t say. But in the years since the great recession, the most Diamond ever sold in a single year was 34 and this for a new-age airplane meant to pave aviation’s way to the 21st century.

The next attempt never got out of the blocks. The Mooney M10, a sleek little diesel-powered airplane with a glass panel, came out of the ground in 2015, only to be shelved two years later. There may be internal machinations we don’t know about, but I suspect Mooney sensed how moribund and momentum-driven the market is and how limited the volume would be to offset the multimillion-dollar developmental and production costs. And don’t forget this little twist: The impetus for the M10 came out of China about which some people persist in believing bottomless demand for airplanes is soon to be unleashed. “China is coming soon” has carved a place in the pantheon of promissory optimism right next to “the check is in the mail.”

So with the momentum clearly established by the Skyhawk and the PA-28s, now comes the Italian company, Vulcanair, with the V1.0. I reviewed it in this video. Perversely, one thing it may have going for it is that it’s an updated 1960s design originally produced by Partenavia, which Vulcanair bought in 1996. So the developmental costs are sunk and it sells for $278,000, some $113,000 less than the Skyhawk.

Will this get the attention of buyers shocked by the $390,000 sticker on a new Skyhawk? Maybe, but I wouldn’t count on it. I’ve always maintained that price alone isn’t what depresses market expansion; not for schools and not for individual buyers. Schools are looking for the whole package, the support and the maintenance and parts chain reliability and demonstrated performance. The V1.0 doesn’t have that and will have to somehow earn it if it’s going to muscle into a trainer market that’s dominated by Cessna and Piper but yet totals only about 200 airframes a year.

And consider that group think has us all believing there’s a pilot shortage and we’ll need hundreds of new trainers. Stipulating that the shortage has legs, why isn’t the demand for training aircraft booming? It’s steady, but Piper and Cessna are on track to produce in 2018 about what they did in 2017 or perhaps a little more. I’m guessing that the training demand is trickling, not gushing and the demand for airplanes will follow a similar path. This is nothing to complain about, but the actual sales numbers suggest a tempered view of real market expansion.

With than in mind, the modern successful business model for airplane companies is low volume. Even Cessna has to slum along building only about 100 to 150 Skyhawks. If Vulcanair can prosper in the dozens, it might gain a foothold. Otherwise, the hill just keeps getting steeper and I don’t see that changing much. In my fantasy world, Cessna would revisit the Cardinal and make it do what it was supposed to: put the Skyhawk out to a well-deserved pasture.

Comments (26)

" In my fantasy world, Cessna would revisit the Cardinal and make it do what it was supposed to: put the Skyhawk out to a well-deserved pasture."

I agree, but it would just be a seventy year old design replaced by a sixty year old design. Only in general aviation would that be considered progress.

Posted by: Richard Montague | November 1, 2018 7:32 AM    Report this comment

"[the Cardinal] would just be a seventy year old design replaced by a sixty year old design"

But at least it's something that could reasonably happen, since presumably most of the design and certification costs are already completed.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | November 1, 2018 9:03 AM    Report this comment

Don't think that the Cardinal or C210 will ever come back. When I was at the factory picking up a new plane with a client many years ago, I asked the Cessna staff about the possibility of Cardinal or C210 coming back into production. Their answer was fugaboutit since they have single spar wings.

Posted by: Leo LeBoeuf | November 1, 2018 9:53 AM    Report this comment

I don't think Cessna or Piper wants to produce any trainer airplanes. By omission, meaning there has been no other manufacturers other than Diamond purposefully building a trainer, they have been stuck producing Skyhawks and Archers by default.

Vashon and Vulcan may bring welcome relief to Cessna and Piper, permitting a slow death of these two airplanes. It would be a PR nightmare if both companies stopped producing "trainers". But enter a little competition, Textron...aka Cessna...and Piper will gladly retire their two stodgiest, marketing albatrosses.

If anyone has recouped development costs, it's been Cessna and Piper. The Cardinal could be easily resurrected, corrected, and re branded...if Textron wants to stay in the light piston market. I don't think they do. I believe Piper's boardroom feels the same.

Neither actively pursue a flight training identity as they did 30 years ago. The Cessna Pilot Center is history in a practical sense. A Skyhawk to a Citation? An Archer to a Mirage or Meridian? C'mon, lets get real. Neither offers any airplanes beyond the trainer for a progressive step up into the fly high, go fast airplanes. Cirrus figured that out and actively markets that you can learn to fly in your $900,000 glass panel, side stick, 170kt, leather wrapped, parachute equipped, airbag protected, BMW typish airplane.

The two legacy manufacturers keep cranking up the prices, yet university flight schools with foreign government flight training funding every so often place an order in spite of the two's best effort not to improve the airplanes.

Diamond produces nice airplanes. 2 seat, glider like, bubble canopy airplanes play well with the Alps in the background appealing to the European mindset.. But Americans and American flight schools are not flocking to it.

Affordable flight training is the issue. John Q Public doesn't think a SkyHawk looks dated or old. Faded paint, ripped seats, nasty carpet, hazed Plexi, and shredded plastic makes a Skyhawk or Archer look old. John Q Public is not looking for a missile like, T-38 with a propeller airplane to train in. They want to easily climb into something that does not look like a science project on the inside nor a refugee from the local scrapyard on the outside, with hourly rates that don't rival a monthly car payment.

Aviation as a whole, general aviation in particular, has not promoted itself very well. Flying airplanes is a mystery for most. GA is for the country club, well heeled folks. The military is where one goes to fly Star Wars, super-sonic, adrenaline pumping, afterburner, right stuff hero machines.

So, what do you build to market aviation between these two current identities? And do you build the airplane first...or re-brand the aviation stereotype? Perception is most folks reality.

Posted by: Jim Holdeman | November 1, 2018 9:56 AM    Report this comment

I'm with you on the DA20. I'd take it every time: better looking, better visibility, better handling, better performance, better cross country capability. Mind you, for older folks the ingress and exit process is on the athletic side, unlike the Cessna's back-in-and-twist, but no worse than the Piper scramble. And there's not much baggage space, even for a trainer.

But, great machines. Real shame they didn't sell better.

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | November 1, 2018 10:23 AM    Report this comment

Cessna may not enjoy itself in the trainer market a whole lot, but Piper is showing the highest quarterly sales numbers in a decade, claiming its new Archer leads the pack in terms of units killing bugs. I never really liked the Cardinal a whole lot, lived through the 162 failure and Cessna Pilot Center dreams vicariously and spend more than my fair share of time behind the firewall of every 172 Chickenhawk version built. These days, I am waiting to see just how much longer this sleeping dinosaur will keep getting hit in the nose for selling 60 year old technology powered and cooled by leaded fuel at the price of a house in a nice neighborhood.

Loosing touch with ones roots and forgetting where this legacy was created must be an experience of blessed ignorance in Wichita. Building atrractive airframes is possible, speed, endurance and efficiency are no longer the holy grail.

Posted by: Jason Baker | November 1, 2018 10:37 AM    Report this comment

"...as good looking an airplane as Cessna ever built."

No doubt, but a C-165 Airmaster (one with wheelpants installed) is a stunning beauty IMHO.
Although 30 years apart, they are kind of sisters in the fact they were both had strutless cantilever wings.

Posted by: A Richie | November 1, 2018 10:45 AM    Report this comment

I don't "get" why people are bad mouthing the Skyhawk as staid OR proposing that the Cardinal line should be restarted to replace and kill it? Huh?

Almost 1 in 10 GA airplanes ever built is a Skyhawk or it's C170 predecessor ... for a reason. It does most things good enough. I call it the 4 door sedan 6 cylinder stick radio & heater of airplanes. I don't see a large enough difference between a Cardinal and Skyhawk to make any difference to me. That said, I am aware that folks with medical issues do seem to chase the Cardinals for ingress/egress reasons. The Cardinal never achieved its 'goal' for a reason and that's why 10 times more 172's were built than 177's and aside from first year's production, less than 250 were produced in each subsequent year.

I've owned 10 airplanes along the way and have owned my 'M' model Skyhawk for over 34 years. When I replaced the OEM 150hp engine with a 160hp engine, it made a noticeable difference in performance with little more fuel flow. I test flew a 180hp conversion but discarded the idea because most early airplanes only had 38 gal of fuel available. To me ... an 'M' model with 160hp is the penultimate machine for most GA pilots.

Of the four years of production, the '76 M model is THE one to own because Cessna lowered the control 'T' behind the panel such that the control yoke comes out in a lower position. This allowed movement of instruments to the L panel and the AH and DG to be mounted directly above the shaft. And, M airplanes have metal fuel tanks while new airplanes have rubber bladders.

Unless and until someone waves their magic twanger (froggy) and fixes the other problems with GA, there's no point in belaboring this issue. ALL new airplanes are too expensive for most private owners. New Skyhawks cost 20 times what my '75 machine cost when new. Yet, aside from the glass panel, a new airframe is essentially almost identical. That is insanity personified!

Just yesterday, I was speaking with a retired airline pilot buddy who is buying and selling airplanes for fun. He called up on an M model the morning it showed up on Barnstormers; the seller told him he was in 10th position. Cessna Owner magazine also talks about price appreciation of the M model airplanes, as well.

IF I were younger, I might consider chasing a Hawk XP. That design takes care of many of the shortcomings of the 172 with far less cost than a 182. I couldn't justify paying Skylane costs just to cut holes in the sky and an occasional cross country. I don't care what the airplane looks like, performance is what's important to me.

Paul ... if you wanna see some gorgeous Cardinals, go to Winter Haven just before SnF. That group meets there and brings some fine looking examples of the type.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | November 1, 2018 10:45 AM    Report this comment

There's an excellent article about the 'birth' of the Skyhawk by a person who was involved with that project at:

airfactsjournal.com/2012/05/tracking-the-conception-birth-and-life-of-the-172/

Who'da thunk that the TriPacer played a part in the design.

Except for the '78 N model, another reason to own an M is that it's the last of the 12 volt airplanes. You can jump start it from your car.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | November 1, 2018 10:53 AM    Report this comment

As a proud owner of a Cardinal RG, I appreciate your kind words about the plane. Yes, I am biased, but I feel it is the best single engine plane Cessna ever built. Unfortunately, it is a classic example of the old saying that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Cessna hurried the original '68 models to market with a too-small 150 hp engine, originally intended for the 172, and some issues with the stabilator tail that gave it a reputation as an underpowered plane that was hard to land. By 1970, they had corrected the issues, but the damage was done. Today, most of the '68 Cardinals have 180 hp engines and perform well. Again, in 1971, Cessna made similar mistakes with the first RG model and its somewhat quirky retractable gear. By 1974 most of the issues had been corrected, but to this day, people will tell you that flying an RG is taking your lives in your shaky hands. It is noteworty, however, that the Cardinal retractable gear has never experience a single AD, unlike the 172, 182 and 210 retractable models.

By the late '70s, the economy soured and Cessna chose to stick with the (cheaper to build) 172 and canned both the FG and RG Cardinals in 1978. As you said, flight schools' reluctance to embrace a better airframe over the lower performing, but well known 172, was part of the reason for the Cardinal's demise. I would be very happy if Cessna did ressurect the 177, but considering it was more costly to build back then, they would probably want a half-million dollars for a new one, and it would never sell. In the meantime, as Larry S. says, if you do plan to attend Sun 'n Fun next spring, drop by the Winter Haven airport the weekend prior to the show and check out some of the best Cardinals found anywhere. That is our spring gathering and always a good time.

Posted by: John McNamee | November 1, 2018 12:12 PM    Report this comment

"Certified fixed-wing era is over". When reporting 150 units produced per year, it's time to face the simple facts, "it's over".

People of all ages want to takeoff and return to their driveway. More and more the rich are buying helicopters to fly them to the airport to catch their chartered jet. Track the cost of helicopter charter prices over the decades. You'll see the price/demand charts at work.

All the big money is going into removing the "skill" from flying. Removing the need to judge altitude and distance to flare for landing.

P.S. You forgot one of the other next Cessna 172/177 killer the Tecnam P2010.

Posted by: Klaus Marx | November 1, 2018 12:31 PM    Report this comment

Interesting, Paul's correlation of lack of trainer sales to the alleged "pilot shortage". The lack of interest by producers (or former) of trainers just another indication to me how overblown the "pilot shortage" is. As far as Cessna building piston powered planes, I agree that I think they want to eventually discontinue production of those. Cessna has made little effort to come up with new piston products other than covering their behinds on product liability issues. Look at where Cessna has put their money in product developement. When you go to most FBO chains look at where most piston planes get parked. I don't like it any more than AOPA does but piston aircraft are not as profitable as turbine aircraft and a lot of aviation businesses are going where the money is to survive. Whether this will really generate a "pilot shortage" is yet to be seen, something that I will not see in my lifetime.

Posted by: matthew wagner | November 1, 2018 3:26 PM    Report this comment

Historically the biggest market for trainer aircraft has been the USED aircraft market. It's almost impossible for a flight school (or leaseback owner) to make any money with a new aircraft; they can't charge a high enough hourly rate to cover the payments on a new $300-400K aircraft. Due to availability, the most popular and readily available used aircraft for training is therefore the 172.

However an emerging market for trainers is airlines that are establishing their own flight training academies. A good example is Lift Academy (of Republic Air) that recently purchased 50 new Diamonds (42 DA40 NG singles and 8 DA42-VI twins, all diesels burning JetA) with options for more. 4-seater DA40s have effectively replaced 2-seat DA20s in many flight schools, since the DA20 isn't IFR-capable.

But about 10 years ago when I took a "discovery flight" thinking I might learn to fly, I forced the reluctant CFI to split the flight so that I could ride in both a 172 and a Diamond DA20. It was no contest; I went on to solo and got my PPL in the DA20. Since then I bought a used DA40, traded up to a new DA2 twin, and now own a DA62 twin. So maybe there's something to the idea that manufacturers still need a trainer in their product line to entice pilots to eventually purchase their more advanced aircraft.

Posted by: DAVE PASSMORE | November 1, 2018 3:33 PM    Report this comment

The automotive equivalent of the Cessna Cardinal is the Pontiac Fiero. An exciting design hobbled by a too-small and antiquated engine, and poor handling due to the use of a Chevy Citation FWD drivetrain mounted backwards in the rear to create a 'mid-engine' sports car.

GM pumped out almost 140,000 that first year... and never saw sales that high again. GM eventually got it right over the years by giving the car its own suspension with handling that matched the looks, a proper 5-speed manual, a V6 instead of the 'Iron-Duke' 4, and even better styling. But the damage was done. That first year's production sealed the car's reputation as a rod-throwing, oil-leaking, poor-handling, engine-fire-prone 'commuter' car, and few gave them a second chance.

As the happy owner of a late-model Cardinal RG, I think Cessna finally got it right. But the first few years of owners resented being 'beta' testers and the marketplace soured on the line.

Posted by: Kirk Wennerstrom | November 1, 2018 7:04 PM    Report this comment

Larry Stencel, you are correct.

Captcha sucks.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | November 1, 2018 7:13 PM    Report this comment

"Aviation as a whole, general aviation in particular, has not promoted itself very well. Flying airplanes is a mystery for most. GA is for the country club, well heeled folks."
~ Jim Holdeman

I agree. And I think one solution that GA should adopt is the 'tandem-skydiving' route.

I forget the exact numbers, but I recall there's something like 25,000 active skydivers. But around 100,000 people make a first-time 'tandem' jump each year. For a licensed skydiver, each jump costs about $25. The cost for a first-time tandem jump is about $200. As a result, skydiving operations tend to be pretty self-sufficient, funded in large part by the one-and-done, bucket-list crowd. It's why active drop-zones often have multiple turboprop aircraft, not just a couple of tired 182s.

Tandem jumps aren't advertised as 'jump training' (though technically, they are). They're marketed as a thrill-ride, actual-reality, not virtual. With a bunch of selfies and video to boot. Despite that lack of push, about 1% will go on to become a licensed skdyiver on their own, having whetted their apetite.

I believe flight-schools should adopt the same kind of outreach, marketing, and pricing - Don't advertise flight training or school ('school' is not fun. 'training' is hard and boring). Forget discovery flight - that's too nerdy. Instead, advertise the thrill of being above the clouds. Mount a bunch of GoPros around the plane, charge people $350 for a one-off, bucket-list, hey-ma-I-just-flew-a-plane! For real! Here's the video!!

Marketed right, this should bring a slew of people in the door, and keep the place hopping. A tiny portion of this gravy train will come back for 'real' training. These are the people that likely woud've shown up anyway. But now you have a lot of the financial load spread amongst the rest of John Q. Public.

Posted by: Kirk Wennerstrom | November 1, 2018 7:18 PM    Report this comment

This idea of "trainer" is from the 1930's (it's outdated and frankly it's ludicrous).
An RV-6A is affordable, fun, modern, reliable, economical, low maintenance, strong, AND affordable.

It's time we dropped this notion that we "need $300,000 trainers" because that's living in the past.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | November 1, 2018 7:55 PM    Report this comment

I'm curious, John McNamee, what is different about the C177 RG gear from the other airplanes which results in no AD ? I'll watch for you at KGIF.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | November 1, 2018 8:41 PM    Report this comment

"if the flight line gave me three airplanes to fly, the DA20, a PA-28 and the Skyhawk ..."

It happens that my local flight school has a DA20, a PA-28, and a gaggle of Skyhawks. As a certificated non-owner pilot, I sought out the DA20 for rental flying, for all the reasons Thomas Boyle described. Its main downside is that it wants to float - approaches are often at near-idle RPM, and simulated power-off emergency landings are positively leisurely affairs.

When I occasionally fly a 172, I have to try to enjoy the experience, typically as a means to an end to view scenery while on vacation.. With the DA20, it's pure fun.

If you view flight training as Serious Business leading to a serious career, I guess that training in Skyhawks can put students in the properly sober state of mind. But for the joy of flying, follow Dave Passmore's path and move up through the Diamond line.

Posted by: Rollin Olson | November 1, 2018 10:02 PM    Report this comment

On pilot population decline and the resultant pilot shortage dilemma. From 2007 to 2016, according to FAA statistics, there is is a 30% decrease in the number of new certificate holders. Yet, the pax population and air freight business is increasing. Airlines are recognizing the problem with flight training solutions. I agree with the concept of promoting New-Starts in aviation. I've been hands on for over 7 years introducing the young into aviation anticipating a need for pilots, maintenance technicians and cabin crew personnel. The more pilots, the more airframes, propellers, engines, mechanics, avionics, FBOs. All leading to the revitalization of General Aviation, the pipe line to the airlines. The "legacy trainers" are holding the fort.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | November 2, 2018 3:25 PM    Report this comment

Discovery Aviation (Melbourne FL) is still producing the XL2 which is (I'm told) a direct competitor with the DA-20.

Posted by: Robert Mahoney | November 2, 2018 5:15 PM    Report this comment

With such low volumes it is exceedingly difficult to get any "economies of scale" in GA aircraft production. Plus, the ridiculous lawsuits filed against GA manufacturers have really put the icing on the cost cake. As a result you see 50+ yr old designs continuing to be manufactured (the VulcanAir is a 50+ yr old design). Yes, most have been improved. But they are plagued by their ancient roots in limiting their performance and capability. Engines are the most noteworthy victim in this scenario - mainstream engines are all more than 50+ yrs old designs. There are a few "modern" ones available but they are not being installed. (i.e., UL Power with certified models that can run on mogas, and AustroEngines Diesel engines)

There is no easy answer to this dilemma. One simple Way Out would to dramatically increase the number of pilots. But how do you first decrease cost to get them in the game? One step in the right direction is the simplified certification standards for SLSAs. That model should be the objective for all GA aircraft below some threshold - perhaps everything at or below a Pilatus PC12. The training focus should be on effective training, not multitudes of barriers enacted to prevent people from getting a license. (The FAA has no problem issuing licenses to alcoholics but won't allow people with a wide variety of innocuous medical conditions to fly - these people are not seeking to fly airliners, just themselves and maybe a handful of others in a small airplane.)

Change will take time but now is the time to start the changes. There have been a few recent productive small steps forward but much more is needed.

If you give the VulcanAir even a cursory glance your will quickly see it's only real advantage is purchase cost. Since there are none currently in the fleet the operational cost remains unknown. I hope it gets a foothold but it does not appear to have sufficient advantage to make any meaningful change in the trainer market, or the entry-level owner/operator market. Like many I am very reluctant to seriously consider an aircraft manufactured in Italy. But time will tell.

Posted by: Mark Chopper | November 2, 2018 5:58 PM    Report this comment

"An RV-6A is affordable, fun, modern, reliable, economical, low maintenance, strong, AND affordable."
The RV is a great airplane but the gear could never take the punishment new student pilots would dish out on it.

" One step in the right direction is the simplified certification standards for SLSAs."
To clarify, it's not so much the certification standards, as the production and maintenance ones. But I agree, new Part 23 piston aircraft are all but dead except in cases where the regulations don't permit an alternative (that is, the flight training market).

If you remove commercial operators and flight schools, homebuilt completions far outnumber production numbers for private owners.

Posted by: Robert Gatlin-Martin | November 3, 2018 12:53 PM    Report this comment

Larry S., I apologize, but my internet was down yesterday so I could not respond. I am not the best person to answer your question about the Cardinal gear design, but I do know it was a clean sheet design used only in the Cardinal. One area where it was different from the 210 was they never put gear doors on the main wheel wells, which was a major hangup (no pun intended) for the eaarly 210 system. The designers realized there was minimal drag produced by the open main gear wells, so they just left them open. The original '71-'73 system had several electro-mechanical position switches that had to be carefully aligned to work properly. Keeping it all working well is a maintenance challenge, but the basic hydraulic system is pretty reliable. In '74 and '75 models they eliminated most of those switches and in '76-'78 models they eliminated all but the squat switch and ran just on hydraulic pressure. By then, the systems were quite reliable and rarely have problems. Owners of the earlier models have much less issue with their gear if they have a mechanic that understands the design and knows how to troubleshoot it. A mechanic that knows the 172 and 182 RG systems can do more harm than good on a Cardinal. But again, the early design reputation sticks to all years.

By all means drop by KGIF and say hello. We do a walkaround on Sunday morning and let each owner tell about his/her bird. Look forward to meeting you and Kirk W.

Posted by: John McNamee | November 3, 2018 12:54 PM    Report this comment

"...homebuilt completions far outnumber production numbers for private owners."

Robert G-M, one reason for the success of homebuilt aircraft today is that the manufacturers are selling kits that are relatively quick and easy to assemble. Modern composite construction and, in the case of metal designs, CNC type production, provides basic parts and subassemblies that go together with minimal fitting and drilling. That allows people with little time or mechanical apptitude to assemble the basic airframe. Also, avionics vendors like Dynon are producing modular avionics that can be quickly and easily assembled into a glass cockpit worthy of a 737. My frustration is that conventional wisdom tells us airplane manufacturers cannot make affordable airplanes due to low production levels. Why then, can kit manufacturers seem to do so with their still modest output? Onerous regulations are certainly part of the problem, but it seems that the "big 3" are just not interested in making the investment in modern production methods to bring the cost down for their low margin single engine models. Why bother, when you can get a fat profit from your latest bizjet design? I've said it before and still maintain that the future of GA does not lie with Cessna, Beech and Piper.

Posted by: John McNamee | November 3, 2018 1:56 PM    Report this comment

John, I agree that that's exactly why kit manufacturers are doing so well. However, one must also note that kit aircraft get "free" labor. Nobody's going to work a production line for free.

The reason the "big three" can't adopt automated production methods or newer technology, and are stuck with high production costs, largely is based in regulations. The amount of paperwork that must be generated to prove out every step, of every process, of every part, of every assembly that goes into a certified aircraft is truly, mind-blowingly astounding. Heck, the amount of FAA paperwork that needs to be generated just to set your company up, *before you even propose an airplane project*, is unbelievable.

The way aviation production has historically worked--which the FAA has basically enshrined into policy--is essentially that QC records of every piece of raw material, every manufacturing and assembly step, and every single finishing step, gets individually recorded. Automotive-style automated production is virtually impossible in such an environment. I'm sure with the proper capital investment, one could create a wonderful light GA airplane that could be stamped out like Kias, but the FAA would be apoplectic because you wouldn't be using the traditional aerospace QC methods.

I agree, too, that the future of light personally-owned GA belongs to homebuilts and LSAs. Let us hope that this MOSAIC thing leads to larger airplanes being produced as today's LSAs are, and further popularity of homebuilts.

Posted by: Robert Gatlin-Martin | November 3, 2018 4:18 PM    Report this comment

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