WHAT’S NEEDED TO BUILD AN AFFORDABLE AIRPLANE

Let me say right up front that I thank and applaud Cessna for its decision to bring the SkyCatcher to market.

But I, too, was a little saddened to hear that Cessna will be building the C-162 SkyCatcher in China (SkyCatcher’s ‘Made in China’ label upsets some pilots, Jan. 11 issue). Not that I have anything against China or global trade, quite the opposite. I believe that trading with anyone, anywhere in the world, is a basic human right.

I also believe that the massive increase in wealth that people around the world have experienced in the past 10-20 years is the direct result of freer global trade. “Division of labor,” I believe Adam Smith called it.

The disappointment that I feel towards their decision is this: By all indications, the SkyCatcher is still essentially a traditional, riveted together, hand-built aircraft. To lower the costs and make the aircraft more competitive in the marketplace, Cessna has decided to take advantage of the lower labor costs in China. That’s fine for what it’s worth, but it really doesn’t get us GA aircraft consumers where we need to be.

Cessna obviously thinks that the market for Light Sport Aircraft is large enough to justify the costs of designing the SkyCatcher, setting up a vendor relationship with Shenyang Aircraft Corp., and shipping parts and partially built aircraft back and forth between the United States and China. But it seems they don’t feel that market is large enough to justify the risk of investing the capital in the tooling that would allow the mass production of these aircraft. With a mass produced LSA, the portion of the cost attributed to labor would be so small, relative to the total cost, it wouldn’t matter much where they were built. I would think that a mass produced LSA could even be built competitively in the United States. As a comparison, the United States currently has some of the most, if not the most, efficient automobile manufacturing plants in the world.

Again, I thank Cessna for its decision to build the SkyCatcher and I hope, for the sake of everyone involved, that it is a huge success. It looks like it will be the standard for a new generation of trainers, and I can’t wait until 2009 so I can rent and fly one.

But I think what we in GA really need is someone like a Henry Ford — or maybe a Vern Raburn — or maybe a Sandy Munro. Someone who believes that the market for a more basic GA aircraft, an aircraft that is affordable by the masses, is large enough to justify the investment in the tooling to mass produce it.

One thing I am sure of: We will never have truly affordable aircraft as long as we’re building them by hand, even if they’re built by hand in China.

JOHN MININGER

Quakertown, Penna.

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