Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day 2009 (Part 1 of 3)



My appologies for using, um, steam gages, rather than something "glassier", for a barometer of the health of the general aviation industry.

Our friends in Albquerque are just beginning their journey, so it is premature to measure their success. But recent developments have most enthusiasts, and critics, pondering the state of the industry at large.

As we conclude this Labor Day weekend (in North America), I am curious how our fellow bloggers feel about the industry's health, from their relative vantage points.

I've heard, on and off for literally decades, that aviation manufacturing lags the general economy by 18 months. (Example- of hearing it anyway: Craig Fuller, AOPA President, March 2009).

From my keyhole on the world, it appeared the general (USA) economy bottomed out around March. I was hopeful things would be flat (rather than declining) for a few months. And, well, right about now- start improving. Eclipse Aerospace emergence on the scene seemed to fit nicely with that scenerio.

But of late, there seems to be more unexpected bad news in other houses of aviation...

Wichita Eagle, Aug 15, 2009 (Cessna cuts another 500 workers in August)

Aviation Week, Aug 20, 2009 (HawkerBeech benefits reductions and layoffs)

Wall Street Journal, Aug 20, 2009 (Learjet cancels 110 airplane deal)

WDIO-TV, Aug 26, 2009 (Cirrus cuts 90 employees)

Wichita Business Journal, Sept 04, 2009 (Hawker lays off 395, plus 118 the next week)

AP, Sept 05, 2009 (Wichita suppliers layoff 1000 workers)

All that, on top of previous bad news for the year;

TCPalm, July 27, 2009 (Cutbacks at Piper)

AP, June 12, 2009 (Cessna to cut 1300 more staff, plus 6,900 since Nov 2008)

Financial Times, June 3, 2009 (Embraer cuts employment 20%)

And of course, the 2000+ jobs lost during Eclipse Aviation's demise. (Puzzling how Mayor Chavez keeps referring only to 800).

Sooo,
It's not the greatest Labor Day we've had in aviation.

But, not the worst. I know that's small comfort for thousands out of work.
I don't mention it to be trite, but instead to offer some small ray of encouragement.

I sincerely hope next Labor Day will be one to celebrate more reobustly.

(This is part one, of a three-part Labor Day series- to be continued on Thursday and next Monday mornings. This one is the least encouraging- as such, I hope it doesn't bum anyone out, but is rather intended to illustrate that "you are not alone". Again- small comfort- but hopefully, some. Stay tuned for better news on Thursday).

68 comments:

Phil Bell said...

For "newcomers" to the industry, I hope this 3-part series will offer some perspective.

It's an exciting industry, probably one of THE most exciting industrial pursuits. But also, one of the more "turbulent" ones.

That is hard to understand, during one's first experience with a business down-cycle.

(And it's not that much easier to understand after a few of them, either...).

eclipse_deep_throat said...

Phil,
Just make sure you are using a *calibrated* steam gauge ...with a NIST traceable certificate and cal'd to ANSI Z-540-1.

Seriously, my step-dad at Lockheed Martin says the defense contractors are about to cut 20-30% now. He explains that it's also an inverse relationship: when the economy is good, or doing better, the aviation / aerospace companies cut back. I think its to improve their margins and 'thin the herd' until the next surge of Govt contracts...

Regardless, tough times remain for anyone willing to work in the aviation biz.

e.d.t.

Black Tulip said...

Phil,

During these trying times I would like to offer a few words of encouragement,

"Remember it is always the darkest just before it goes completely black"

airsafetyman said...

NBAA, GAMA, AOPA, and the rest of the alaphabet soup organizations have failed miserably in promoting general aviation as they have for the entire time they have been in existance. General Aviation will not get better until the average non-pilot citizen sees a real reason for his local airport and aviation community and is willing to support it. Right now, that isn't happening.

I was at a small airport recently where a single engine turboprop was at the gate with the engine running, a van rushed up and a guy with a cooler got in and the airplane departed very quickly. I asked what was going on and found out that it was a organ donor flight for a kid already being prepped for surgery in a hospital several hundred miles away. THATS the kind of use that the average citizen will go out of their way to support. Ditto for Medivac helicopters and hundreds of other General Aviation applications. But no one is making the case, and no one has for the last several DECADES.

The General Aviation image is of some bull-moose CEO and his air-head secretary going off to a spa for a weekend together on the company dime. Probably after laying off a few hundred people and closing a few factories.

Beedriver said...

I think there are and will be some good developing market opportunities out there.

one is to solve the problem of 100 LL not being available in much of the world and probably going away in the western world some day. There are 12,000 300 + hp engines sold and rebuilt each year right now. An engine that operates on Jet fuel or diesel fuel that is available everywhere and is size and shape interchangeable with existing engines will be a real winner. there are several diesel engine designs on the horizion that can solve this problem. It will not be simple as the existing engines are reliable and not too expensive to keep running.

One group I know of planning to develop a design that will meet the aircraft market needs, says to do it right it will take $10,000,000 to get flying conforming prototypes built and tested and another $40,000,000 to get them certified and into production. The founders of this group have brought more than 20 engines to full commercial production and have solved the diesel vibration problems on three want-to-be be aircraft diesel engines that are currently out there. this cost is for an engine that is shape, weight, and performance, as good as, or better than existing engines. Diesels will also have better fuel economy, in the order of 15% Better Hp per Lb of fuel than the best lean burn Contential.

An interesting data point on why piston engines are not dead yet and the future for piston engines is that a 800 person molding company near here with operations spread through the country and growing because it is working for the Medical industry and because lots of work is coming back from overseas for quality reasons, has several airplanes. they fly their P Navajo's much more than the Citation because the P Navajos are much cheaper to fly and give travel times only 50% longer than the Jet.

A lot of companies I know are flying the heavy Piston twins because they are much cheaper and meet their time needs for flights of 1000 miles or so.

The huge numbers of heavy singles and twins will be a great retrofit market if this diesel engine gets developed. There are at least 20,000 good low time heavy single airframes around and 10,000 excellent twin airframes.

The diesel will make them fly higher, faster and use less fuel, thus it will be a great growth market for retro fitters and not new airframes as retrofitting will be close to 1/2 the cost of a new airframe (think Malibu Matrix, Beech 36, baron, etc). There will be some new airframes think Cirrus, helicopters but not as many as retrofits for awhile.

FYI, If you want to invest in this new venture, you must be a qualified investor etc let me know. Shane knows my contact #

Deep Blue said...

ASM said:

"NBAA, GAMA, AOPA, and the rest of the alaphabet soup organizations have failed miserably in promoting general aviation as they have for the entire time they have been in existance. General Aviation will not get better until the average non-pilot citizen sees a real reason for his local airport and aviation community and is willing to support it. Right now, that isn't happening."

ASM: Yes, spot on. The industry associations are not a platform of leadership; of course, few if any, in any industry, are. They attract risk-averse managers focused on special interest lobbying that bounces around between various issues.

Well, let me stick my neck out and say that this old, lazy GA culture is exactly what Eclipse was attacking and why, in some cases, it attracted such interest and following. Same for DayJet, and before that, Indigo.

The E500, originally priced, held out the promise of breaking into a new relative mass market; one that would shake up the old NBAA-Fortune 500 flight department mentality (or at least grow a new mainstream segment alongside it).

There will be other attempts to "democratize" private aviation and it will eventually succeed. Until then, it is not feasible to expect risk-taking and leadership from industry trade groups (same for the airline sector).

It always comes from the market of entrepreneurs, which is why this fragile entrepreneurial culture in aerospace needs all the encouragement we can give it.

baron95 said...

The industry is reaping what it sowed. The complacency and the "this is the way it is" attitude displayed here and elsewhere in the industry is a very sure recipe for continued decline.

We, on the inside, fail to appreciate how insane, disfunctional and decrepit the industry and its practices seam to an outside high net worth individual looking to come in to become a GA pilot/owner.

Ask one of your non-pilot friends a simple question: If you wanted to buy a plane or become a pilot, do you know who to call, where to go?

Then picture your high net worth friend, lets call her Mary, driving her Lexus LS460, stepping out in her designer clothes into a local FBO/flight school for her intro flight.

Picture a $12/hr flight instructor showing her how to pre-flight a C150 or C152 or Warrior or C172 or any of the popular trainers.

Then imagine the horror of the prime, fool around with mixture, crank and praying for the start of a hot carburated engine.

We all know that 99.9% of Marys will never return, right?

So for the 0.01% that return for the second lesson and beyond, lets explain to her that she needs to learn about carburator icing, analog-based ADF and VOR navigation, a gizilion very poorly worded FARs, and that she will have to fly oil dripping planes that require draining of fuel and other absurd (to non pilot) procedures.

Any wonder why there are less and less active GA pilots every year?

It is almost like if people on the inside LOVE the difficulty and the bizarre requirements of becoming a pilot and flying in the system. Those on the inside seem to relish in the old boys club and don't want to make it easy for people to come into it.

Until this industry welcomes Mary and can have a product that will take her from first FBO visit to IFR flying with safety, comfort and impressive service, this industry will continue to decline.

A 1960, all aluminum airframe, all aluminum fuel injected engine with VOR/ILS receivers and autopilot was way, way more advanced than the car pilots drove to the airport in.

Then the Bonanza virtually stagnated, while now cars have all aluminum engines with FADECs, autopilots that follow the car in front, anti-locking brakes, stability control, incredible interiors, incredible levels of safety, quiet, performance, etc....while the Bonanza, save for avionics completely stagnated.

I'll continue this later.... but this industry, if it continues like it is, deserves to die off.

FreedomsJamtarts said...

Well written post Baron.

If yo look closely, the areas of GA where the authorities have a light, or no touch are generally the healthiest.

At the bottom of GA (1-4 seat day VFR A/C) I would venture that the application of Part 21, to ensure Part 23 compliance is largely counter productive, as it guarantees that we know how unreliably vacuum DI gyro's are, but doesn't allow installation of Blue Mountain Avionic Enhanced vision EFIS for $3500 because we don't know how much better they are.

Software certification is insanely expensive, when the rise of Blue mountain, and the other widely accepted homebuilt EFIS companies show that the market can weed out the crap.

One of the greatest motivators of the critics here, is the damage Eclipse did to the culture of trust between the FAA and Industry. Eclipse (and to a lessor degree Thielert)'s abuse of this trust will lead to a more stringent application of Part 21 and Part 23 on future projects, driving up cost and tightening GA's death spiral.

gadfly said...

For the reasons so well expressed (above), we look forward to the Honda Jet, by a company that seems to have the necessary knowledge and experience, to get it right . . . and bring GA into the twenty-first century. Now, wouldn't that be novel!

gadfly

WhyTech said...

"very sure recipe for continued decline."

Whhhaaatt? You live on another planet, right? If you havent noticed, the industry just came off the strongest by far up-cycle in history. Use of light (lighter than airline acft) acft for personal transporation has never been more prevalent or widely accepted. No industry has not felt significant pain in this downturn.


"Ask one of your non-pilot friends a simple question: If you wanted to buy a plane or become a pilot, do you know who to call, where to go?"

If you want to buy a plane or become a pilot, you can find out what you need to know in less than 10 minutes. Its that easy.

"Picture a $12/hr flight instructor showing her how to pre-flight a C150 or C152 or Warrior or C172 or any of the popular trainers."

Mary the Lexus driver doesnt want to fly herelf. She wants someone to fly for her. She has dozens of fractional operators and hundreds of charter operators eager to take her anywhere she wants to go in supreme comfort. Never more possibilites than currently available, from a Cirrus to a BBJ.


"Until this industry welcomes Mary and can have a product that will take her from first FBO visit to IFR flying with safety, comfort and impressive service, this industry will continue to decline."

You are on to something here, but are not being realistic. Mary simply doesnt want to do what it takes to fly herself for go anywhere, anytime transportation. 99.9% of the population have neither the inclination or resources to do what it takes to operate an owner flown turbine acft. And, for anything less than a turbine, the utility is simply not there. I have argued previously that until its as easy and economic for Mary fly herself as it is to drive her Lexus, she's not going to be interested. This requires a dumbing down of the end to end aviation system that is not presently within technological or economic reach. To do this, the current skills and judgment required of a pilot must be provided by a combination of systems/people mostly on the ground. Soooo much more is required than design and producing a cool replacement for the Mooney or Bonanza. This is not going to happen in our lifetime (even if you are 2 years old). Think about what has to happen to enable the scenario you suggest. Can it happen? Yes. Will it happen? Not likely in this century IMO.

WhyTech said...

"If you want to buy a plane or become a pilot, you can find out what you need to know in less than 10 minutes. Its that easy."

Google "buy a plane" or "learn to fly."

RonRoe said...

July 7, 2009 Press Release from Blue Mountain Avionics:

Well, it's been fun. We developed a whole new class of machine, started an industry, dominated it, and are now leaving it. Blue Mountain Avionics will be ceasing production and spinning down. The best way to contact us is via email: support@bluemountainavionics.com. Please don't call, because the office is not staffed on a scheduled basis. We'll still be around to service, support and assist as time permits, homebuilders helping other homebuilders, but BMA is essentially closed. The web site is paid up and will be around for a few years at least, and there is some hope (and a fond desire) that we may return to full production when the economy recovers. Database updates are still be available on this site, and service, maintenance and repairs are still available for all BMA products. We are actively seeking someone to buy the code and continue development. If you're interested, please email.

WhyTech said...

"Blue Mountain Avionics will be ceasing production and spinning down."

Booms create opportunities for starting companies, and downturns kill off the weaker ones. Never pleasant to see one bite the dust, but some fallout in this down cycyle is inevitable. For all of Baron's railing about the lack of innovation by established companies in aviation, I'd have to say that staying power is an important value add by an acft/engine/avionics manufacturer - part of the customer benefits bundle sometimes referred to a "the whole product."

airtaximan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bill e. goat said...

"Remember it is always the darkest just before it goes completely black"

EA-500 in IMC with Avio?

Turning off the lights at Eclipse Aviation Corp?

Skies darkened with EA-500's?

Turn-around time !(?)
Hopefully, Eclipse Aerospace will bring a bit of sunshine to the folks in ABQ, and operators everywhere.

bill e. goat said...

ASM,
"NBAA, GAMA, AOPA, and the rest of the alaphabet soup organizations have failed miserably in promoting general aviation as they have for the entire time they have been in existance"

I think, really, that is -sort of- the FAA's "mandate". That seems kind of contradictory to safety enforcement. But I guess safe airplanes "promote" the industry.
And the FAA is a -HUGE- facilitator in the big picture of participating in GA.

On the other hand, the "soup kitchen" cooks are mostly lobbyists, and that has worked well for GA too- tax laws, airport closings, depreciation schedules, etc. (As Deep_Blue notes: "special interest lobbying that bounces around between various issues").

Credit where credit is due, I'd say, they do a good job at representing our interests.

As far as promoting the industry with the general public, I'd agree, there's a lot of unfavorable impressions ("The General Aviation image is of some bull-moose CEO and his air-head secretary going off to a spa for a weekend together on the company dime.").

The organ transplant flights are inspirational, and even make me feel woozy with joy and satisfaction, after many years in the industry.

Angelflights get a lot of great, positive publicity too.

Me droning around the airport doing touch and goes on a quiet morning, or at night, on the other hand, does not. Even I think GA airplanes are too noisy.

Probably celebreties are the best publicity the industry could hope for. But it has to be something the public can identify with. Having John Travolta jump out of a 747 or A380, does not convey that feeling of kindredship. On the other hand, imagine JT jumping out of a Cirrus or 172 at "YTA" (Your Town Airport). Or even out of an Eclipse! (I think he had one ordered? No doubt Wedge intended on make his involvement a PR stunt. I imagine JT got his airplane too- have a mad celeb isn't the kind of publicity one wants...).

In the past, GA had good ambasadors (Arhtur Godfry, etc), but lately, it seems like our celebrety ambasadors mostly attract attention to GA by crashing. Ugh. (There's an old Hollywood saying, "Bad publicity is better than no publicity", but I'm not sure that's always the case...).

Nice AOPA media event planning kit:
Media Event

bill e. goat said...

Deep_Blue,
"The E500, originally priced, held out the promise of breaking into a new relative mass market; one that would shake up the old NBAA-Fortune 500 flight department mentality (or at least grow a new mainstream segment alongside it)."

I don't think there is a "mass market" for $2.X M airplanes. No matter how good they are. You could sell Gulfstreams for $2.X M, and it still wouldn't create a mass market.

On the other hand, it would create a bankrupt company. Which is exactly what Wedge did by trying to sell $2.X M airplanes, for $1.X M. Congrats to THAT moron.

bill e. goat said...

Baron,
"The industry is reaping what it sowed. The complacency and the "this is the way it is" attitude displayed here and elsewhere in the industry is a very sure recipe for continued decline."

I think GA is focused on making a profit- those companies that don't are the ones that decline. Or worse.

"We, on the inside, fail to appreciate how insane, disfunctional and decrepit the industry and its practices seam to an outside high net worth individual looking to come in to become a GA pilot/owner."

Archaic is the term that comes to mind, unless we are discussing Wedge.

"Then picture your high net worth friend, lets call her Mary, driving her Lexus LS460, stepping out in her designer clothes into a local FBO/flight school for her intro flight. Picture a $12/hr flight instructor showing her how to pre-flight a C150 or C152 or Warrior or C172 or any of the popular trainers."

If Mary has problems mixing with a $12 per hour flight instructor, then I suggest Mary spend $150 per hour on a shrink, rather than an airplane rental.

On the other hand, I can more reasonably expect Mary to have problems mixing with an old, beat up Cessna 152. Honestly, if she arrives at the airport jumping around in designer clothes, she ought to be jumping into the back of a $2.X M airplane, rather than the front of a $25K trainer.

Flying is a hobby, or a perk- the in-between range is substantially narrow. Mary sounds rather, ah, perky. But if she likes to get dirty in the garden, she might like 152's.

And I'd say, from my limited observation, about 50% of the Mary's that go for their first flight, will get their license. Maybe even more so for high net worth Mary's, as they usually have better means to pay for the training.

On the other hand, if you took a random lot of 100 Lexus drivers, and of 100 Chevy drivers, and put them in a 152 (although not all at the same time), I'd say there would not be a significant statistical difference in the interest, and in fact, the Lexus drivers would have better means to persue the interest that existed.

But I believe your point is well made, that entry level GA trainers are pretty sucky as general transportation devices.

(Moderately admirable as hobby pieces though, if nothing else than for their ruggedness. Betcha can't guess how high I made a 172 bounce).

"Until this industry welcomes Mary and can have a product that will take her from first FBO visit to IFR flying with safety, comfort and impressive service, this industry will continue to decline."

This is EXACTLY the market Eclipse was after. And it is completely technically achievable. The OEMs know that. But it's a loosing game. There aren't enough Mary's, with enough money, to make it a viable market.

The OEMs know that too. At least the ones that aren't run by delusional charlatans. Which is why there aren't any viable contenders in the EA-500 marketplace. Eclipse went bankrupt trying to invent the market. And trying to invent a profit. Neither one worked. (They sure were good at inventing press releases though. And "orders" too...).

The other OEMs are trying it either up-market (Cessna Mustang, a bit more than a Mary-plane), or down-market (maybe- the SEJ's will work...TBD. I think if Cessna though it was a viable market, they'd be working on a SEJ. But to my knowledge, they are not).

bill e. goat said...

FJT,
I agree with your observations.
I have been, frankly, perplexed at the explosion in the number of LSA aircraft on the market.
If there were an equivilent relaxation (at least, I interpret the explosion as some sort of certification standard relaxation) for say, 1850 lb mtow airplanes (below the "legacy" class 4 seaters), with perhaps a slightly higher speed restriction (say, 135 knots versus 120), then perhaps the 4-seat market could experience the innovation the 2-seat marketplace is seeing.

bill e. goat said...

Hi Gadfly,
"we look forward to the Honda Jet, by a company that seems to have the necessary knowledge and experience, to get it right . . . and bring GA into the twenty-first century."

Well, I have mixed feelings. Good for advancement, but the Honda program is really just a glorified Eclipse program, but without the insane rush to production. And with EVEN more money.

I'll cut Eclipse some slack- if they hadn't had to beat the bushes (and Manns) for money, they would have kept a lower profile (less/no hype), and taken EVEN longer to get it right.

(Too bad Wedge didn't wait 12-18 more months, before having a spending orgy on production ramp up. That is THE one idiotic mystery which the blog, with all our collective wisdom/good (and bad) guessing, still hasn't figured out to my satisfaction).

Likewise, the Honda has been a remarkable sinkhole of time and money- no "for profit" aviation company could afford to spend what will be 2 decades bring a relatively low-end product to market. (As "proof of concept", I submit that Eclipse spent half the time, on a product that sold for half as much, and went bankrupt).

In essence, the Honda is subsidized dabbling, financed by a huge trust (Honda), and will come at the expense of for-profit airframers.

Cessna, et al, could compete- but ONLY if the shareholders would approve a 20-year strategic vision plan. Fat chance. Instead, they chickened out on the Columbus, with only a 3-year event horizon, on what would surely have been a money marker for decades to come, and Textron is taking money OUT of Cessna, rather than putting it in.

I think the Honda will be a good product- but have reservations about their claimed 30-35% efficiency gains. It will be interesting to see how the actual performance numbers work out. The financial numbers, we will never know.

But the Honda is ugly, and cute at the same time
...sort of like an ERcoupe
...and ERcoupe drivers,
...I might add.
...I think.
:0

bill e. goat said...

WT,
""very sure recipe for continued decline."

Whhhaaatt? You live on another planet, right?"


I agree with Baron's lament that the low-end of GA hasn't been more...progressive, but agree with your overall assessment. So does GAMA.

2007 - Another Record Year for
General Aviation Manufacturers


"The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) announced on February 12, that the 2007 year-end shipment figures for the general aviation industry have led to another record high in industry billings."

Led by the EA-500's first FULL year of production. The skies will DARKEN!

Our airplanes will ROLL OFF THE FSW assembly lines like SAUSAGES!!!

THIS WILL BE THE SECOND MASS EXTINCTION OF THE DINOSAURS !!!

YES, MINE FUHRER!!!

Ah, er, excuse me- it's time to take my anti-delusion/anti-psychotic/anti-disruptive pill again.

Hmmm, yes, that's it...
Psychosis

"Psychosis is a loss of contact with reality, usually including false ideas about what is taking place or who one is (delusions) and seeing or hearing things that aren't there (hallucinations)."

*Confusion !??

*Disorganized thought and speech ?!?

*Extreme excitement (mania) !!!

*False beliefs (delusions/Avio) !?!

*Loss of touch with reality (especially regarding schedules) ???

*Mistaken perceptions (illusions/"certification" dates) !

*Seeing, hearing, feeling, or perceiving things that are not there (hallucinations/"orders")!!

*Unfounded fear/suspicion !!!

Say- those cockroaches are...EVERYWHERE !!!

bill e. goat said...

Hi RonRoe,
Thanks for the info on Blue Mountain Avionics- looks like a nifty product.
Coincidently, jut today I came across an article regarding the Garmin G500. It looks pretty cool too. $16K base. (More than the BMA, but like WT mentions, there's a lot to be said for relatively assured long term support).

Nice comparison between G500 and G600.

baron95 said...

WhyTech said...
Google "learn to fly."
------------------

Did you try?

First entry is about some game and teaching penguins to fly.

Second entry is a you tube video about some "Learn to Fly" Roswell Records song.

Third, forth, fifth, sixth entries are about some song lyrics.

That is all that fit in the first screen without scrolling and Mary already lost her interest big time.

As I said, a dying industry.

------------------

Whytech said...the industry just came off the strongest by far up-cycle in history.
------------

Really???? By what measure? Number of active GA pilots? Number of GA planes on the registry? GA personal hours flown? All in continuous decline since 1978.

You make some valid points at the "commercial" and higher end of GA.

I should clarify that my comments were directed to owner-flown light GA.

If you don't welcome new owner-pilots and the average GA owner-pilot is 92, where is that segment going? That is right to the nursing home and the grave.

In 1960 there wasn't a whole lot of competition for Mary's leisure time. She could drive a death trap oil leaking Cadillac to the beach, she could watch one of three channels on her TV, pay bridge, go to the drive in, and shop at Woolworth. That was about it. Even sex was hard without the pill. So a flight in a Bonanza was a thrill by comparison.

Now Mary can drive her F430 with all sorts of traction and stability control and she can shift it as well as Schumacker via the automated paddle shifters. She can watch 500 channels on demand, has the world at her finger tips on her iPhone. But she still needs to get dirty in oil, fool around with manual priming and mixture and analog navigation on the same Bonanza airframe.

The industry, in the way they impress the potential Mary pilots is an utter and unmitigated embarrassment.

baron95 said...

B.E.G., not to pick on you, but your comments are a perfect example of the attitude that drives Mary away.

There is absolutely nothing that prevents the industry to welcome Mary and cater to her.

There is no reason why mary can't receive primary flight instruction on something like a DiamondJet and accompanying sim.

There is no reason why we can't take Mary from zero time to private pilot during a 2 weeks flying vacation with 5 star accommodations. And another week or two take her to IFR.

There is no reason why AOPA can not provide Mary with dispatching services to plan her route, help her make go/no-go decisions, plan fuel stops, arrange for AOG service.

There is no reason why AOPA and GAMA are not offering a free intro flight to every high-school senior in the US.

This attitude that 99.9% of people can't become a pilot is just wrong.

99.9% of people are not even exposed to it. The ones that are, are not exposed to it in appealing ways. And the system is set out to make an individual jump through hoops to become a pilot.

Seriously, even the Amish may have a more viable business making horse buggies than light GA.

bill e. goat said...

Hi Baron,
I appreciate your scenario where Mary wants to go to a flying dude ranch and become a pilot. (Now THAT's an "attitude" :) But not much of one.

"There is absolutely nothing that prevents the industry to welcome Mary and cater to her."

I agree. In fact, I think the industry does a GOOD job of welcoming Mary. But it does not do a good job of pampering Mary, unless she wants to spend a premium. Flight schools are hungry for business, and if there was a viable market for pampered students with premium airplanes, they'd be exploiting it.

But the airplanes that would support such pampering are too expensive, and the clientele pool too limited, to make the pamper option viable.

I agree some Marys don't want to get oily messing around with a C152. For which, I proposed, an EA-500, rather than a D-Jet. And also proposed, the market for such clientele is not large enough to make it a profitable venture.

Maybe the D-Jet will change that. I think it would be nice if it did. I have nothing against pampered pilots (or pampered passengers).

Just what you mention, could be done right now. Regrettably, the fact that it's not suggests it is not profitable. It would be interesting to see someone try- I would be delighted if they were successful.

I'm sure Gadfly would be happy to teach Mary how to drive a submarine too, but again, the cost required to make a profit, would limit the pool of participants to a very small group- not large enough to be viable.

"Seriously, even the Amish may have a more viable business making horse buggies than light GA."

Interesting- and probably close to true! (Wonder if they'll adopt WAAS for foggy nights? :)
--------------------------------

Learn to Fly

I think Cessna did a reasonably good job promoting "Learn to Fly". It's not free, but it's a loss leader promotion.

And I agree, that it would be nice if every high school senior got a free introductory ride. But from what I've figured out, flying schools are mostly break-even enterprises, by guys and gals who love flying. (And I think that love of flying is contagious, and eagerly shared with Mary, irrespective of if she is sporting designer duds or gardening duds).

But as a thin-margin business, I don't think they can afford to give away 10-20 flight hours in hopes of snagging 1 pilot. Too bad- maybe the Skycatcher will change that game as well.

It would be GREAT for the aviation community, as well as the industry, if every high school senior were given a free ride though.

WhyTech said...

"Did you try?"

I did. And on the first page of returns were links to Cessna's Learn To Fly program and similar for AOPA. Anyone without attention deficit disorder could find the right links in less than 60 seconds.

WhyTech said...

"I should clarify that my comments were directed to owner-flown light GA."

You should. GA is conventionally taken to mean all aviation that is not airline or military.

Part of the reason your "light GA" is declining is that it delivers too little utility for too many dollars. Even an LSA aircraft (least utility of all except an ultralight) costs considerably more than most luxury automobiles, putting these into the category of toys for less than 1% of the population. Not sure anyone knows how to fix this.

bill e. goat said...

Baron,
"First entry is about some game and teaching penguins to fly."

Yup- me too- information overload!

Too bad there aren't more GA airports, with more "Learn to Fly" signs. I actually thought that was a pretty nifty campaign- what, I think just after (or just before) Cessna reintroduced the 172?

WT,
You're right on the, er, money, about money.
I checked the price of a 172, back in 1960- about $10K. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $72K nowadays. Instead, they're going for about 4 times that new.
Figure gas is about 4 times as high too (or more) after inflation, and maintenance and parts are significantly higher now, do to, er, deflation, of the customer base, and economically it's a tough sell, so to speak.

What the world needs, is a good 4-seat, $65K (Lexus-ish price) IFR airplane.

Which, maybe explains why the homebuilt market really took off in the mid 1980's- just when low end GA airplane prices were spiking.

(Unfortunately, I think we will have even less success getting Mary to learn the art of fiberglass and sheetmetal :)

WhyTech said...

"There is no reason why mary can't receive primary flight instruction on something like a DiamondJet and accompanying sim."

You are on to something here. The military does substantial primary training in turbine acft. But, in this case, cost is not a principal driver. However, at $2000 or more per hour, it would cost the "average" student around $250,000 (maybe more) for a private/instrument certificate, and around $500,000 for a Commerical/Instrument. Are you game?

WhyTech said...

"What the world needs, is a good 4-seat, $65K (Lexus-ish price) IFR airplane."

Well, sure. IMO, the average Lexus driver would want the amenities found in the high end Cirrus SR-22 at a minimum, but this is still not a serious IFR traveling airplane. Based on whats available right now, you'd be looking at a TBM, C90GTx, Mustang, or Phenom 100 to deliver the utility that Mary would expect, and these are nominally $3mm acft (plus or minus a bit).

WhyTech said...

"Too bad there aren't more GA airports, with more "Learn to Fly" signs."

Part of the problem is that the airports arent mostly where the people are. Who is going to see the signs?

WhyTech said...

Another "Mary" issue is proficiency. Mary would need to fly her turbine acft around 150-200 hours per year plus spend a week or two each year at recurrent training courses. This is a lot of time. Even airplane crazies can be challenged to do this if they have a life outside aviation.

eclipso said...

I want to marry Mary!!!!

airtaximan said...

A lot of folks make this mistake..

"There is absolutely nothing that prevents the industry to welcome Mary and cater to her."

There probably aren't as many Marys or (Barons for that matter) out there, as you may think.

People often misconstrue a market thinking there is a lot of people "just like them".

Vern designed the ea50 for himself, thinking this way. After many years andmillion on sales and marketing, plus exaggerating the capability and easy of use aspects of the plane, he had far fewer takers than expected or required for his business case.

Enter Nimbus/Dayjet - air taxi services... just like the 10,000 prop planes flying similar missions all day every day in the US... except the Dayjets would be jets, and would be 3-5 times the cost... plus sharing the plane and all the inconvenience that that required. How does this address the market? It does not.

The point?

One would do well to plan around a real market, one where pro pilots provide lower cost professionally flown service... like the airlines, only no hassle factor and more direct, non-stop flights to/from local airports nearer to the O+D.

There are still around 50 million premium fared trips taken on the airlines in the US every year...

This requires a lot of jets... ones designed for passenger service, instead of Mary/Baron/Ken and Vern.

Deep Blue said...

B95:

enticing comparison, planes vs. cars vis-a-vis technology, marketing, service.

You are making the exact point that Kirk Hawkins at Icon Aircraft makes. Send him an email and ask about his marketing pitch deck on "Bob" (putzy Pontiac owner at the local airport with his C-172, flight bag, CR-5, plotter, VFR charts and fuel strainer), versus "Blake" (upscale, modern, HNW consumer in a NextGen Icon sport plane). Great marketing at Icon; check them out.

BEG:

for sure, Honda is indeed subsidizing the Honda Jet through Honda Inc, but it could also be called R&D; there are a few new developments on the plane (engine mounts; the engines themselves) that are intriguing and possibly helpful to small jet development. But you're right: it is not likely to ever to profitable, if treated as a stand-alone P&L. Then again, God love them for investing in GA; too bad Toyota hadn't followed, let alone GM and Ford (like the old days).

And where's Boeing in all of this? Why no BBJ-VLJ?

airtaximan said...

DB,

they should have called it sky-doo

FreedomsJamtarts said...

According to news reports Austro Engine spent about €50 Million to add a gearbox and Dual Channel ESU to a stock Mercedes production motor, and certify it.

As long as the regs drive this sort of cost level, low end GA is pretty much doomed.

What surprises me is that LSA still cost up around $100K. What are the costs there? Vans can sell a quick build kit for a 2 seat LSA for about $20K, and is obviously a profitable company.

Since there are little or no certification costs, I can't see nailing such a kit together to be worth $40-60K in labour.

Where are the $30K LSA's?

Beedriver said...

If you want to get people to fly then you need to get them when they are in Middle school. The EAA has a great program in their Young Eagles program. It is amazing how many kids get hooked if you show them the possibility at that age. I know of a number of kids who got a Young Eagles flight and now are working through high school and college and they are going to be pilots no matter what.

giving High school graduates an airplane ride is too late to really get them interested.

Light sport is taking off because ordinary people can use it for fun on a nice day. For 100 K or so they can have a new airplane that has the new smell and looks. In reality a used 172 is cheaper and has more versatility than a light sport but it is not new. The light sport category is a recreational niche not a utility niche.

The masses will not get interested in flying until it is something they need to do every day and it is as simple as driving and as safe. When they can get in the airplane, program the destination, press Take off and do nothing until they are taxiing in then the average person may want one but not that many people need to go several hundred miles several times a week. for most people an auto, a train or even a bicycle is a much faster, cheaper, safer alternative for virtually all their trips.

We need to accept that flying is a niche business and the trick to a successful business is dominating a niche as Robinson has done and Cirrus seems to may be succeeding at. Cirrus has a problem because there are too many good used Bonanzas, Barons, Saratoga's, 210's etc at half the price that the pragmatic buyer will buy instead. The primary competition for Diamond and Cirrus is all the good used airplanes out there that provide equal or better utility at a lower cost.

airtaximan said...

"We need to accept that flying is a niche business"

you mean flying your own plane...

flying is part of the mass transit system...

Not everyone wants to be a pilot.

WhyTech said...

"The masses will not get interested in flying until it is something they need to do every day and it is as simple as driving and as safe. When they can get in the airplane, program the destination, press Take off and do nothing until they are taxiing in then the average person may want one but not that many people need to go several hundred miles several times a week."

Someone who gets it!

WhyTech said...

Some additional thoughts on "Mary." If one looks at the cost structure of operating a turbine acft, hiring a pilot to do the flying is among the lowest costs involved. An experienced G550 captain is compensated at an annual rate considerably less than $200 per hour. And it goes much lower for lesser acft. Mary is miles ahead to hire a "pro" to fly her than to mess around with becoming a competent turbine pilot UNLESS Mary has a passion for flying that transcends practical, rational behavior. UNLESS Mary is an aviation crazy, she is way ahead to buy a fractional share, or to charter, or best of all, to buy a jet card.

airsafetyman said...

"..she is way ahead to buy a fractional share, or to charter, or best of all, to buy a jet card."

Exactly. I think that is the way much of corporate flying will go also. It is pointless to have a dedicated flight department to fly Mr. Bigdome to a few destinations a year, however much the NBAA may grovel and fawn and say it is an efficient use of resources. It really isn't and they should stop kidding themselves, they sure aren't convincing anyone else.

baron95 said...

While I don't disagree with anything been said, you are all ignoring the data.

All the points you are making were true in the late 70s. And there were lots of light GA planes produced then - almost 20K/year. There were lots of new student pilots coming in. Hours flown were going up. Cessna, Beech, Piper, etc were able to certify and bring to market planes in a flash. There was life in the industry.

Fast forward 30 years later and what do we see? The US population is much larger. Disposable income has grown through the roof. Every expensive hobby from owning boats to snowmobiles has exploded.

With the exception of light owner-flown GA. We build 1/10th of the planes, student starts basically disappeared, many players are bankrupt, FBOs close left and right, flight schools and entire airports disappear, etc, etc.

Why?

Why is it that every other expensive/niche hobby/activity prospered except owner-flown GA.

Why was owner-flown GA vibrant 30 years ago but is dying today?

I think the answer is obvious.

Product stagnation and attitude.

Except for avionics, the 2009 Baron is actually more limited than the 1984 Baron of 25 years ago. How so? In 1984 you could have a normally aspirated Baron, a Turbocharged Baron, a Pressurized Baron. The turbo Baron had a humongous useful load, the P-Baron was nice for long trips. Both were fast as hell - faster than King Airs - at 20K ft.

And you'll find that is a common thread with all the other manufacturers. Product stagnation.

How else can you explain that a startup Cirrus (together with Diamond) can come out of nowhere and take 2/3 of the owner-flown piston market in a few years?

Only decrepit and stagnant industries are THAT vulnerable to a poorly funded startup attack.

Had Eclipse executed better and gotten a lucky break on Avionics and Engines, they could have done the same to the light jet segment.

WhyTech said...

"How else can you explain that a startup Cirrus (together with Diamond) can come out of nowhere and take 2/3 of the owner-flown piston market in a few years?"

I explain it by noting that Cessna was out of the light GA business for much of the Cirrus early history

WhyTech said...

"And I'd say, from my limited observation, about 50% of the Mary's that go for their first flight, will get their license"

You mean their Student Certificate, right? I think you'll find the fallout rate much higher than this overall, and if you include the Instrument Rating (needed for any practical traveling by GA acft) it is even lower. I'd speculate that in the Mary segment of the market, the fallout rate would be even higher.

And, the number of Marys that make it to a turbine type rating (or Part 142 turboprop equivalent) is likely to be far less.

WhyTech said...

"It really isn't and they should stop kidding themselves, they sure aren't convincing anyone else."

Someone else who gets it! Now we're cookin!

airtaximan said...

"UNLESS Mary is an aviation crazy, she is way ahead to buy a fractional share, or to charter, or best of all, to buy a jet card."

Jet cards are no bargain compared to charter.

Charter is the lowest cost option. You get the right plane for every flight, you find the plane positioned correctly to provide a good price, and there are one-way priced services, today.

Also, there's 4000 or so jets on certificates for 135... this is huge compared to when netjets started... availability is not an issue, as it was then.

Simple, frax is a dying breed. It was of some value, as were jet cards when finding a charter was tough.

It no longer is.

WhyTech said...

"It no longer is."

I have looked at all three and charter would be my choice if I needed an acft to myself. I find that a semi-private first class seat on the airlines meets my limited travel needs best.

airsafetyman said...

"Also, there's 4000 or so jets on certificates for 135... this is huge compared to when netjets started... availability is not an issue, as it was then."

With NetJets and a very few other operators Mary knows that she has contracted with a quality company. Sadly, that cannot be said for all, or even most, Part 135 jet operators.

airtaximan said...

WT,

What if you could share a private jet, for around the same price? The mainstream media in the US is picking up on this option big time....

ASman... your comment is well taken... consumers must be careful when choosing an operator. In general, you can find very good operators, and GA jet charter safety record is pretty good.

WhyTech said...

"What if you could share a private jet, for around the same price?"

Would be of interest - havent heard about this alternative yet.

baron95 said...

Well, I thought we were discussing what it would take for more people (like in the 70s) to want to own a plane and fly themselves, vs being a passenger.

All the jet fracs and charters and airlines are a passenger experience. Separate discussion.

We are talking about what would inspire Mary from leaving the back of the plane and take the wheel, just like most Mary's in the US (outside NYC) take the wheel of their Ferrari's, MBs, BMWs, Porsches, Lexus, F150s, etc every day, vs taking cabs, buses, trains and limos.

gadfly said...

There are ways to produce a small affordable jet . . . single or twin, take you choice. But it will take an entirely different approach than anything on the market today, including the attempt by Eclipse.

The problems are not so much the technology . . . all the proper technologies are in place, and have been in place for many years. But it has to do with “pride”, “ego”, and things that prevent using methods that have been invented by someone else.

In our business, we’ve seen it over and over again . . . and whenever we propose a new approach, various assumptions quickly fill in the conversation, and further development is thwarted.

Thinking back, a long time ago, two brothers came to an early recognition that earlier assumptions were not reliable, and could not be trusted for further development . . . and so did probably more for aviation than even their “Flyer” . . . the “wind tunnel” and their phenomenal data that changed forever the future of manned flight.

Today, there are far better ways of producing a precision airframe, of structural integrity adequate to fly at forty, fifty, or even sixty thousand feet . . . and handle all the other requirements . . . but it hammers away at the door of “ego”, “pride”, and all the assumed methods that have so permeated the aircraft industry . . . it will take decades to get it right. And yet, all the pieces to the puzzle are here, today, right now. ‘Except, of course, for the idiots in Washington, that are busy as termites destroying the very structure that puts bread on their table, . . . and ours.

gadfly

(Yep . . . the gadfly hasn’t gone away . . . still buzzing around, watching, waiting, listening for any clue of intelligent conversation . . . and of late, there have been some good comments, and evidence of good reasoning.)

(And for full disclosure, I own two "Lexuses" [or is it "Lexi"?] . . . and appreciate things that do what they should do, over and over and over.)

WhyTech said...

"to want to own a plane and fly themselves"

Most want to go from A to B. Owning and flying the plane is just one of many ways to make the A to B trip, and not worth the cost and effort to all but a very small number (relatively) of enthusiasts.

Shadow said...

AT,

I wouldn't necessarily categorize the GA charter safety record as "pretty good". In 2008, the accident rate for Part 135 charters was 1.52 per 100,000 flight hours; the fatal accident rate was 0.52. The fatal rate for the airlines and the fractionals was ZERO.

The big take home here is that the fractionals have had a zero fatal accident rate since their inception 23 years ago. That's 23 years without one fatal accident. ALL fractional passengers arrived at their destination alive, assuming none died from a medical condition en route. In effect, you're paying extra for safety at the fractionals. That alone is worth paying a premium.

michal said...

"I think the answer is obvious.
Product stagnation and attitude."

I think it is far from obvious. Today there are about 25% less pilots (with valid medical) than 20 years ago. I don't think one can only guess why but reasons may be multitude and may have nothing to do with technology but with changing lifestyles, less disposable income, etc. If some rookie wants to get into flying - I personally don't think he/she analyzes "technology" and decides there isn't enough excitement to even bother. Flying is timeless and people who like it will always like Aviat Husky or your basic Cessna.

airtaximan said...

Shadow... jet charters, and one can discern risk and use better operators.

Dirty little secret: ALL the frax use part 135 charter to augment their fleet during peaks. ALL OF THEM.

So, you kinda prove my point.

airsafetyman said...

"ALL the frax use part 135 charter to augment their fleet during peaks. ALL OF THEM."

That may be, BUT you can bet they are vetted and qualified FIRST by the fractionals, BEFORE the charter occurs. Our gal Mary may not know that much about aviation but someone will hopefully clue her in about the good operators like NetJets and steer her in the right direction.

Shadow said...

AT, as noted by AS the fractionals use well vetted and trusted operators. They also don't use charter by choice but only by necessity. By this, I mean they use charter as sparingly as possible to cover trips that the fractionals cannot do with their own fleet for whatever reason. The fractionals prefer not to use outsourced charter, and they hawkishly track this metric and try to keep it as close to zero as humanly possible.

ColdWetMackarelofReality said...

This discussion misses the ball completely, aviation is like sailing, it is an emotional undertaking, enabled by technology and copious amounts of money.

Some people will go to great lengths to 'justify' the copious amounts of money spent on an emotional pursuit.

Why aren't Burger boats significantly faster than the yachts of 30 even 40 years ago?

There are limits to performance change, beyond a certain level, where it improvement is geometrically more expensive per unit improvement - we have seen it with boats and we have seen it with aircraft.

What some see as stagnation I see as the current limit of economical progress and yes, in both cases it was essentially reached decades ago. Only small improvements are possible without cubic dollars, the proof is in the pudding.

airsafetyman said...

"This discussion misses the ball completely, aviation is like sailing, it is an emotional undertaking, enabled by technology and copious amounts of money."

But nobody gets on a sailboat because they want to get from A to B. The whole point is to enjoy a nice day, or several days on the water. With the larger, more expensive, more capable motoryachts the owners have......professional crews!

FreedomsJamtarts said...

I agree more with Baron.

There is something seriously wrong with GA. Owner/pilots/enthusiasts like most of us are a declining breed. Why?

I see it in myself. (The Decline :)

When I started flying I was earning a crappy wage and spent it all on flying. Now I could easily afford to fly 2x - 3x as much as I do, but it no longers burns like it once did.

I used to ride a bike about 10km to the grass airstrip and go flying. Now I live in a city and have to drive 3x as far (although the time would be the same). Back then there were no landing fees, the field was uncontrolled and you could take off and fly whenever you liked.

Now you have landing fees, a sort of a controller sits in a sort of a tower who bitches if you don't follow circuit weigh points to avoid all the noise complainers (this is Europe), and I only rarely have transportation justification to fly to a destination.

If the whole thing is no longer such fun for me, then I probably will not attract anyone else to take it up.

FreedomsJamtarts said...

I wonder how much of the decline in owner/pilot GA is related to increased urbanisation?

Turboprop_pilot said...

Sailboats (a little off topic):

A totally non regulated activity

I have been a life long sailor and worked in the industry as an engineer from 1970 through 1987 and still sail a 50’ sloop.

When I started, designing America’s Cup masts and rigging, sails were Dacron, masts were aluminum, rigging was stainless steel wire, hulls were fiberglass and navigation was ADF, compass bearings and Celestial. The average speed of a long distance sail was around 6.5 knots (Whitbread around the world race in a Swan 65).

Now sails are Spectra, Kevlar and Caron fiber, masts are Carbon fiber, rigging is PBO (a high tech fiber), hulls are Carbon fiber, keels are canted to weather, navigation is WAAS GPS and the average speed for a round the world record in a multihull is 31 knots! The outright speed record under sail was just raised to 51.5 knots by a 65’, foil borne trimaran.

We were using WAAS at least 5 years before aircraft were allowed.

The stultifying hand of regulation retards progress in aviation and ensures that legacy aircraft and companies have a huge barrier to new entrants from the costs of certification. Much like the homebuilt arena. I know aviation is less forgiving but have long felt that less regulation would result in faster progress and ultimately, more competition, better designs and more safety.

I’ve been away most of the summer sailing from New York to Nova Scotia, so have not been very active for a while.

exTurboprop_Pilot

Phil Bell said...

New headline post up!

(I enjoyed the nice discussion on "where we are" with light GA, and ideas on how to expand the market segment- several good ideas discussed. Let's wait keep an eye out for manufacturers/flight schools who become "disruptive early adopters" !)

airsafetyman said...

TP, Thanks for the insight on sailing and your career. Must have been a wonderful trip to Nova Scotia. We live near Annapolis and plan to get a small sailboat for the Bay when I retire. Soon!

michal said...

ColdWetMackarel makes excellent points and I fully subscribe to his point of view. By the way I see a great parallel between yachting and flying of course with an adjustment for the fact the flying is a whole lot more regulated. Sure catamarans can go a lot faster than single hull sailboats but physics still remain the main obstacle in moving an object in water or in air. The main progress in the last decades centered around electronics and materials - and it is equally true in flying and in boating. But for many and old wooden sailboat is still a preferred choice - for its sound qualities and general look-and-feel. By the way FLYING's McClellan makes good points in his recent editorial precisely on the subject of progress in aircraft engines - piston engines have long been running close to their theoretical limit and the main progress was in turbine engines where there was a lot of waste to shave off from the beginning.

If flying is no longer attractive to many we should look for reasons elsewhere. But then we could also research how many people still engage in hiking, biking, riding balloons, scuba diving, parachuting, deep sea fishing, etc.

Floating Cloud said...
This comment has been removed by the author.