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New FAA rules affecting how student pilots are certified took effect today. The new rules require all applicants to be vetted through the FAA's Airmen Certification Branch, a process the FAA says will take about three weeks. Currently, the FAA completes the same vetting process, but not until after a student certificate has been issued, usually by an aviation medical examiner. Students will still need a certificate from an AME in addition to the new certificate, which will be in the form of a plastic card with no expiration date. AOPA has raised concerns about the new rule, noting that the paperwork can't be filed until the student turns 16, derailing the tradition of allowing student pilots to solo on their 16th birthday.

AOPA suggests that if a student is eager to solo at age 16, there's a way to make it work under the new system: The student can apply for a certificate appropriate for gliders—which may be soloed at age 14—at least four weeks before his or her sixteenth birthday. "Upon receipt of the certificate, the student pilot may then receive the appropriate logbook endorsements from his or her flight instructor to solo a powered aircraft on the sixteenth birthday," AOPA said. Flight school operators have raised concerns about the impact of the wait time on foreign students. AVweb's editorial director Paul Bertorelli took a look at the rule in January, concluding it's a "silly rule … [that] in no way contributes meaningfully to security, but has a measurable negative impact on the lives of people struggling to maintain the lowest reaches of general aviation."

Icon has recently started to ask buyers with deposits on the A5 light sport aircraft to sign a sales contract before taking delivery of their airplanes, and the length of that contract — 41 pages (PDF) — is unusual for general aviation, as are a number of Icon's stipulations. The contract requires that every pilot who flies the A5 must receive training from Icon-approved instructors or the company itself, and the aircraft must be maintained by Icon-approved mechanics. More significantly, Icon seeks to limit the company's liability by requiring owners to sign a waiver pledging not to sue or, if they want that right, to pay an additional $10,000. The airframe has a 2,000-hour or 10-year overhaul requirement and appears to be life-limited to 30 years or 6,000 hours, whichever comes first.

Every aircraft also will come equipped with a flight data recorder that the owner is required to use at all times and maintain at his own expense. The company can use the data in any way it wishes and will grant the owner limited access to such data. Further, Icon requires that if the aircraft is resold, the original buyer must assure that the new owner will adhere to the original buyer's stipulations with Icon or pay a $5,000 transfer fee. Icon also reserves the right to buy the airplane back from the original owner at a market value that appears to be determined by Icon. AVweb editorial director Paul Bertorelli takes an in-depth look at the contract in today's AVweb Insider blog.

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Starting May 1, anyone who wants to take part in an EAA-sanctioned Young Eagles event will have to take an online training course and undergo a standard background check before interacting with the young participants. EAA introduced its Youth Protection Policy earlier this year and got an earful from some volunteers who objected to what they consider an invasion of privacy in a data-gathering scheme that goes too far. But EAA's VP of Communities and Member Programs, Rick Larsen, told AVweb in a podcast interview that while some volunteers have quit the program, more than 5,000 of an estimated 6,000 active Young Eagles participants and organizers have taken the course and done the checks. Larsen said the program provides "a bit more guidance and structure" for organizing and running events involving kids to ensure that everyone is protected.

Larsen said Young Eagles involves up to 70,000 young people every year and virtually every other youth program with those sorts of numbers has these policies in place. He said that came into sharp focus when it became known that people who had taken part in Young Eagles events had been charged with criminal offenses involving young people. Larsen said having the program in place ensures that all involved in the program have the knowledge and training to carry out the events safely. He said the program is a matter of implementing best practices and conforming to modern expectations and standards. He also said EAA has listened to member concerns and modified some of the provisions, including making the provision of the volunteer's Social Security number optional. The background checks, which are the source of most of the controversy on the EAA forums, will remain mandatory, he said.

EAA Young Eagles pilots fly up to 70,000 boys and girls every year, but until this year there has been no training or formal policy on keeping the events safe for all involved. EAA's Rick Larsen spoke with AVweb's Russ Niles about the new policy and the controversy it's caused with some volunteers.

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It's barely April, and some parts of the East Coast woke to snowfalls this morning, but in Lakeland, Florida, it's time for an early start to flying season with the opening of Sun 'n Fun. The show has been tweaking its dates for several years, trying to satisfy fly-in pilots in search of perfect weather and vendors who juggle the show's schedule with the Aero Friedrichshafen general aviation event, in Germany. Last year, by comparison, the show didn't start until April 21. This year it runs April 5 to 10, Tuesday through Sunday. According to local weather reports, it should be mostly clear and dry all week, with temps around 80 and just a chance of showers on Thursday. AVweb staffers are now arriving at the show and will provide daily coverage to your inbox starting Tuesday morning.

Among the news expected this week from Sun 'n Fun are new product announcements from engine and avionics manufacturers, updates on new airplanes in the works and all the latest details from the big airplane companies. Aviation experts and advocates have had a chance now to look over the FAA's proposed new rules for certifying Part 23 airplanes, so that's expected to be a major topic of discussion. An update on the FAA's progress toward approving a lead-free avgas also is expected. And there will be plenty of airshow acts as well, with a demo by Red Bull pilots Michael Goulian and Kirby Chambliss on the agenda, plus the Brietling Jet Team, and a night airshow on Saturday. The F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter will visit the show for the first time. Also exhibiting at Sun 'n Fun for the first time will be Icon, with their A5 light sport aircraft on display. AVweb will be there and bring you daily reports, with stories, videos and podcasts, all week long.

Rowlett, Texas-based ADS-B manufacturer NavWorx announced that it has entered into a licensing agreement with Garmin, enabling an approved 2020 ADS-B equipage mandate interface between the budget-priced NavWorx receiver and Garmin panel navigators.

The new interface is centered around the NavWorx ADS600-B ADS-B receiver, a $1999 remote 978 UAT solution that requires an external GPS position source to output an ADS-B signal. The ADS600-B is compatible with Garmin's discontinued GNS500W/400W-series WAAS panel-mounted navigators, in addition to the company's current GTN700/600-series touchscreen navigators. For new installations (or for existing WAAS GNS and GTN navigator installations) shops will need to connect the Garmin navigator to the NavWorx receiver via a serial data bus—a relatively simple task.

The announcement is a breakthrough on a couple of fronts. First, it seemingly represents Garmin's answer to a market demanding that it open its interface to third-party manufacturers—a trend the company started last year when it announced compatibility of its navigators with the popular ForeFlight Mobile tablet app, via the Flight Stream wireless interface. Second, the NavWorx/Garmin interface potentially lowers the price of a complete mandate-approved solution to around $4000 or perhaps even less, even after installation. 

There are reportedly over 100,000 Garmin WAAS navigators currently in service. It's worth mentioning that legacy Garmin GNS430/530 navigators that haven't been upgraded to WAAS will not work in the NavWorx or any other mandate-approved ADS-B interface. NavWorx offers several other ADS-B solutions for a variety of applications, while Garmin recently announced its next-generation of all-in-one ADS-B transponders, the GTX335/345-series. 

For more information, visit NavWorx.com.

Lockheed Martin's hybrid airship, expected to be FAA-certified in 2018, will be used to carry cargo for energy company operations around the world under a $480 million deal with British company Straightline Aviation Ltd. According to a Wall Street Journal report this week, Straightline plans to buy 12 of the 20-ton airships and market them as an economical way to take equipment and other cargo in and out of remote areas such as Alaskan oilfields. Due to dropping oil and gas prices, "there has been a great deal of interest," a Straightline executive told the Journal.

Hybrid Enterprises LLC, which will sell the aircraft for Lockheed Martin, said production will begin at about one airship per month and could grow to four per month. The company also sees a potential need for larger vehicles that could carry 200,000 pounds, according to the Journal. Lockheed Martin's design features an air-cushion landing system and a payload of more than 23 tons plus up to 19 passengers. The airship will have a range of 1,400 nm and a cruise speed of up to 60 knots. Straightline CEO Mike Kendrick -- who had founded what is now Virgin Airship and Balloon Company -- told the Journal that Straightline liked the unique landing system, which could be used on fields, snow, ice or water without ground crews. Another airship also under development, Hybrid Air Vehicle's Airlander 10, could be a potential competitor as both designs emerged from failed military projects. So far, HAV has said it's pursuing the passenger flight market.

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Two people are dead after a Jeep Grand Cherokee collided with an F/A-18E Super Hornet in California. The female passenger in the Jeep died at the scene and the male driver died later in the hospital after the SUV ran into the horizontal stabilizer of the fighter on the ramp at Lemore Naval Air Station on Thursday. Lemore is one of three "master jet bases" run by the Navy to keep aircraft carriers supplied with crews and aircraft so the crash caused a stir. The Navy set up a temporary command center as a response to what was initially feared to be a targeted attack on the base but as details emerged it seems the dramatic incident was just a horrible accident.

At a hastily arranged news conference later in the day on Thursday, Capt. Monte Ashelman, the CO of the base, said there will be plenty of investigations about how the Jeep managed to smash through a gate and run amok on the base before hitting the Hornet. The drama began with routine inquiry by a California Highway Patrol officer on a state highway near the base. The Jeep took off and the CHP officer was joined by a CHP helicopter on the chase. The police helicopter followed the Jeep around the base with the help of air traffic controllers until the collision. The aircraft is damaged but repairable. Names of the two deceased haven't been released.

One person is dead and five have been injured after a single-engine aircraft (possibly a Lancair) hit a parked car during what appears to be an emergency landing on a freeway north of San Diego about 9:15 a.m. Saturday. The aircraft rear-ended the car, which was parked on the shoulder of the highway. A passenger in the vehicle was killed. Three other occupants of the vehicle were hurt and the pilot and passenger were also hurt. The pilot was reported to have life-threatening injuries, according to various local media reports. 

Witnesses said the aircraft touched down and then slid into the vehicle. Motorists stopped and one used a hammer to pry open the aircraft door while others attended to the injured in the car. The accident caused massive traffic tie-ups on I-15, about 50 miles north of San Diego.

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When the vast majority of American pilots want to go flying they rent an airplane from their local FBO, flight school or flying club. That means they have to go through some sort of a checkout with the aircraft provider before they can take the aircraft on their own. Whether the checkout is in a type the pilot hasn't flown before or with a new-to-the-pilot rental facility, there is a certain amount of uncertainty and discomfort for the pilot—after all, it's effectively a checkride. Plus, there usually aren't published guidelines for an FBO airplane checkout; unlike having the PTS to study when you're getting ready for a checkride for a rating. What should you expect? What will the instructor want to see?

Stripped to the basics, first, the FBO wants a new customer. It wants your checkout to go smoothly. Second, it also wants a customer who isn't going to do something foolish that costs the FBO money because the airplane can't be rented and/or has to be repaired because of damage that may or may not be insured.

With all of the above in mind, let's go through a checkout from the eyes of the person who is going to say yes or no to you becoming a customer, the CFI. I'll use "we" to refer to CFIs because this is based on not only my years of giving checkouts and taking FBO and flying club standardization checks, but also many, many hours of talking with other CFIs and FAA inspectors about checkouts and self-preservation when flying with someone I've never met before.

Preparation

Whether it's a new airplane checkout for the pilot or a pilot checking out at a new operation, we greatly appreciate it when you come to our first session with an idea of what to expect of us and what we'll be expected of you.  We want you to come to the session prepared. Frankly, we don't like having to spoon-feed you all of the details about the airplane, from usable fuel to V-speeds because it's too much to retain in one session, especially if it's your first time in a glass cockpit. It also will take so long that, unless you've booked a very long time slot, there won't be time to go flying. By showing up prepared, you'll save money because you won't be paying for as much time with the instructor on the ground—it will probably take less time in the air as well.

We would like to get to know you a little before the checkout, because, believe it or not, every sane instructor is a little nervous about flying with a pilot he or she has not met. That's because virtually every one of us has had at least one good, solid scare at the hands of a pilot during a checkout. So, before the flight, arrange to call or exchange emails with us. That let's us get to know you and start making plans as to how to tailor the checkout for you. It also allows us to arrange for you to fill out any forms that are going to be required, including the company quiz on the airplane details, and make sure you have access to the POH data so you can study it before the checkout.

If you want a flight review and/or instrument competency check as a part of the checkout, say so ahead of time. Not all airplane/new FBO checkouts meet FR or IPC requirements, so the CFI will need to make sure the session includes what's needed for a FR and/or IPC endorsement. One way to really anger an instructor is to bring up the FR and/or IPC subject for the first time as he or she is signing your logbook after a successful checkout.

We want you to know what you will have to demonstrate for us to consider your checkout complete. After all, there should be measurable definitions of success. Let's establish objective standards for airspeed, altitude and heading. Your level of comfort with the objective standards helps us understand if you're a rusty pilot who may need a little time to flake off the rust or if the transition to a faster airplane than you're used to, or both, means that the checkout may take more than one session to complete.

If you're checking out in an airplane that has a minimum number of hours of dual required by the FBO before you can go off on your own, we'll talk about that and how to structure a syllabus that makes those hours as valuable to you as possible.

Have a current charts, either electronic or paper, and a way to take notes or record the session. There's going to be too much to memorize. You're going to be buried with local knowledge and FBO procedures as well as the informal gouge we've picked up over the years for operating the airplane. Much of what we're going to be discussing isn't written down in the FBO materials or the POH, so at least taking notes is essential.

As a side note, if you are going to record the session, your state law may require that you have the permission of those you are recording. No matter what the law, it's basic politeness to get your CFI's permission to record and, if you intend to share on social media, get permission for that as well. CFI's vary in their eagerness to be featured on the Internet.  

At the Airport

Arrive early. If you are new to the FBO, immediately get to know the person behind the counter. He or she will be the one you'll contact to schedule airplanes (if there isn't Internet-based scheduling) and who you'll call if you have a problem away from base. It's wise to turn that person into a friend.

If you haven't gotten the forms needed previously, get them from the receptionist and start filling them out. Your instructor may not be available yet (you're early, remember), but that's OK, you're taking care of the stuff that doesn't require an instructor's presence. Have a copy made of everything, especially the airplane checkout sheet, as it will be a good reference for you in the future. The more you have done and have ready to go when the instructor shows up, the less time the checkout will take.

Another side note, many airplanes have optional fuel tanks, make sure you know which tanks are in the airplane you are to fly and how much fuel it can carry. It's embarrassing to fill out a form regarding endurance with long-range tanks and subsequently experience that loud silence when you discover the airplane actually has standard tanks.

Once we sit down together, at a minimum expect to review FBO procedures, aircraft systems and speeds and FARs. We expect you to have a good working knowledge of the FARs and airspace. That's pretty basic—if it's not there, it's a caution flag for us and it will extend the time it takes to complete your checkout. We also want you to ask questions. We know that what you don't know can hurt you and your passengers. We're always concerned that we may omit something important during your checkout. When you ask questions it allows us to not only answer the specific question but also identify an area where you might be rusty so we can bring you back up to speed.

Installed avionics, especially on older airplanes on FBO flight lines, can vary all over the map. We'll take some time to go over what is in the airplane you're about to fly and make sure you're ready to handle all of avionics, including the autopilot.

Into the Airplane

We'll take our time during the preflight so you can start getting to know the airplane and/or local procedures regarding how the FBO handles preflights, obtaining fuel and what to do if there is a major squawk uncovered on the preflight. We want you to know the local etiquette for startup so you don't blow dirt all over other airplanes or into open hangars. Once in the airplane, we're going to be watching for good cockpit organization and practice—stuff you should know, regardless of the type of airplane you're flying—and that you know how to use a checklist.  

Once you've started the airplane and are moving, we want you to have time to begin getting a good feel for the little things that matter for smooth operation of the airplane and at this airport, such as the overall sight picture, blind spots, steering and brake responsiveness, how things look when you are on the taxiway centerline. We'll point out areas of concern on the airport such as blind or confusing intersections, where not to do a runup and noise-sensitive areas.

On takeoff, we expect you to do a reasonable job of tracking the centerline, or at least trying hard if it's a new-to-you airplane. If there is a crosswind, we expect that you'll have the ailerons deflected into it during the takeoff roll. Once in the air, we'll be watching to see that you use the trim and work to hold desired airspeeds as you are getting a feel for the airplane. We know that you will be busy, but we expect you to be aggressive in watching for traffic and making sure you take care of things that need to be accomplished after takeoff such as gear and/or flap retraction, turning off the aux fuel pump, setting climb power and handling needed communications.

We are wide-awake right now. We're paying full attention to what you are doing and how you are flying; it's self-preservation. Smooth, precise flying will go a long way toward causing us to relax and decide the checkout isn't going to take several hours.

Once at altitude, we're watching to see that you go through the cruise checklist and make sure you understand how to set the power to get what you want per the POH. We want to see that you can lean the mixture appropriately (ROP or LOP), then take care of any of the other systems that require attention while you work on getting the feel of the airplane and the area.

We want you to take the time you need to feel the airplane and see what it takes to hold altitude within plus or minus 100 feet and to set the trim so it flies hands off or close to it. See what is involved in changing fuel tanks and how the detents feel as each is reached.

Once in the practice area we'll have you do airwork to see that you can make the airplane do what you want it to do as you do. Plan on doing, at the very least, steep turns, slow flight and stalls. We want to see that you can get comfortable flying the airplane slowly as that it a common problem area we observe. We want you to slow the airplane down and change configurations to see if there is a pitch change with gear and/or flap extension and to see what it takes to fly it at five knots above stall speed and trim it to fly hands off. How much rudder does it take to keep the ball in the center? What is it like to make a go around from that configuration—similar to well into the flare on landing? What is involved in transitioning into a climb? This is your chance to fly the airplane near the edge of the envelope and learn what it's going to do while you have someone right there to catch you if you slip.

If this is a new airplane checkout, we understand that getting the maneuvers nailed down may take a few attempts as you sort out control forces, coordination and trim.

If this is a new FBO checkout, we are going to expect that you can do all of the maneuvers reasonably well the first try. We came into a "new to the FBO" checkout assuming you know how to fly the airplane; this is not the time to disabuse us of that notion. Nevertheless, if it does turn out that you are demonstrating evidence of rusty technique, we'll switch gears and work with you to bring your performance up to scratch.

The emergency procedures will be the ones you've done forever: engine failure, fire in flight, jammed controls, system malfunctions, emergency gear extension and the rest. We want to see you handle the initial "memory items" of each emergency correctly and smoothly and then pull out the checklist when time allows to make sure you took care of everything. You'll be expected to follow the old simple rule of emergencies—fly the airplane, deal with the problem, fly the airplane, communicate.

Back to the Airport

As you return to the airport, we want to see that you plan the descent, run the checklist (printed or oral) arrive in the pattern on altitude and on speed and communicate appropriately. The whole process should be smooth and reflect your ability to plan ahead. In a new airplane it may take a while to get a feel for the speeds involved so that you do arrive at pattern altitude where you want to and with the speed where you want it.

Plan on doing a series of landings. In a new airplane we'll work with you on establishing a routine in the pattern.

We are looking to see that you can fly the airplane on speed, are ahead of it in planning each part of the pattern, can handle a crosswind, know where to flare and can keep the airplane straight on landing and rollout. We are not going to be hypercritical regarding how smooth the landings are—control of the airplane is far more important. We will ask you to demonstrate a short field takeoff and landing and should work with you on developing a feel for how much runway is required for the normal takeoffs and landings. We'll also work with you on handling any quirks of the airport location that affects approach and landing.

In many higher-performance airplanes, a forward c.g. and full flaps cause the control forces in the flare to be fairly high (the further forward the c.g., the more stable the airplane, so it resists your attempts to slow it down). We'll want to make sure you have the airplane trimmed for the appropriate approach speed on final. However, if you have to make a go around, that can have the effect of pitching the nose up significantly—we'll also work with you on go-arounds so you can see what you have to do to retrim while making needed changes in flap deployment.

Two of the big things we're watching for on landing is that you fly the airplane on speed on final—too fast is a major cause of landing accidents—and that you can handle a crosswind and keep the ailerons into the wind throughout rollout.

If this is just a new FBO checkout, you'll probably be doing the above in an abbreviated fashion. The more precise you fly early in the flight, the more likely it is that we are going to keep the checkout short and sweet (read inexpensive) as we can see you are perfectly capable of flying the airplane and have done so before.

After the landings we'll watch to see that you taxi in with aileron deflection for the wind and shut down per the checklist. We'll outline the procedures for securing the airplane per the FBO preferences. Once inside, plan to sit down and go over the flight; what went right and what you need to work on. Again, make notes, as this is often the time that we give you some very useful operating tips based on what we just observed. If you have met the measurables we agreed upon prior to the flight you can plan on being signed off and you'll walk away with that good feeling that you didn't scare us and become one of those stories we tell other instructors over adult beverages.

Rick Durden is a CFII and holds an ATP with Douglas DC-3 and Cessna Citation type ratings. He has been instructing for over 40 years and is the author of The Thinking Pilot's Flight Manual or, How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing It, Vols 1 & 2.

A few years ago, I flew into RDU really late at night to drop off a couple of folks. On the way out, taxiing down to 5R, ground control called out.

Ground Control:
"Twin Cessna, where are you going?"

Me:
"To 5R."

Ground Control:
"You were cleared to 5L."

Me:
"Would you like me to do a 180 and go to 5L?"

Ground Control:
"Go ahead and do a 360 and proceed to 5R."

I continued but left out the turn!


Michael K.

Heard anything funny, unusual, or downright shocking on the radio lately? If you've been flying any length of time, you're sure to have eavesdropped on a few memorable exchanges. The ones that gave you a chuckle may do the same for your fellow AVweb readers. Share your radio funny with us, and, if we use it in a future "Short Final," we'll send you a sharp-looking AVweb hat to sport around your local airport. No joke.

Click here to submit your original, true, and previously unpublished story.

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Icon Aircraft founder Kirk Hawkins has famously said his company aims to reshape—actually reinvent—general aviation by "democratizing" access to it. What that means exactly is about as clear as mud, but this week, Icon's buyer agreement escaped into the wild, and it appears as though Icon's view of "democratization" centers on a legal construct that gives the company broad protection against its customers while denying those customers the same basic rights buyers of other aircraft enjoy. If this is the shape of the future of general aviation, it's not very pretty, in my view.

The buyer agreement runs to 40 pages and is a tour de force in outlining specific protections for Icon, while forcing the buyer to legally sign away certain rights buyers of all products—not just airplanes—have traditionally assumed were part of the standard commercial transaction. Technically, the agreement is two parts, a sales agreement and an operations agreement that binds the buyer to use the airplane only in certain ways.

Some of the high points include a clause that has the buyer agree to indemnify Icon against lawsuits or pay an additional $10,000 to retain the right to sue. The agreement also appears to advance the claim that the buyer agrees that Icon is making no promises that the A5 is suitable for any particular purpose and that any representations made by Icon or its employees should not be relied upon. In other words, Icon won't be held accountable for whatever claims may have been made before the sale, other than what's in the POH.

As part of what the company has described as an effort to encourage safe operation of the aircraft, pilots must either be trained by Icon through a company-approved program or obtain their training directly through Icon. The company offers this training as an upsell at prices ranging from $1250 for a basic transition course to $9500 for a full sport pilot course with single-engine sea rating.

Following an example set by Robinson Helicopter, the company will require an airframe overhaul at 2000 hours or 10 years, whichever is shorter. The agreement is silent on what this overhaul entails or what it will cost, thus leaving an owner with an uncertain calculation on how an impending overhaul will impact the value of the airframe. One aspect of this buyers may very well balk at is this one: an airframe life limit that is the earlier of 10 years or 2000 hours from the second airframe overhaul. I queried Icon about this, but they declined to answer any questions on the agreement specifically. I take it to mean the airframe is limited to 6000 hours or 30 years, if the second overhaul occurs at 20 years. A reader noted that he read this as a 20-year life limit on the airframe.

In explaining the intent of the agreement, Icon sent me a copy of a cover letter it's sending to buyers. The letter says, in part, "How can a purchase agreement promote safety? By helping to ensure that ICON's airplanes are (1) flown by well-trained pilots, (2) flown within their operating limitations, and (3) maintained to ICON standards. We won't compromise on these principles and have structured our purchase and operating agreements around them."

Another company-centric feature of the contract is that the owner agrees to allow Icon to install a digital flight recorder in the aircraft, including a camera, and that Icon owns this equipment. The recording gear is to be kept running in flight at all times and Icon can do with the data what it pleases and may download it anytime, at its discretion. It grants the owner limited "revocable" access to the recorded data for his own use. And by the way, if the recorder is stolen or otherwise removed, the owner is on the hook to pay for its replacement and he's required to keep it in good repair. I suspect many would-be buyers will be put off by this kind of big brotherism. I know I would be, even though I think the intent of it has merit. Collecting data is useful for trend monitoring and that can improve safety. But it should be at the owner's option.

The contract notes that Icon obtained from the FAA a waivered weight increase against the LSA-specified limit and that this applies only in the U.S. Buyers outside the U.S. are on their own with whatever regulators they have to deal with. Although Icon says it intends to pursue such approvals elsewhere, it says the timing of such approvals "may never be determined." In other words, buyers writing a quarter-million dollar check to Icon aren't promised any help to obtain whatever approvals they need to legally fly the airplane outside jurisdictions of the FAA. The contract also asks the buyer to acknowledge that Icon will provide support and maintenance only in regions where it has established networks. Currently, that's only the U.S. and Australia.

One of the most bizarre aspects of the contract is what reads to me like a morals clause. Here it is in its entirety: "By entering into this Purchase Agreement, Buyer is part of the ICON pilot and owner community. Promoting flight safety and responsible operations throughout that community is a primary objective for ICON. A critical component of flight safety comes from the values, attitudes, and behaviors of the pilot. ICON expects all ICON aircraft pilots and ICON aircraft owners to demonstrate responsible, professional attitudes consistent with those of safely piloting an aircraft. As set forth in the Aircraft Operating Agreement, Buyer and the Managing Pilot agree and agree to cause pilots of the Aircraft (i) to behave professionally, respectfully and with sound judgment in connection with use of Aircraft, and (ii) to participate within the ICON community in a manner that is professional and does not adversely impact others within the community."

If you read this the way I read this, it seems to expose the buyer to legal action from Icon if the company determines, through its continuous video and data monitoring of the owner, that the pilot hasn't behaved "professionally and respectfully." These qualities aren't exactly defined in the agreement and are, evidently, left to the discretion of Icon. Further, the company's website depicts extreme low flying that many of us might consider to show poor judgment. Why such a clause would even appear in a buyer contract is baffling, in my estimation. Icon further saddles the buyer with the legal responsibility not to allow a pilot who hasn't been through Icon-approved training to fly the airplane. Moreover, Icon insists a pilot can't carry a passenger unless he has 10 hours of PIC time in the airplane.

As far the price of the machine and the agreed-upon terms, once again, Icon stacks the deck in its favor and against the customer by noting that prior to the purchase agreement, "the offer of entering into this … agreement is subject to change in Icon's sole discretion at any time." There's nothing in the language that particularly favors the customer, in my view. In case of a dispute over performance or details of the purchase agreement, Icon wants the customer to submit to arbitration and waive any right of jury trial.

The agreement also requires the owner to agree that the agreement itself was "negotiated" between the owner and company and therefore if there is a disagreement over the contract, the owner can't claim that the contract was a take-it-or-leave-it affair (contract of adhesion), which is then interpreted against the company that drafted it. It's a lose-lose for the owner, in my view.   

Although the base price of the airplane has been given as $189,000, the sale contract I examined shows it as $197,000 for the base. Early buyers can opt for a "Founders Edition" which, for the addition of some features, adds another $35,000. A ballistic parachute adds another $15,000, for a total of $247,000. This makes the A5 one of the most if not the most expensive S-LSA on the market. For those anxious to have their A5 sooner than they might otherwise, there's a move-up option that costs $75,000, bringing the total to just over $300,000, allowing for credits.

In another example of image control, the first 100 owners in the Founders program agree to accept that the service network won't be fully developed and the airplane may have flaws to be corrected by service bulletin. During this period, up to two years, the owner agrees to be "supportive" of Icon, providing regular confidential feedback to the company. Does this imply don't complain to the press or the public, too?

What could be a killer—and should be, in my view—for many would-be buyers of this airplane is Icon's draconian insistence that at resale, the new buyer sign and affirm the same terms that the original buyer agreed to, including an operating agreement requiring training, oversight and the above-mentioned moral clause. Failure to do that invokes this clause: "In the event Owner Transfers the Aircraft or interest therein and fails to deliver to ICON an Assignment Form signed by the transferee as Owner (and/or the Acknowledgment and Joinder Agreement for a new Managing Pilot, if applicable) within 10 days after such Transfer, then Owner shall pay ICON an assignment fee of US $5,000.00." Moreover, even for an approved transfer to another owner, the owner has to pay Icon a $2000 fee to process and approve the transfer.

Furthermore, Icon demands to be notified of a potential sale and insists that it be allowed to purchase the airplane from the owner under the same terms. And by the way, failure to pay the assignment fee means the original owner has to pay Icon interest at 1.5 percent per month. However many original buyers Icon may find to sign this agreement, consider the hapless owner going out into the resale market with the same requirements to toe Icon's self-protective line. In my estimation, that would sharply limit the potential resale market and possibly tank the airplane's value on the used market from day one. You may rightly surmise that this once again puts Icon in the driver's seat, since it insists on the right to purchase at what's essentially first refusal and therefore would have considerable leverage on determining market value.

I spent a couple of days this week shopping Icon's idea with other manufacturers with this overarching question: Would or should anyone sign such a buyer agreement with a manufacturer? One aftermarket manufacturer, who also happens to be a lawyer, opined that the attempt at legal hold harmless may be the shape of the future. Despite the General Aviation Revitalization Act that was supposed to resuscitate the industry, high-dollar lawsuits continue to dog manufacturers. For that reason, Icon's attempt to limit its liability has an understandable appeal. But in my view, it's doubtful it will have the desired or any effect. One CEO of a major aircraft company told me it entered into a limited hold harmless arrangement to work out warranty claims and got sued anyway. Even winning such a suit is losing, given the high cost of defending such things. Further, Icon's indemnification language implies that it be held harmless if the NTSB finding absolves the aircraft as being at fault. But federal law specifically prohibits NTSB findings as trial exhibits.

My guess is a lot of lawyers will be advising their clients not to sign Icon's agreement or to amend it significantly. In my view, it so egregiously erodes basic customer rights and protections as to fundamentally reset the seller/buyer equation that it's a gross distortion of what business should be. If my lawyer source is correct and this is the direction we have to go to assure GA's survival, I'd just as soon knock out the lights and call it a day. You can't have an industry on this basis. In my view, no airplane, no matter how sexy or how sweet, would be worth such a subservient relationship with a company manufacturing something I intended to buy. Particularly if that certain something consumed a quarter million dollars of my wealth.

It's impossible to say where this will go. (As I was posting this, I was copied on one reader's email to Icon cancelling his order.) My view is that Icon's fundamental idea—a retooling of the general aviation concept with a flashy, Tiffany-type product pitched outside traditional GA marketing channels—is both refreshing and sound. I'd rank it as conceptually one of the best ideas for GA resurgence I've seen. Icon has clearly taken a long time to develop the airplane because the company wanted it to emerge as close to perfect as possible. Its promotion and sales material has been consistent with the perception of quality and it has attempted to fiercely control its image to the point of declining requests for flight demos from media outlets critical of it. Notably, that includes AVweb.

Have we seen this movie before? Maybe. Recall the original Eclipse kicked open the doors in 2002 and declared it would show the world how to build airplanes with a small, sophisticated jet built on an assembly line with unheard-of efficiencies and a price far below the competition. The phrase of the day was "disruptive technology." The whole thing tanked, buried under a heap of overmarketing hype and mismanagement. Eclipse got into trouble with late deliveries and you have to wonder if Icon might be struggling with deliveries, too. With great fanfare at AirVenture, it announced a delivery to EAA, but we've seen nothing since.  

That Eclipse survives yet today in resurrected form is the sort of miracle only aviation is capable of. With Icon, the phrase is "democratization" but, in my view, it's hard to see much democracy in a buyer agreement that so lopsidedly favors the company against the customers' interests. Wouldn't it be better to build a relationship with the customer based on trust, a sound product and good service rather than herding buyers into a legal corral and giving them the impression you put them there so they can do the least harm?

Maybe that's just too old-fashioned. Maybe the bold new world of general aviation will be populated by manufacturers camped inside a compound with 12-foot walls lined by lawyers. If so, what a shame. This stuff used to be fun.

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