What’s the Outlook For Icon?


Is Icon going to make it? As someone responsible for covering such things and presumably offering an opinion supported by disclosed fact, I’m not asked this question so much as I am informed by the aviation cognoscenti that no, it will not. I’ve spent quite a few hours during the last month or two writing about the subject and editing this week’s video.

The negative opinions seem to diverge into two camps, the first occupied by pilots who hated the very idea Icon was trying to advance and the second unconvinced that Icon can overcome the daunting economics it has erected for itself in the midst of what is undeniably a lackluster aircraft market. That applies equally to certified and ASTM segments, with the possible exception of Cirrus, but even it is nowhere near the lofty heights of the 2007 sales peak.

First the airplane. As LSAs go and as I mentioned in the video, the A5 shows evidence of the uncommonly large amount of money spent to birth it. It has appealing, angular good looks, the interior and panel—which I was prepared to hate—is well detailed with attention to fit and finish and it’s not festooned with gadgetry. I’m not sure how the wing fold mechanism will hold up over time, but its execution is competent and well-suited to the stated purpose. Just watching someone unlimber one of these things on a ramp ought to attract a small crowd.

Well mannered and docile, it’s fun as hell to fly, especially with the removable windows left back in the hangar. Other aviation journalists have blathered on about the unique angle-of-attack indicator and I agree that Icon’s iteration of this much overblown instrument and its integration into the training is an innovation worthy of praise. Other manufacturers would do well to note the possibilities.

If I have any druthers for the A5 it would be for more power. The A5’s gross weight is waivered to 1510 pounds to accommodate the heavier stall resistant wing and a ballistic parachute. The safety tradeoff is admirable, but lunches still aren’t free, especially in aerodynamics. The A5 is leisurely off the water compared to other amphibs and float LSAs that cost a lot less. Part of Icon’s marketing plan was to appeal to well-heeled motor sports enthusiasts. Except for the well-heeled part, I inhabit the two-wheeled galaxy in that universe and for me, the sport part isn’t so styling around on a cruiser as it is something that’s just stupidly overpowered that the government hasn’t found out about yet. Or at least knows I have. So in my fantasy world, the A5 would have 150 HP and a CS prop. Now we’re talking. The rules just need to catch up with the market, a perennial mismatch.  

I’ll concede more power might not sweeten the sales appeal for many. I live in my own distorted little world so just leave me alone. So what would expand the appeal? Scream, scream, we all scream that a lower price would. Frankly, I’m not so sure of that. Even the lowest priced LSAs aren’t selling large volumes. But it’s undeniably true that even if you’re selling into what you imagine to be a virgin market, if the competition is half (or less) your price, the sales pitch will have to be one for the ages.

If Icon made a potentially fatal mistake, they’re just repeating the same one about every other airplane manufacturer has made: overestimating demand and underestimating production economics. In my interview with Icon president Thomas Wieners, he said the A5 wasn’t necessarily designed for manufacture. There are degrees of this and more than one company—including Cirrus—had to hustle to eke out build efficiency after the orders started pouring in.

And Cirrus was lucky enough to survive long enough to have the opportunity to do that. That works continues yet to today. Airplane buyers gauzily imagine that gains in build efficiency will allow lower prices, but it doesn’t work that way. Whacking build hours just keeps the margins in place against costs that seem to go only in one direction: higher.

Recall our reporting on the Vashon Ranger which is undeniably designed for manufacture. It has an attractive price and qualifies as a great airplane. But it’s also not flying off the shelves, exactly. With a composite main structure and a lot of separate parts and pieces, Icon faces a real challenge in reducing build time. If the investors hang in—and let’s be honest, that will determine Icon’s survival as much as anything the buyers do—the company can chip away at the problem. Wieners has a manufacturing background and he thinks gains can be made.

Assuming Icon can find buyers, training may be a like challenge. As I mentioned in the video, we know of at least six accidents before 100 airframes were in the field. While it’s too early to have this define the A5, Icon will have to pay attention to the possibility of a continuing trend. All of the accidents thus far have involved not newbies, but relatively experienced pilots. The company hopes to be training new pilots in what can be the riskiest kind of flying; zooming around obstacles and terrain at low altitude and dealing with glassy water, sea state and winds that can be hard to read. This kind of flying requires fine-point judgment and experience is the best teacher.

Then there’s the survival instinct factor, which sometimes eludes … me. Reader Michael Robbins noted that in the video, neither of us is wearing a PFD. His observation shocked me because this is a piece of equipment I always use when float flying. Yet I didn’t have it this time. I have no explanation, but I know I didn’t even think of it, which is hardly an exemplar of basic survival instinct. Maybe I was distracted by fooling with the cameras. On long overwater flights, I always wear the PFD. In a seaplane, you’re not just over the water, you’re on it. And in a heartbeat, you can be in it, bleeding with something broken. So wear the PFD and if you see me not doing it, drown me.

So to the question of whether Icon will survive, I have no answer. But I do have a wish and that’s that they do. The A5 is a terrific airplane and the company’s idea to bring in new pilots from outside the usual aviation channels is innovation worth encouraging. Here’s hoping they can get the numbers right and make it work, however difficult that may be.

Other AVwebflash Articles


  1. What amazes me is Icon is another example of aircraft design, certification, and manufacturing that has no conception of development / manufacturing cost, ROI, and an understanding of the aviation market they insist they are trying to serve.

    Where in the world is this kind of company leadership ineptness coming from? And why does it congregate, propagate, continue, and thrive in aviation? I cannot think of any other corporate venture that any investor would actually pay for this type of company leadership…if you can call it leadership at all.

    It seems like aviation has self-styled visionary people coming from somewhere whose background and expertise has no bearing regarding the realities of flying. Yet, there are investors who seem to flock to these aviation promise-makers offering enough money to convince an increasingly skeptical US pilot population to at least put a little dough down in the form of a deposit. Certified aviation seems to be the only market that measures itself by the number of deposits rather than airplanes being delivered.

    I find it amusing that they put an Icon A5 in a Lambo showroom…or other high end super-car dealerships. These buyers don’t buy these to drive. They end up in garages with car covers on them or are trailer queens for occasional car shows. They are $200-400k status symbols. Most of those cars demand a professional driver to realize their performance potential. But these buyers own them not for performance use but for show. Is this the kind person who will invest the time, money, and most importantly, the dedication to become a proficient pilot?

    If a visionary cannot bring a $80K airplane to market profitably, the market ,upward price wise, is already saturated. Plenty of $125-250K airplanes to pick from…LSA to back-country types. Want 4 place? $400-600K. Want the wheels to disappear with a serious 4 place traveler…$600-$1 million is the entry price to scratch that itch.

    Out of a country of 330 million or so…with the most freedom to fly…only about a 1,000 people a year in total want to buy a certified piston single no matter if it is something you can land on water, aviate with no medical, or a fly high and go fast cross country machine.

    What these visionaries need is an education by Van’s, Kitfox, Just Aircraft, Aviat, Cubcrafters, etc. on what the aviation consumer really wants. And maybe a pilot’s license, too. Cirrus, Piper, and Textron can only collectively dream of selling what Van’s has already done, and continues to do.

    There is truly an a– for every seat. In the aviation world, it is the Chinese government/military/consortium. Icon is just another of several aviation companies who could not stay solvent without Chinese investment and eventual ownership. Mao to the aviation rescue.

    • Damn Jim, you hit the nail on the head in just about every respect. For the life of me I could not understand how Icon has lasted half as long as it already has. It has been nothing short of pure mental anguish to watch Icon try to operate and build an airplane. My head hurts just thinking about it. Most guys in their garages have a better approach and business plan. Very nice complete and concise commentary Jim.
      Oh, by the way Paul, Icon doesn’t have a snowballs chance in hell of surviving. That nail was hammered home before the first deposit was ever taken. It’s truly amazing it has lasted this long.

  2. Actually, I was in the 3rd camp of negative opinions; the ones who did NOT like a manufacture had the nerve to demanded that a buyer sign an onerous agreement on what they could do with it. The plane is good, but it’s just not super-wow-great enough for me to sign away my dignity to get it.

  3. I think part of the problem is the typical way to get a large program financed is to “go big or go home”. The dreamers are forced to over-hype their ideas to investors because, all too often, due-diligence is replaced by “gut feel”, and investment communities are willing to believe the hype and pour scads of money into a project without asking the basic questions or providing at least some balanced guidance. I almost was going to write that it’s an American dysfunctional characteristic, but that wouldn’t be fair. As noted above there are plenty of American companies that make good aircraft in small numbers and are getting along well. It seems that the bigger the hype for a new product or idea, the more likely it will fail, and fail big. Flying cars, anyone?

  4. You would have thunk that the original principals — coming from the Scaled Skunk Works at Mojave — would have had better sense than they did with respect to designing for manufacturing ease / low cost vs. slick looks and overhyped fun. Their early mindsets ARE therefore seriously suspect. What they ultimately created does LOOK interesting but that’s where it all stops. The price jump after they realized what they had done is reflective of poor management, as Jim H opines. The early Icon booths at Airventure were — likewise — ridiculous. If they’d ONLY had brought in some dancing girls. What WERE they thinking?

    The SeaRey Elite with its 914iS WOULD be a better choice at lower cost. I hear they’re testing a 915iS, too. Every time I drive past the factory in Tavares, I have to force myself to keep going because I know I might leave with one if I stop.

    As I have often said, if you want to sell an airplane, it has to either go fast, go far, carry a good load, have room to carry things or have the wow/fun factor. I’d add having a realistic price factored against how many of the previous five performance categories the machine offers. The Icon offers only fun factor … and then for a very limited subset of the pilot population. I wonder how many people have SES ratings or need / care to obtain one? Now add the problem that the Company might not be around to provide after the sale logistical support and a price tag that isn’t competitive and you have a recipe for abject failure.

    I laughed at Jim H’s comment about what Lambo buyers do with them. I have a red Z06 that travels between my hangar and house and occasional car shows. 500 miles / year would be a lot of miles. I get as much joy by looking at it or hearing it scream as I do driving it. And I’d NEVER leave it sitting in a parking lot unattended. NEVER! My wife doesn’t “get” that … but I do.

    Light Sport airplanes now have an additional potential threat … MOSAIC. The predominant draw to LSA was the no medical issue for those of us that worry about such things. If weight increases and type expansion happens and I can fly my C172 under MOSAIC without a medical or continue to fly under BasicMed … why do I need an LSA? For the price of the lowest cost reasonable LSA, I can outfit my 172 with the latest avionics gadgets and have money left over to do other things. For $400K, I could buy a NEW 172. One thing is for sure … if I had $400K to burn … I wouldn’t be buying an Icon A5. Anyone without an airplane can buy a good used C172M for under $100K handsomely outfitted. And if MOSAIC allows construction of a kit airplane by subcontractors … small entrepreneurs will be popping out of the woodwork eager to provide same at low cost.

    It’s not a question of when Icon fails … but when. I don’t wish to see their demise but reality IS reality. Even the Chinese have limits, not only of money but of patience. I’m sure there’s a flying car company or a people moving drone company out there that needs some corporate “expertise.” If I were one of the principals, I’d have a drawer full of resumes already printed up and waiting.

  5. I’m one of the many hundreds of initial deposit holders who for years waited and watched and hoped that ICON would deliver what they promised: a simple, fun, safe and sexy little flying boat, at an LSA price. As a lifelong pilot with a slew of ratings, I even went through ICON’s flight training program in CA (it was well run and a ton of fun) before I reluctantly canceled my order. While the price hikes and changing personal circumstances were factors, in the end it was the paltry useful load and marginal power that convinced me to back away from purchasing one.

  6. I like what Paul Bertorelli wrote in this article and his view point, as much as I would like to see the A5 succeed, I would have to agree that it might not make it unless a huge number of people with disposable income show up.

    I watched Jay Leno take a flight in one on his car show but even Jay didn’t seem to be too interested in it.

    I wonder if he feels the same way about other aircraft that didn’t make the cut – i.e., the Extra 400.

    I test flew DEKAF when it first came out and it easily outperformed the only other aircraft similar to it, (PA46, P210), but for whatever reason did not make it, does Paul have any opinions about the E400?

    Thanks Pat

  7. Ignoring for a moment all of the other significant issues already mentioned, they have a fundamental marketing problem:

    1) Very few certificated pilots would actually buy one because the A5 is completely useless as a real airplane where you want to go places faster than a car and actually carry some stuff.

    2) Very few non-pilots would actually buy one as an occasional use “toy” because the A5 is way too expensive and requires a lot of time/training/contract signing to get in the air.

    I give them a year or two at best.

  8. GA flourished when regular Joe’s could afford to buy an airplane. The highest production year for C 172’s was 1979 when they made more than 3000. In today’s dollars the 1979 C 172 went for $118,000. Today a C 172 cost $ 415,000…..

    It was practical useful and affordable. There will never be high volume production of specialty toy airplanes, the ICON model can never work

  9. There’s a flip side to the conundrum we’re discussing.

    One of the better ideas Icon had was that they were going to market the thing to non-pilots who wanted a fun machine and didn’t know a stick from a rudder. Even at their early introductory price, it was too expensive but — who knows — maybe it’d have worked? So the pilot side is an issue, too. I guess Icon thought they’d just train non pilots to fly the thing on water in 20 hours and they’d run up in droves and buy them in bulk? Who’s on first ??

    Just in the last couple of weeks, I noted on my home aviation radio set to local Unicom that there was a lot of Skycatcher activity at my airport near Oshkosh. I wondered what was going on. At the FBO, I got to talking to one of the pilots, a 60ish guy who told me that he had always wanted to fly, was now retired and was attending an EAA Light Sport accelerated training activity at Oshkosh. The EAA had brought in two CFI’s who were planned to each train two student over the dedicated short period. For $10K including lodging, the aspirants would pop out the other side a certificated LSA pilot. Well, guess what … the EAA couldn’t find four students so each CFI only had one student. $10K isn’t chump change but it isn’t a fortune, either. The guy I talked to was obviously well heeled enough to justify it in his mind. My point is that if EAA couldn’t attract four people for such a dedicated and well planned out training session … it says MUCH! And, of course, twenty somethings wouldn’t be able to afford such training, either. As I remember Icon’s story, that’s the exact target population they were going after … 20 to 30 year old non pilots. So how the heck were they gonna afford the airplane if they can’t afford the training?

    BTW: The guy had landed because he was nervous about the winds that had picked up. I “jacked” the guy up a couple of feet and complimented him on achieving his life bucket list item and told him he was developing aeronautical decision making; that he did the right thing. He was ready to run out and buy an LSA. I told him to — instead — keep training, get his private and buy a “real” airplane. He agreed that was a good plan.

    And no PFD !! I thought Genesah was a professional chief pilot? That’s what Jamie Beckett says …

  10. Van’s RV-7 Quickbuild Kit $38,845, IO-360-M1B, $27,700, 1500 man hours build time @ $50.00 hr = $75,000,
    Hartzell C/S prop $8275, Dynon HDX SkyView panel with ADS-B IN/OUT $$16,390, Emag option $1200, Paint base white plus two colors $12,500, $10,000 for Wheels, tires, brakes, hardware, spinner, wire , hoses, etc…total $189,910.

    Now add another $100,000 pure profit…$289,910

    All of these above prices are not wholesale prices. All of those prices allows for each manufacturer to be profitable. Total labor costs are variable depending on where the airplane is assembled. So, inflating the labor to $100 per hour would add another $75K to the equation.

    To me it is clear that with improved FAA regulation, this kind of well proven airplane could be assembled from the existing supply chain. At 2019 prices, one could purchase a brand new RV-7, with a glass panel including all engine monitoring, auto pilot, ADS-B compliant, fuel injection with electronic ignition, 180HP including C/S prop, 2 place 170kt, aerobatic airplane with a 500 mile range, and a good useful load, completely painted for under $300,000…and making a good profit on each airplane. I believe build times could be reduced to 1,000 man hours on an assembly line style process over time. If regulations would allow this kind of airplane, prices would further drop as competing companies would enter the market and refine the build process. The home builder could still construct his and another less inclined customer could have someone else do it. Van’s is already doing this with the RV-12 series in house under LSA rules.

    I do not want aviation companies to fail. There are practical solutions to the $400,000 172 and the $900,000 G36 / SR-22 ‘s. But airplanes require pilots no matter how affordable they can become. Somehow, flying has to become more appealing, more accessible, with flight training designed that is realistically attainable for those bitten by the aviation bug. But no matter how it happened, each one of us pilots where infected with a rare, incurable disease called flying…not as a spectator, but as pilot in command.

    Proportionally, flying as pilot in command has never had a mass appeal. Flying in a large aerial conveyance has been embraced and expected by the masses. So, we in aviation who have chosen to become the pilot rather than the passenger, are relatively rare. This is why the flying car will never really happen even if regulations and technology permit it. The average person does not want to accept the responsibility, take the time and energy to successfully complete pilot training, to safely participate in the three dimensional world. It’s the three dimensional part that separates aviation from any other hobby, past-time, or career. It cannot be tamed for the masses.

    We pilots choose to launch into the 3D world and spent considerable time, energy, money to get to where we can do that when we choose. Whatever the circumstances that created this attraction to flying has not been a cookie-cutter experience for any one of us. To think anyone can make flying a cookie-cutter experience comes from folks who have never done what we have already accomplished. Like the Harley-Davidson T-shirt says…If I have to explain it, you would not understand.

    What we are debating is, how many airplanes need to be built to satisfy the demand from a small portion of the US population. While that is going on, I will go to the airport, inspired by John K., and go hug my airplane…and if I see his 120, I may embrace that one too.

    • You’re on fire with your comments in THIS blog, Jim !! I’m on MY way to put the cowl on my 172 so I can cut some holes in the sky today, too.

      Your dollars and cents analysis is exactly the basis of most of the comments on the Icon affair. Why the heck would I want to part with what they want for that thang when for less than half I could have a well proven RV-7 hotrod that provides most of the tenets I described above? If the FAA would just get off of it’s you know what and provide the MOSAIC plan that the Administrator spewed during the “Meet the Boss” forum at Airventure … small companies COULD attack that market and need. Vans and Synergy proved it could be done and at a profit, too. And those with existing well proven low end GA could fly them, as well.

      To me — personally — I’m likely never gonna see any of it while I’m still invading the 3-D world. And I don’t have time to do my own bulding. But IF I could custom order just the right airplane, who knows. For most people, there IS a correct price where they’ll take the plunge. Unfortunately, it’s mostly the older folks who have that disposable income. Not until we find a way to get the younger folks into their own airplanes at a price they can afford and justify will things change. A $400K C172 AIN’T it.

      Now then … my cowl awaits … and I’m going to an EAA program tonight. I think I have that “bug.”

  11. The Aviation Industry doesn’t need another wiz-bang aircraft it needs ‘real Tort reform’. Instead of raising hundreds of millions of dollars to build an autonomous electric VTOL, we need to hire the “Next Gen Lobbyist”.

    Lobby states to focus their transportation laws to be more like their ‘Jaywalking Laws’. You get run over while Jaywalking the driver is not held responsible. Basically Jaywalking is a death sentence. As it should be. All transportation is dangerous and our laws should reflect this fact. Instead, you get injured or die in an aircraft and everyone becomes responsible. The company that built the aircraft 50 years ago, the company that designed the engine, the person that previously owned the aircraft and on and on.

  12. And THAT is why — when an airplane is sold on our little airport — we usually only do a ferry permit vs a full blown annual. That way, only min crew are aboard and maintenance liability mostly ends when it gets to the destination. Isn’t it sad that we have to think this way, Klaus.

    BTW: My ’75 C172 cost ~$22K new. To think that an equivalent (albeit somewhat better) airplane is 20 times that is down right criminal.

  13. I can’t help thinking one reason Icon has lasted this long is that the executives, even if some of the cast of characters has changed, have been on the payroll since Day One. It’s possible to imagine a Hollywood reboot of “The Producers” using Icon as inspiration. Roll Eclipse into it and you could end up with something seriously funny.

  14. I have a technical question for Paul B via-a-vis the Icon A5. How did you find the cabin noise levels with that Rotax right behind your head?

    About 10 years ago, I test flew a nifty similar configuration LSA compliant airplane called the Sky Arrow 500 at Sebring. It was a tandem tricycle configuration pusher T-tail with a high mounted Rotax 912. With a front seat well forward of the wing and main gear and a side stick and L throttle, it gave the feel of a mini “fighter.” With modification, folks with leg incapacitation could ingress/egress easily and fly it. What I remember most about it was the “fun factor” followed closely by high ambient noise levels inside of it. It never took off despite what would (now) be considered a bargain price of ~$120K as I remember it. Looking at it from the side, it was similar to the Icon.

    I see that it’s still available albeit from a different company and with different numbers:

  15. People can just get a jet ski or a motorcycle for dirt cheap and have just as much weekend adrenaline rush. No lengthy training required.
    No high insurance cost.
    No expensive yearly inspections.
    No problem with storage.
    Easy to resell.

    Current pilots have a hard enough time justifying the costs of a used $60K IFR 4 place Cherokee to their wives.

    This is why I when Icon announced their plans, I never believed that they would never sell many planes. Selling adrenaline to non-pilots for $400K is more of a business model for drug dealers, not aviation.

  16. I have been flying 20 years and got jaded after loss in Hurricane Florence. Wife gets claustrophobia in one door plane. Insurance went up 500%. Bought a CTSW that turned out to be a twitchy piece of flying crap, glad it’s gone. The only real safety features on newer planes are ones with a ballistic parachute. iPad was more reliable than glass cockpit.
    Most of the newer planes I looked at with a view to purchase are still on the market 7 months later.
    That tells me I got out in time. Considering the good economy the future does not look promising for private flying.

    • I didn’t measure the noise level, but I’d say it’s comparable to a Searey and didn’t seem that much noisier than a tractor-mounted Rotax. You can judge it from the audio clarity of the video. We had the windows out so that probably adds a little noise. But as I noted in the in the video, windows-out flight is surprisingly wind free and not too noisy.

  17. For naysayers. Icon Aircraft after being unlimitedly funded to afford 200,000 aircraft deliveries, in a period of 20 Years, and at the present price producing a revenue of $80 billion in paths 20:years period, would stand a chance of achieving a reasonable ROI. Just sayin’ – I see light at the end of the runway. Don’t ask how I pulled this out of my intellect.