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Sales of piston-powered, fixed-wing aircraft were flat for the third year in a row, says the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) year-end report issued Wednesday—1,142 piston airplanes delivered in total, down slightly from 1,265 in 2015. Since 2009, sales of piston airplanes have hovered around 1,000 units per year, down from a modern-era peak of 2,755 in 2006. Billings for piston aircraft were slightly up in 2016, reflecting a move to more expensive, higher-end aircraft like the Cirrus SR22T. Those sales statistics mirror data provided by the FAA on the number of active, certificated fixed-wing U.S. pilots: 422,352 at the end of 2016, down 2.5% from 2015 levels.

The jet market was hit hard, delivering only 661 jets in 2016, down 7.9% from 2015. Jet billings were down more than 16%, reflecting the larger fraction of the market captured by light jets.

Turboprop sales were more vigorous than their internal combustion or jet siblings. GAMA reported 582 turboprops delivered in 2016, up from 557 in 2015. Sales of Pilatus’s popular PC-12 were particularly enthusiastic. The versatile turbine single sold 91 units, up from 70 the prior year. GAMA anticipates even stronger sales in 2017 as the European Union transitions to new rules that will permit turbine singles operating for hire to fly in instrument conditions, which, surprisingly for many U.S. pilots, is not currently allowed under European rules.

Sales of Cirrus aircraft continued to grow in 2016. Of the 890 piston single-engine airplanes delivered in 2016, Cirrus SR-series aircraft accounted for 317 of those deliveries—35% of all piston singles. Cirrus passed Textron as the largest manufacturer of piston singles (by number of airplanes) in 2013 and has held the lead since.

The full GAMA report is available here. AVweb was unable to resolve some small discrepancies in the reported numbers of piston aircraft sold.

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A $35 million lawsuit filed against Van’s Aircraft, characterized by Van’s as an attack on the kitplane industry as a whole, was settled by the parties late last year. In a press release issued Wednesday, Van’s said the case was dismissed, which is accurate, though it omitted the reason for the dismissal. Van’s Aircraft told AVweb they were unable to comment on the matter.

The lead plaintiff was a passenger in a Van’s RV-10 kitplane who was severely injured when that aircraft crashed after departure from Toledo State Airport, Oregon, in 2014. The plaintiff’s four-year-old daughter was also killed in the crash. The NTSB found the accident was caused by a bead of silicone sealant that had clogged the inlet to the fuel flow transducer, thereby cutting off fuel to the engine. The owner/builder had installed the fuel flow transducer two to three weeks before the accident and used silicone sealant on the fuel lines upstream of the transducer. According to the NTSB report, an FAA certified mechanic and friend of the owner/builder had observed the heavy use of silicone sealant inside the engine cowling and told the owner/builder that this was an improper practice approximately a year before the accident.

The lawsuit acknowledged that the crash was a result of improper construction, but alleged that Van’s Aircraft kit instructions were negligent in their failure to provide sufficient detail to permit the aircraft to be built by “ordinary consumers.” The relevant Van’s Aircraft build manual instructed builders, “When installing fluid fittings with pipe threads do not use Teflon tape. Use instead, fuel lube or equivalent pipe thread sealing paste.”

Photo Credit: FlugKerl2 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

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A Flybe Dash-8 suffered a gear collapse Thursday at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as a major storm battered western Europe. There were no injuries but the airplane is badly damaged. The so-called weather bomb has hit the U.K. and the continent with winds of up to 100 mph and they were reportedly blowing at 30-40 MPH when the Flybe flight made its landing attempt. Planespotters flock to the observation areas around European airports when the wind blows so there is, of course, video of the mishap, which VASAviation put together in a nice package with audio from LiveATC.net.

The aircraft’s approach appears normal but during the flare the right wing dips and appears to result in a prop strike, according to cellphone video shot from inside the plane. After the plane grinds to a halt a pilot declares a Mayday and evacuates the aircraft after smoke gets into the cockpit. Fire trucks were at the aircraft in a minute or so and there was no fire.

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Controversial budget carrier Norwegian Air will launch trans-Atlantic service with its new Boeing 737MAX aircraft this summer with one-way promotional fares as low as $65 from secondary airports in the U.S. Northeast to airports in Ireland and Scotland. Those who jumped on the offer will be able to fly round trip from the U.S. to Scotland for $145. The fares are a publicity grab, which Norwegian freely admits, and the “extremely limited” number of $65 tickets sold out quickly, but it also notes that regular one-way fares will start at $99. A quick check of flights in August showed the realistic cost of roundtrip flights to be in $700 range, still about $500 cheaper than comparable flights on U.S. carriers. U.S. airports include Providence, Stewart International (70 miles north of New York City) and Hartford. Destinations include Belfast, Edinburgh, Dublin, Shannon and Cork, all of which have easy access to other European destinations. The flight frequency ranges from two to four days a week.

The flights will be operated by Norwegian Air International, a subsidiary the carrier set up in Ireland for the budget service to the U.S. Despite howls of protest from U.S. carriers, the Department of Transportation approved the company’s operating certificate late last year. Norwegian is the launch customer for the 737MAX, which is about 20 percent more fuel efficient than existing 737s, giving it the legs to make the crossing. It seats 189 passengers in the full economy configuration. As with all bare-bones budget carriers, Norwegian charges for just about everything other than the seat but it does allow free carry-on bags.

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Stemme AG and S-Plane Automation Ltd said this week they plan to integrate S-Plane subsystems into the Ecarys ES15 Stemme motor glider to create an optionally piloted vehicle, combining the capabilities of a manned aircraft with those of a UAV. With a human pilot onboard, the OPV can execute missions such as flight in civil airspace and over congested areas, where UAVs are not allowed, and also transport passengers. When piloted from the Ground Control Station, the UAV can perform missions that require extreme endurance or are dangerous, such as border patrol, marine patrol and firefighting.

The Ecarys ES15 is a certified aircraft with a payload capacity of 770 pounds and range of 1,350 NM. “Its low radar and minimal IR signature make it an ideal platform for surveillance missions,” said the company in a news release. The automated version of the ES15 operates autonomously, with the entire flight directed by the onboard control systems. The project was announced on Sunday, to coincide with the opening of the International Defence Exhibition and Conference 2017 in Abu Dhabi.

A new training and simulation center for the ATR -600 series of twin turbopropeller commuter aircraft was opened to customers in Florida this week, the company announced on Tuesday. The new ATR full flight simulator is located at the existing Airbus Training Center across the street from Miami International Airport. ATR is a joint venture of Airbus and Leonardo (formerly Finmeccanica). Operators of the 48- to 70-seat commuter turboprops in the Americas were previously faced with sending their pilots to France, South Africa or Singapore for simulator training, where the company trains over 3,500 pilots per year, including both type-rating and recurrent training students.

The ATR-72 and ATR-42, while not common in the Americas, are popular in Europe and Asia with airlines serving relatively short runways and leg lengths. The ATR-72 can take off or land on 3,000 feet of runway at sea level. ATR’s CEO, Christian Scherer, said the new training center was partly motivated by a “strategic move to reenter the U.S. market,” where short-haul service is dominated by regional jets and the faster Bombardier Q400. The company says 1,100 of their aircraft currently are in service with 200 airlines in 100 countries.

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We’ll cut to the chase. The typical basic ground-up IFR avionics upgrade is going to approach, if not exceed, $20,000 (in 2015 dollars). This won’t buy an autopilot or primary flight display, so you’re stuck with steam gauges unless you can spend around $35,000.Sadly, we’ve witnessed enough buyer remorse over the years when owners upgrade entry-level aircraft for IFR on the cheap. Whether it’s an unsupported IFR GPS found on eBay or passing on a PFD that can save money in the long term, it’s imperative to price all options before pulling the trigger on the upgrade, including pricing flagship packages.

Moreover, we think many good shops miss the mark when it comes to helping buyers make the right decisions for their mission and budget. In this article, we’ll do what shops should do up front and present the realistic costs and worthy choices for basic IFR capability.

More Than Radios

You’ll need to have the aircraft inspected by a trusted and experienced shop before the aircraft hits the installation floor because there is more to the upgrade than primary systems. The budget-busting gotcha with IFR upgrades (and VFR upgrades, too) is the accessories that might be required to support the installed equipment. For starters, this includes antennas, altitude encoders, avionics cooling system, circuit breakers and electrical bus wiring, flight instruments, pitot/static system and instrument panel lighting.

If the aircraft has been operated under VFR, it’s possible that it hasn’t undergone a thorough pitot/static and altimeter system inspection required by FAR 91.411. A static system rebuild and instrument overhaul for even basic vintage Cessna and Piper models could require a sizable teardown and extra costs.

It’s not uncommon for an aging and neglected static system to have cracked lines and fittings. Our advice is to have this inspection accomplished first, because it really is the first step in readying the aircraft for IFR flight.

Basic models might not even have a heated pitot tube. You’ll need one for IFR flying.

Antenna work can snowball the job, too. Replacing communications antennas often means removing headliners and opening the aircraft floor, plus replacing old coaxial cabling. New comm antenna systems could run as much as $2000, including labor and supplies, and modifications to the navigation antenna system to receive a glideslope signal could require sizable effort.

It could also be a good time to remove abandoned antennas and inoperative ADF and Loran-C systems. The bottom line is to make sure the shop makes an accurate assessment of existing and required accessories and include them in the proposal. The same is true for any systems that needs rewiring. On the other hand, prepare for surprises once the aircraft is disassembled. There are certain issues that the shop can’t spot until the job is underway.

The upgrade might be a good opportunity to equip for the ADS-B mandate, and the equipment you choose should be based upon its ADS-B compatibility. Expect to shell out an additional $5000, on average, for an ADS-B-compliant system. We’ve included ADS-B systems in the sample IFR packages chart above. Even if you don’t install the ADS-B equipment now, ask the shop if there is any spare data wiring that might be added while it builds the harnessing. This might save money later.

As we’ve preached for years in these pages, the aircraft audio system should be the system to address before any other major equipment is added. Aside from creating more work for the shop that has to piece together audio system wiring that should really be replaced, it makes little sense to connect new equipment to old audio switch panels and wiring that can shortchange the interface.

Many older switching panels lack a speaker amplifier, so it’s possible that you’ll be without a cabin speaker if you retain some of these older systems. Think there isn’t  a need for a speaker? Think about a headphone circuit failure in IMC.

It's a GPS Mission

Before venturing on an IFR upgrade project, it’s worth skimming FAR 91.205. It lists the bare-bones equipment required for flying in the clag. But the regulation primarily addresses flight and engine instruments, and not necessarily the avionics you’ll want for your mission.

For instance, if your plans include instrument training, the occasional climb and descent through friendly cloud decks and shooting approaches to high minimums, you can get by with what we call old-school IFR avionics. At an absolute minimum, that includes a navcomm with glideslope, OBS indicator and a reliable transponder with Mode C altitude reporting, although for actual IMC we think a second comm radio is required equipment.

We asked Garmin’s Jessica Koss what the company considers modern entry-level IFR equipment. Surprisingly, the answer was not a GTN650/750, but instead, the $4995 GNC255 navcomm and the $2500 GI102A navigational indicator. While we think that’s a good choice for minding a lower budget, it could also leave you disadvantaged in the IFR environment. These days, it’s all about GPS, and for practical IFR ops, you’ll likely want an approach-approved model. If you’re scanning the used market for IFR GPS systems on the cheap, caveat emptor. You could be throwing good money after bad.

The money snag with first- and second-generation systems is the required accessories needed to make the installation IFR legal. This includes a CDI and GPS mode-annunciation. These indicators—that might top $1500—display GPS course data and are integral to IFR GPS operations. Understand that a complete vintage IFR GPS installation could easily top six grand and that won’t get you WAAS capability. Plus, older models like the Apollo GX-series and BendixKing KLN89 don’t exactly have a user-friendly feature set, in our view. Instead, we favor the Garmin GNS430W. Although it’s out of production, we have no reason to believe that it won’t be supported for the long term. Garmin’s FlightStream wireless interface recently gave the GNS430W and larger GNS530W a new lease on life, adding a victor airway/flight planning interface through a tablet computer.

Bang for The Buck

That’s an accurate description of the hugely successful GNS430 because it does so much in a single box, making it a good choice for budget IFR upgrades. But given its high resale value, don’t expect a huge cost savings over Garmin’s current-production GTN650 GPS navigator, especially if the GNS430W has to go back to Garmin for repair. Shops told us that the cost delta between a quality used GNS430W and a new GTN650 is around $2000. But that savings can get eaten in repair costs.

Garmin has flat-rate pricing of almost $900 for the GNS430W, which means you want to buy from a reputable source (preferably an established avionics shop) that can test the unit for signs of failure.

This includes display problems, navigation receiver issues and even cosmetic imperfections like faded display lenses and worn bezel nomenclature. Beware of older 28-volt GNS430s—these aren’t supported by Garmin and will require a voltage converter for use in a 14-volt electrical system. We wouldn’t necessarily avoid a non-WAAS GNS430 or GNS530, but understand that these old GPS receivers aren’t compatible with the requirements of the ADS-B mandate. Some might not have a terrain board.

You could have the unit upgraded to WAAS. Budget over $2000 for the upgrade. But since non-WAAS GNS430 systems tend to sell for around $4000-$5000, you might be better off buying a WAAS model from the start. Non-WAAS GNS530 units can sell for as high as $8000.

Our search of the used GNS430W market (sourced through avionics shops, www.barnstormers.com, eBay and Trade-A-Plane) revealed average selling prices in the $7000-$8000 range, not including an indicator.

Another option might be the Garmin-AT GNS480 or older Apollo CNX80. These are WAAS models with decent capability, but we couldn’t find many for sale.

We wish sellers would stop bragging that their used avionics come with “yellow tags.” This is marketing propaganda left over from the days when serviceable equipment was labeled with a yellow serviceable sticker. These days, what a buyer really wants is a signed FAA 8130-3 airworthiness approval form. It shows the disposition of the serial number and part number-specific article (either overhauled or serviceable), which shop manuals were used to determine its final status, the repair station number that did the work and signed it off and other data, which shows the part is airworthy and eligible for installation in an aircraft. This paper chase ends up in the aircraft logbooks and certainly adds to the value of the component.

Mixing Old and New

To save money, this is what you’ll need to do. This might include retaining an old navcomm for backup. But for radios that aren’t supported, including all Narco models and some ARC/Cessna models, think long term and about their inevitable failure. Consider that the panel is torn open now, making a full stack replacement easier and more cost effective than doing it later.

Prepare to get backed into the corner when you consider installing an entry-level PFD, like the Aspen Evolution. Given the amount of wiring interface that occurs between the Aspen and a GPS navigator (and even an analog navcomm), it’s best to install both at the same time. The most common phrase around most avionics shops is “the time to do it is now,” and for good reason. But Aspen’s single-screen Evolution 1000 PFD can be a $13,000-plus buy-in, including installation. For light IFR missions and lesser valued airframes, that could be a questionable investment with little return.

The same goes for traditional HSI systems, including the King KCS55A, Sandel SN3308 EHSI and the more basic Century NSD360A. Unless the prices of the HSI is less than half the cost, the more modern Aspen PFD system is a better investment. Moreover, the money spent on a PFD may be better spent on a basic autopilot.

On a side note, fewer avionics can help tame the learning curve. While not an IFR trainer, that is the approach Sporty’s is taking with its Cessna 172LITE project. Sporty’s is acquiring used 172 aircraft, modernizing the interiors and equipping them with the most basic avionics and flight instrumentation.

Sporty’s Charlie Masters told us it chose the 172 because its panel is extremely scalable, the airframe is certified for IFR and is on the approved model list (AML) for many aftermarket avionics. That is worth considering when selecting an airframe for IFR upgrade.

Final Thoughts

Our advice is to resist over-equipping and upgrade for IFR based on your mission and the aircraft value. For the most basic and occasional IFR mission, consider traditional navcomms like the Garmin GNC255 and even a used BendixKing KX155 with glideslope, supplemented with a tablet or portable GPS. For under 10 grand, it’s the cheapest IFR upgrade.

For more advanced missions, we favor a used GNS430W and a backup navcomm like the KX155, SL30 or a new GNC255. But it’s worth pricing the current GTN650 and even a larger screen GNS530W. For heavy IFR, we think sacrificing a PFD for an autopilot is the right decision.

Last, if you’re starting from scratch and worried about taking a hit when you sell the plane, the best option might be to just sell it now and buy one that’s already equipped for IFR.

This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of Aviation Consumer magazine.

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I mostly fly aircraft certificated under Part 23, but last month, I had five flights in a row in four different light sport aircraft. All this light sport flying got me thinking about an opinion piece I read years ago with the self-explanatory title: “The Skycatcher’s Death Proves the LSA Rule is a Failure.” That seems like a lot to hang on one chubby little airplane.

I’m not a nervous flier. I teach spins and light aerobatics. I fly single-engine piston aircraft at night and in IMC, although I am resistant to doing both at the same time. But whenever I fly the Skycatcher, it stresses me out. The club where I teach has a policy that pilots are required to plan for a one-hour fuel reserve. I think it’s a good policy. A one-hour reserve leaves just enough margin for mistakes and closed runways.

Call me what you will, but if you want to reduce your odds of being in an aircraft accident, the lowest hanging fruit—by far—is not running out of gas. The useful load on the Skycatcher is about 450 pounds. Take two adult men of slightly below average weight, with flight bags, a few quarts of spare oil and one hour of reserve fuel. That leaves 55 minutes of gas for actual flying. What am I supposed to do with that? Admittedly, many pilots will choose to intentionally exceed the aircraft’s maximum gross takeoff weight. While the 1320-pound (600 KG) weight limit for LSAs is an arbitrary figure, pilots who exceed it will be left to calculate performance figures and ultimate load factor without assistance from Cessna’s test pilots and engineers. That’s never a good practice and a totally unacceptable practice in the training environment.

The airplane is not only too heavy; the construction is too fragile. On a recent flight in the Skycatcher, the secondary door latch wouldn’t close all the way, so I pushed hard against the door to make sure it was secure with the primary latches. You can guess where this story goes, and you’re half right. The door didn’t come open. Much worse, it came half open. The front latch released, the rear latch stayed secure, and the leading edge of the door popped out like reverse thrust doors with a similar impact on performance.

After a herculean effort to get the door closed, we flew the 15 miles back home at 60 knots to keep the door from getting away from us again. To make it a real gold star day, my student threw up from the combination of excitement and turbulence as we were entering the traffic pattern. The Skycatcher does have easy inflight access to the baggage area, which allowed me to rapidly repurpose a gallon zip lock bag from oil funnel holder to barf bag.

You’d think for how heavy this airplane is, and how delicately constructed, it would be spacious. Although my 6-foot 3-inch frame fits OK in a Cessna 152, the Skycatcher’s seat is fixed and the adjustable rudder pedals move about three inches, leaving my knees at elbow height.

Is this all the proof we need that LSAs make for bad airplanes? Well, maybe it’s just proof that the Skycatcher was a bad airplane. This may explain why Cessna couldn’t make enough money on the airplane to justify the liability and ultimately scrapped the unsold inventory. It could also be that the light aircraft market is so unprofitable that there’s no long-term role for large public companies like Textron, who are driven more by profit than passion.

There are LSAs out there with ample interior room and great useful load, but they tend to use lighter Rotax engines and lighter fabric-covered wings. The Skycatcher can’t keep up because it wasn’t really designed as an LSA. It’s a scaled-down Cessna 152, which is a scaled-down Cessna 172, which is a scaled-down 747. I hope I’m not bursting anyone’s bubble by pointing out that Cessna is not exactly a modern innovator in design of light aircraft. The Cessna 172 was introduced in 1955 and hasn’t fundamentally changed since 1996. To be clear, the 172 is the best training aircraft I’ve ever flown. It’s a damn good airplane. It just shouldn’t have surprised anyone that Cessna failed to squeeze all the juice from the light sport rules.

I suggest that you go fly a light sport aircraft if you haven’t already. I know, there are things they can’t do. They don’t carry more than one passenger, they don’t go into IMC and they don’t go fast. But hardly anyone does. Very few flights in piston singles have more than two people on board. They rarely fly in IMC. And while I’m constantly looking for trips far enough to outrun my car, but short enough to outrun Southwest Airlines, I never find them. Get in an LSA, grab your BFF, go sightseeing and have some lunch. That’s what piston single flying is mostly about. And that’s OK.

Geoff Rapoport is an AVweb news editor.

Daher's new TBM 930 is equipped with the Garmin G3000, the latest glass panel technology that also includes the most sophisticated electronic stability protection package we've seen. In this AVweb video, Paul Bertorelli checks it out with Daher's Nic Chabbert. 

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