Everyone in General Aviation -pilots, journalists, alphabet groups and even competitive plane makers – seems to behappy to see Cessna building piston aircraft again. After a decade-long hiatus, theappearance of new piston Cessnas has been widely hailed as a sign that G.A. is finally onthe road back from near extinction.
But at the same time, many are asking “who’s going to buy them?”
Ever since Cessna announced the prices of their new Independence-built Skyhawks andSkylanes at Oshkosh ’96, the letters-to-the-editor columns in the general aviation presshave been brimming with grass-roots criticism.
One letter called the new Cessna 172 “the rough technological and stylisticequivalent of a 1966 Chevy Nova…at the price of two Mercedes.”
Another called the announced $124,500 base price of the new Skyhawk”incredible” and suggested that $75,000 or $80,000 would be appropriate.
|Figure 1-The new 1997 Cessna 172R Skyhawk and 182S Skylane: definitely not “the same old same old.”|
Still another pilot (who has a Cirrus Designs SR20 on order) wrote, “I can thinkof no reason other than nostalgia that would prompt one to buy a Cessna at the pricesbeing quoted when you can buy a composite aircraft for less money…with a cruise speed of160 knots and a fuel burn of 10 GPH. … Cirrus has gone out of their way to design incomfort and safety at a price that will blow the doors off Cessna.”
Each time Cessna execs have appeared in public at Oshkosh, AOPA Expo, Sun ‘n Fun andNBAA, there have been no shortage of general aviation enthusiasts who stand up and tellthem “we’re glad Cessna’s back in the piston aircraft business, but we sure wish youwere building clean-sheet-design airplanes with composite structures, state-of-the-artpowerplants and computer-driven instrumentation, instead of the same old strut-bracedhigh-wing spam cans.” Or words to that effect.
Even some members of the aviation press have taken Cessna to task for buildingoverpriced, old-technology airplanes, and questioning whether the company can possiblymeet its ambitious sales forecasts calling for Cessna to be selling 3,000 piston singles ayear by the turn of the century.
I think these critics are wrong. In my view, Cessna is building the right airplanes atfair prices, and I predict they’ll sell all they can make. Here’s why…
I attended Cessna’s price announcement at Oshkosh ’96. And like everyone else in thestanding-room-only forum tent that day, I exhaled forcefully when Cessna announced that anew Skyhawk would cost $124,500 and a new Skylane $190,600. A tidal wave of sticker shockcrashed down upon the audience.
I had a flashback to the day I took delivery of my first airplane, a brand new Skylane,at the Cessna factory in Wichita in 1968 and flew home to California. The 1968 Skylane’sbase price was $18,995, but by the time I added IFR avionics and most of the otheroptional bells and whistles Cessna offered, my airplane cost $25,000. That same year, anaverage Skyhawk as-delivered cost $16,000.
How could the prices of new Cessnas have gone up by a factor of eight sincethen?
The answer, unfortunately, is that the prices of nearly everything have gone up by afactor of eight since 1968: food, cars, gasoline…and airplanes. Any way I analyze them,Cessna’s pricing seems right in line:
|Make/Model||Cruise||Useful Load||Price New|
|Cessna Skyhawk||122||857 lb.||$124,500|
|Piper Warrior||115||931 lb.||$134,900|
|Socata Tampico||125||926 lb.||$170,000|
|Piper Arrow||137||992 lb.||$204,700|
|Cessna Skylane||140||1,228 lb.||$190,600|
|Table 1-1997 Cessna Prices vs. New Competition|
Compared to competition: See Table 1. Cessna’s $124,500 base price for the 1997Skyhawk compares quite favorably with a comparably-equipped new Piper Warrior (7 knotsslower and $10,400 more) or Socata Tampico (3 knots faster and $45,500 more).
Cessna’s $190,600 price for the 1997 Skylane is a bit harder to analyze, because sincePiper stopped building new Dakotas in 1994, there’s no new airplane in production that’sreally comparable. However, the new Skylane certainly looks pretty good compared to a 1997Piper Arrow, which costs $14,100 more, cruises 3 knots slower, and carries 236 pounds lessuseful load.
Make and Model
|Piper Saratoga HP||$161,000||$359,800||223%|
|Beech Bonanza 36||$258,000||$414,000||160%|
|Table 2-New 1997 vs. Used 1986 Prices|
Compared to used Cessnas: See Table 2. Comparing the prices of new single-engineairplanes against used 1986 models reveals that most new aircraft are selling for nearlytwice the price of their ten-year-old counterparts. The prices of new Cessna Skyhawks andSkylanes appear to be right in line at 78% and 71% more, respectively, than whatlate-model used ones are going for today.
Compared to automotive prices: In round numbers, a new Cessna Skylane hastraditionally sold for about three times the price of a new luxury car. My new 1968Skylane cost $25,000 back when a new 1968 Cadillac cost about $8,000. By 1979, a newSkylane was about $50,000, and a new Lincoln around $17,000. But today, a new Skylanecosts $190,600 and a new Lexus over $60,000.
Why do these prices seem so stratospheric? There are at least three factors thatcontribute to this impression. First, inflation has severely eroded the value of thedollar, especially during the runaway inflation of the 1980s. Second, American familieshave less real disposable income than in the past. Third, changes in U.S. tax laws -notably the elimination of the investment tax credit and accelerated depreciation – meanthat the government no longer subsidizes the purchase of new airplanes the way it used toin the 60s and 70s.
So while it’s certainly true that fewer people can afford to buy a new airplane todaycompared to 1968 when I bought my first new airplane, it’s unfair to characterize today’snew airplanes as being “overpriced.” Between inflation and the IRS, most of usare just “underrich.”
Why (ask the critics) didn’t Cessna come out with clean-sheet designs using moderncomposites and high-tech glass-cockpit instrumentation, rather than going back intoproduction on the same old spam cans with type certificates dating back 40-odd years?
I’m afraid that the folks who ask this question have never had the dubious pleasure ofowning a clean-sheet-design airplane. Let me give you a couple of examples.
|Figure 2-Piper Malibu: a great design with a painful childhood.|
A decade ago, my good friend Chuck bought a new Piper Malibu. His airplane was serialnumber 0004 if memory serves.
The Malibu was an exciting airplane, bringing new heights of performance and capabilityto the field of high-performance piston-powered singles. It was also Piper’s firstclean-sheet design in many years.
The Malibu’s airframe featured state-of-the-art laminar-flow aerodynamics, a hugewingspan optimized for flight-level flying, and a novel egg-shaped fuselage with apressurized cabin. The powerplant was an advanced variant of the TCM TSIO-520 designed torun very lean with far better fuel specifics than earlier engines. The avionics wereBendix/King’s latest and greatest, including a new KFC-150 all-digital autopilot andflight director system.
The Malibu made the cover of FLYING, AOPA PILOT, and all the other generalaviation glossies, and received glowing reviews from the press. But the glow started tofade as the Malibu quickly became plagued with problems. (I followed the Malibu situationclosely because my friend Chuck owned one.)
The engines started to fail in flight, resulting in a rash of dead-stick landings.Eventually it was determined that TCM hadn’t torqued the crankcase through-bolts properly.The problem was fixed, but in the meantime the engines got such an awful reputation thatPiper felt it necessary to switch to a Lycoming powerplant, one that used oldertechnology, weighed a lot more, and had inferior fuel specifics.
The Malibu airframe had all sorts of problems, too. The hydraulic flap actuators wereunreliable and were eventually replaced with an electric system. The flap tracks startedto crack and required extensive wing structure work. Rivets in the tail started to workloose and had to be replaced with stronger ones. It was just one major problem afteranother.
Then, just as it looked like the last of the airframe and engine problems had beensolved, Malibus started breaking up in-flight for no apparent reason, and people starteddying. At the insistence of the NTSB, the FAA grounded the entire fleet for weeks andordered a special airworthiness review of the airplane. The Malibu wound up getting aclean bill of health and the grounding order was lifted, but the cause of the breakups wasnever established with certainty.
Anomalies with the new digital Bendix/King autopilot were suspected, some changes weremade, and an intense campaign to improve the training of Malibu pilots was launched. Therash of breakups stopped, but to this day nobody is sure why.
A decade after its introduction, the Malibu today is a great airplane. But the folkswho owned the airplane through its painful first ten years, like my friend Chuck, wentthrough purgatory…or worse.
In case you think the Malibu was an exceptional case, consider another clean-sheetdesign at the opposite end of the general aviation food chain: the Diamond Katana. Atwo-place primary trainer built in Canada by an Austrian-based firm and marketed heavilyin the U.S. market, the Katana seemed like the perfect replacement for the aging fleet ofCessna 150s and 152s at flight schools and FBOs. It featured modern compositeconstruction, a low-cost Rotax powerplant, and a sexy low-wing-and-canopy design. Thephotogenic new trainer made the front cover of all the aviation magazines, and promised todraw students to flight schools like flies to a picnic.
That’s what Spartan Aviation of Tulsa, Oklahoma – one of the busiest flight schools inthe U.S. – thought when they leased a fleet of 42 Katanas in October 1995. But it didn’ttake long before the problems began.
By summer of 1996, Spartan was shocked to discover its new fleet had to be groundedmany afternoons because the Katana’s composite wing spar couldn’t handle Tulsa’s summerheat. The airplane has a spar temperature indicator that looks like it was borrowed from aButterball turkey, and it cried “unsafe” in the afternoon heat.
Then landing gear legs started to snap off during student landings that Spartan’s CFIsswear weren’t that hard…and that certainly wouldn’t have been noticed by thespring steel gear of an old-fashioned Cessna 152. In August 1996, Spartan Katanas sufferedtwo gear collapses in eight days, and Spartan students started asking their instructorswhether they could start logging retractable-gear time.
That was the last straw for Spartan, who told Diamond to take their Katanas back. Aftera brief skirmish involving the lawyers for Spartan and Diamond, that’s exactly whathappened. Today, students at Spartan are flying Cessna 152s, some of which are older thanthey are.
I have no doubt that Diamond will fix the problems with the Katana, and that it willultimately become a great training aircraft. But that doesn’t make things any easier forthose intrepid early-adopters like Spartan who bought the first ones.
Cirrus Designs SR20
The latest clean-sheet darling making the rounds of magazine covers is the CirrusDesigns SR20. This four-place fixed-gear all-composite glass-cockpit airplane attractedhuge crowds at Oshkosh ’96 and Sun ‘n Fun ’97, and is receiving high praise indeed frommost of the aviation press.
If the Katana was designed to relegate the Cessna 150/152 fleet in its final restingplace, the Cirrus SR20 is being touted as a Skylane killer. And it’s no wonder, because onpaper the SR20 looks too good to be true, offering speeds 20 knots faster than a Cessna182 and at the price of a new 172.
But it’s important to keep in mind that the SR20 is still very much a paper airplane.The airplane still has a long road to travel before FAA certification, and the prototypeCirrus has been trotting out to the trade shows and the press is a far cry from beingproduction-quality. Among other things, the prototype is way heavier than it should be (acommon malady of composite designs), casting doubt on the useful load figures beingclaimed for the SR20 by Cirrus. The bleeding-edge electronics in the SR20 have no realtrack record in the field, and Cirrus itself has no track record in certifying, producingor supporting aircraft.
It’s going to be very interesting to watch this one play itself out over the next fewyears. It’s entirely possible that the Cirrus SR20 will turn out to be a great airplanesomeday, and I hope it does. But one thing is for sure: there’s no way I’d ever considerbuying one until the SR20 has proven itself in the field for a few years (or maybe five orten).
Don’t get me wrong. I’m very happy to see that manufacturers like Piper and Diamond andCirrus Designs are willing to spend the R&D money to come out with new airplanedesigns like the Malibu and the Katana and the SR20, because the clean-sheet designs ofthe 1990s will become the great airplanes of the 2000s and 2010s (provided they survivethat long). And I’m glad there seem to be no shortage of intrepid souls out there who arewilling to take a chance on buying new, unproved airplanes.
But the fact remains that anyone who buys one of these airplanes in the first decade ofits life is in essence volunteering to be a “beta tester.” And unless you’revery wealthy, very brave, and very patient, I wouldn’t recommend it.
The new Cessnas!
Most critics of Cessnas efforts to put the 172, 182 and 206 back into production alsoseem to believe that the new 1997 Cessnas are just lightly warmed-over versions ofCessna’s 1950-vintage designs with new paint schemes and nicer upholstery. But they’redead wrong.
In recent months, I’ve made two visits to Cessna’s new single-engine aircraft factoryin Independence, Kansas, during which I inspected the new airplanes in all stages ofassembly and went over them with a fine-tooth comb. I’ve also spent hours meeting with keyCessna engineers in Wichita, going over the details of the new Skyhawks and Skylanes,system by system. And I’ve spent even more hours poring over the service and parts manualsfor the new airplanes.
I have to tell you that I’m incredibly impressed with what I’ve seen. Cessna has fixedalmost all the known problems with the airplanes. Virtually every system was improvedsignificantly, and those systems that needed it received major re-engineering or totalredesign.
|Figure 3-The new slow-turning fuel-injected Lycomings are much quieter, and promise to be more reliable and longer-lasting, too.|
Perhaps the most obvious change that Cessna made in the 1997 singles was to re-enginethem. The new planes are all powered by fuel-injected Lycoming powerplants.
Although horsepower has not been increased, displacement certainly has. The Skyhawkgoes from 320 to 360 cubic inches, the Skylane from 470 to 540, and the Stationair from520 to 580. This increased displacement provides a number of advantages. The new enginesachieve rated horsepower at lower RPMs than before, making the new airplanes far quieterboth inside and out. (Noise footprint is becoming a bigger issue all the time.) Theirlow-compression-ratio design leaves the door open for future certification withlower-octane avgas or even auto fuel, something that would not have been possible withhigh-compression engines. Finally, the low horsepower-per-cube ratios are an almost sureindication that these new engines should have no problem making or exceeding their rated2,000-hour TBOs.
The change from carburation to fuel-injection is especially significant for theSkylane. Continental-powered 182s are among the most vulnerable in the G.A. fleet tocarburator ice. This safety hazard has been eliminated in the new injected Skylanes.
Airframe design has always been a strong suit of Cessna singles. Cessna airframes areincredibly rugged (the Skyhawk has never had an in-flight breakup) and appear to have nostructural life limit (some of these aircraft are still going strong well beyond 10,000hours).
At the same time, Cessna has always been a master at weight reduction, giving theirsingles the greatest useful load and widest C.G. envelopes in the industry. The 182 and206 in particular have a well-deserved reputation for being able to carry anything you canclose the doors on.
But the Achilles’ heel of Cessna airframes has always been corrosion. Cessnatraditionally did the poorest job of internal corrosion-proofing of any major lightplanemanufacturer.
Look inside the tail cone or under the floorboards of a Beech Bonanza and you’ll seegreen or yellow zinc chromate corrosion-proofing everywhere; do the same with a Cessnasingle and you’ll see bare alclad aluminum ribs, stringers and skin. During the peakproduction years of the and ’70s, most Cessnas had no internal corrosion-proofing at allunless they were ordered specifically for floatplane use.
As a result, many Cessna airframes have fallen victim to corrosion before their time.While they never seem to wear out, they’re terribly vulnerable to rotting awayfrom the inside out.
|Figure 4-No bare aluminum on these airframes! Every square inch of every 1997 Cessna is corrosion-proofed with yellow epoxy primer.|
All that has now changed. While the 1997 Cessnas are assembled in Independence, theirmetal parts are all cut, stamped and formed at Cessna’s Pawnee plant in Wichita. Andbefore those parts are loaded onto 18-wheelers for their journey to Independence, everyone is dipped in yellow epoxy primer. This provides complete corrosion proofing for everypart of the airframe, even at lap joints and seams that would be impossible to treat oncethe airframe is riveted together.
In short, Cessna has now gone from having the worst corrosion-proofing in theindustry to having the best. The airframes of the 1997 Cessna singles willundoubtedly last as long as anyone wants to fly them.
|Figure 5-The new J-box houses the heart of a totally-redesigned electrical system, arguably the best ever in any single-engine aircraft.|
To be blunt, the electrical systems in single-engine Cessnas have never been anythingto write home about. Infamous for poor design and cheap automotive-quality components, theelectrical systems have long been among the most troublesome aspects of these aircraft.Owners often complain of spurious over-voltage trip-outs, nervous ammeter needles,flickering panel lights, radio noise, erratic fuel gauges, and a host of other commonmaladies.
Consequently, I was very pleased to discover that Cessna engineering decided toredesign the electrical systems from the ground up for the new 1997 singles. And the newelectrical system looks to me like a real winner.
The old electrical systems used what I call a “one wire” design in which asingle electrical wire is used to supply power to each electrical device in the airplane,and the airframe is used as a ground path to complete the circuit. This approach isplagued by noise-producing “ground loops” that often drives sensitive avionicscrazy. Worse, airframe corrosion often introduces resistance and intermittents into theground return circuits.
The new 1997 aircraft use a “two wire” electrical system design in which asecond wire (not the airframe) is used to complete each circuit. Each return wire isgrounded at a common grounding point on the firewall, eliminating the potential for groundloops and the vulnerability to corrosion.
Furthermore, the electrical componentry of the new Cessnas has been upgraded fromautomotive to aircraft-quality devices. Honest-to-god toggle switches replace those cheapfailure-prone rocker switches. Screw terminals instead of push-ons. Weather sealedconnectors with plated contacts, instead of those cheap plastic Molexes. These componentswould be right at home in a Citation or Caravan.
Another big change is that the heart of the new electrical system – starter, groundpower and battery contactors, alternator control unit and protective devices, etc. – isenclosed in a sealed, shielded junction box (“J-box”) mounted to the firewall.The J-box protects these components from engine heat, exhaust and fluids, confineselectrical noise that might otherwise cause radio interference, keeps critical leadlengths to an absolute minimum, and provides a single-point ground for the entireelectrical system.
The new system has the potential to be the most reliable electrical system ever seen ina light aircraft. I looked hard and could only find one thing to complain about: thecircuit breakers are still of the non-pullable variety. I feel that the pilot should havethe capability to disable any electrical circuit in an emergency. Granted the non-pullablebreakers cost a lot less, but I hate to see them used in an aircraft.
|Figure 6-Permanent sealant is applied to several bays of the wing structure, turning them into an “integral” fuel tank (aka “wet wing”).|
Skyhawk and Skylane fuel systems have always been a pilot’s delight: set the fuelselector on “BOTH” and go fly. No muss, fuss, or tank switching. The samesimplicity has been retained in the 1997 models.
What has changed is the tankage itself. Cessna 172s have traditionally used weldedaluminum fuel tanks which added to weight and limited fuel capacity. Most 182s were builtwith bladder tanks which have a nasty habit of getting brittle, cracking, and starting toleak fuel after five or ten years, requiring costly replacement. But the 1997 aircraft alluse “integral tanks” in which certain bays of the wing structure are sealed upand filled with fuel.
Cessna used such a “wet wing” design in the cantilever-wing Cardinals andCenturions, and in the late-model Skylanes and 400-series twins before piston productionceased. Although some manufacturers have run into trouble with wet wings springing leaks(notably Mooney), Cessna’s integral tank aircraft have a near-perfect track record ofremaining leak-free after 30 years in the field. The integral tank design provides morefuel capacity, less weight, and a long maintenance-free life.
Fuel gauges have been another big problem area for Cessna singles. Most were built withautomotive-quality float-type sending units that were inaccurate and vulnerable tocorrosion. Cessna ultimately switched to capacitance-type fuel gauges in the Centurion andtwins, but while these were much more accurate, they proved extremely vulnerable tomoisture and corrosion-either of which could render the system inoperative-and requiredspecial test equipment to troubleshoot in the field.
For the 1997 singles, Cessna has gone to a high-quality float-type fuel gauging system,essentially the same one they use in the turbine-powered Caravan. Besides being far bettermade than the old automotive-quality gauges, the new system uses the “two wire”philosophy that is not dependent on using the fuselage as part of the circuit. This makesthe new gauges far less vulnerable to corrosion-induced problems.
The new system is also self-diagnosing. If circuit resistance increases more than about10% over what it should be with full tanks, the system detects this and causes thecorresponding fuel gauge to read “empty” and the corresponding low-fuelannunciator to illuminate, making it obvious to the pilot that the gauging system isinoperative.
|Figure 7-No more plastic overlays or post lights. The modular all-metal instrument panel features the best lighting we’ve ever seen in a piston aircraft (better than most bizjets), plus AlliedSignal avionics.|
There’s no other way to say this: the instrument panels of the 1997 Cessna singles aresimply magnificent!
Those horrid plastic overlays are gone, replaced by a professional-looking graysegmented metal panel of modular design. Each individual instrument and avionics sub-panelis quickly removable for easy maintenance.
The post lights are gone, too. Each instrument on the new panels is internally lightedand faced with special non-glare glass. To supplement the internal instrument lighting, avariable-intensity cold-cathode floodlight is concealed in the glare shield lip. The totaleffect is the best night lighting I’ve ever seen in any piston airplane, and probablysuperior to most bizjets.
Even the instrument markings are special: although various instruments come fromvarious suppliers, every one uses the same font, size and color so the instruments havethe look of a perfectly matched set.
Cessna’s attention to detail is astonishing. Sharp-eyed pilots will notice that thelittle airplane on the Turn Coordinator is a high-wing rather than the usual low-wing.Even the instrument mounting screws have special plastic-coated heads to prevent them orthe panel from getting scratched during maintenance.
In addition to all the instrumentation any pilot could ask for, the new aircraftfeature dual vacuum pumps as standard equipment. There’s also an annunciator panelreminiscent of what you’d expect to find in a turbine aircraft. Warning lights for lowfuel (left and right), low vacuum (left and right), low bus voltage and low oil pressurehelp assure that virtually any sort of critical failure is instantly communicated to thepilot.
About the only thing I might want to add to the panels of the new airplanes is aprobe-per-cylinder EGT/CHT instrument like a GEM or JPI. (Single-probe EGT and CHT gauges arestandard.)
The biggest news here is that the Royalite is gone, disproving once and for all thelong-held theory that Cessnas fly because of the natural repulsion between plastic andasphalt. The interiors of the new Cessnas are as nice as anything Beech ever put in aBonanza, with soft fabrics and vinyls wherever you look.
The seats are brand newstate-of-the-art designs and dynamically tested to 26g, meaning you have a vastly betterchance of escaping a crash without critical spinal injuries. Seat ergonomics are muchimproved, too, with high sculptured seat backs and cushions offering excellent thigh,lumbar and thorax support for comfort on long cross-country trips. The front seats havevertical and recline adjustments, and inertia-reel shoulder harnesses are standard on allseats.
Cessna seat tracks have had a terrible history of cracking and seat slippage. Thisproblem has been totally solved in the new 1997 models by switching to the much strongerseat track design used in the Caravan.
The cabin ventilation system is redesigned from the ground up. No more “orangejuice cans” at the corners of the windshield…hooray! The new system providesindividually-adjustable airliner-style Wemac eyeball vents overhead and at chest-level foreach passenger, plus floor vents for both fresh air and heat.
Everyone I’ve talked to who has flown one of these new planes has remarked on how quietthey are. The cabins are far better soundproofed than any previous Cessna singles. The newlow-RPM engines generate far less propeller noise. The new ventilation system is a lotquieter, too. The total effect is astonishingly quiet for a piston-powered single.
Every 1997 Cessna single is equipped with a stack of AlliedSignal (Bendix/King) digitalavionics.
The Skyhawk comes standard with a basic VFR radio package that includes a KX-155ANav/Com with VOR/LOC indicator, a KT-76C transponder, and a KMA-26 audio panel with markerbeacon and intercom. An optional $10,000 package adds a second KX-155A with glideslope andindicator, a KR-87 ADF, and a KLN-89 VFR GPS with moving map. Another $5,000 will add aKAP-140 single-axis autopilot and upgrade the GPS to a KLN-89B IFR-certified unit.
The standard Skylane package includes dual KX-155A’s (one with glideslope), KLN-89B VFRGPS with moving map, KT-76C transponder, KMA-26 audio panel with marker beacon andintercom, and KAP-140 single-axis autopilot. An $8,900 add-on package upgrades the GPS toa KLN-89B IFR-certified box, upgrades the KAP-140 to two-axis with altitude hold andelectric trim, and adds a KR-87 ADF.
Price as delivered
Other than these optional avionics add-ons, the only other extra-cost option offeredfor the new Skyhawk and Skylane is wheel fairings, priced at $1,200. Everything else comesstandard. I’m not quite sure why Cessna elected to make the wheel fairings optional, sinceI’d guess almost all buyers will order them. Maybe Cessna felt that something hadto be optional?
With top-of-the-line avionics and wheel fairings thrown in, the most you can spend on amaximally-configured Skyhawk is $140,700. A full-tilt-boogie version of the Skylane is$200,700.
Tax and license not included, subject to prior sale, your mileage may vary… Hey,just kidding!
As an instructor for the Cessna Pilots Association,I’ve spent almost a decade teaching thousands of Cessna owners about their airplanes fromthe inside out: how each system of the aircraft works, how and where mechanical failuresusually occur, what problems are most often missed during annual inspections, and soforth. In the process, I’ve had to become something of a”what’s-wrong-with-Cessnas” expert. And it was with that background that Idecided to take a critical look at the new singles that Cessna is now building.
I expected the new airplanes to be better. But I never imagined in my fondest fantasiesthat they would be improved as much as I discovered them to be. I was genuinely blown awayby what a great job Cessna engineering has done with these aircraft. Virtually every knownproblem and complaint has been addressed.
The new Cessna singles are a perfect example of why it always takes evolution-not justrevolution-to create great airplanes. Every new aircraft design has to go through asignificant period of field experience before its strengths and weaknesses become fullyknown. In general aviation, this often takes a decade or two because of our lowutilization rates. Then, the manufacturer must have the willingness and resources toengineer and produce fixes for the weaknesses without sacrificing the strengths.
It is only thus that great aircraft come to be. There are no shortcuts.
But will they sell?
|Figure 8-The 1997 Cessna 182S Skylane. We predict Cessna will continue to sell them as fast as they can turn them out.|
At Oshkosh ’96, Cessna’s chairman Russ Meyer announced Cessna’s ambitious sales goalsfor these new aircraft: 1,000 new piston singles sold in 1997 and 2,000 in 1998.
It’s now apparent that Cessna won’t make those targets…but not because of lackof demand. So far, Cessna has had no difficulty selling all the new singles they canproduce.
The problem is that Cessna is having a hard time ramping up production as quickly asoriginally planned. It’s taking longer than expected to staff up the Independence plantand to get the new workforce fully up-to-speed. So it now looks like the projected2,000-per-year goal won’t be met until 1999.
These slippages only tend to fuel further skepticism about whether Cessna’ssingle-engine program will be successful. But I can’t help thinking that once people learnwhat first-rate airplanes the new Cessnas really are, the planes will continue to sell asfast as Cessna can crank them out.