How a ghost doomed the Skycatcher

In a new blog post, Flying magazine’s Robert Goyer says that the Cessna Skycatcher failed because it was overly sensitive to wind, had a “Made in China” label that infuriated the American marketplace, plus a high price tag. Once the price was raised to $150,000, “the price was too high for what you got, and what you got wasn’t what you really wanted to begin with,” he says. Check it out here

Comments

  1. Hi Phi; (and other interested parties)
    Ok, now I’m not speaking for ‘Mike”, but I would guess what he’s referring to as a “dismal failure” is the ENTIRE design, production and MARKETING/SALES methodology in which the LSA and its concept was “attempted” from day one.
    So lets start with the constraint of what was determined by our friends at the FAA and EAA and acceptance that the FINISHED product, in 2005, would be limited to:
    1. a 1,320 lbs gross weight limitation
    2. “retail” prices under $85K?, as I recall, by LSA manufactures/dealers/distributors
    3. pilot licensing (light sport) completed in as little as 20 flight hours
    4. a “drivers” license in “lieu’ of a flight (3rd class, etc) medical

    A “dismal failure”, subjective perhaps, however, but from a SALES and business profit perspective, I would have to agree – here’s why.
    1. Any MARKETING professional “worth his/her weight in gold”, would have carefully researched WHAT area of GA in the light piston area, naturally EXCLUDING the Bizjet market, has the greatest POTENTIAL to fill a “pent up” or long term demand, if any, that isn’t currently being full filled.
    2. WHY has the C-172 been selected by possibly 95% of all flight schools nationally, as the “trainer of choice”. NOTE: Availability and student “weight ” issues?
    3. WHY wasn’t the C-152, although limited (pre-owed), being used rather than the C-172?
    NOTE Cessna sold 31K+ (fact) C-150/152′ from 1959-85.
    Phil, I have NO idea what your background is in business or your present/past occupation, that said, IF I were employed in a management capacity by YOU, my responsibility would be to bring you a business/marking plan for the LSA that had the greatest VOLUME, NEED and PROFIT – and WHY – so here go’s!

    SUMMARY REPORT:
    To Phil, CEO – Super LSA
    From : Rod (title TBD)

    Dear Phil; After carefully studying the potential market(s) for LSA aircraft, I report to you the following finding:
    I have concluded that they’re TWO market segments the exist for LSA aircraft:
    1. Major, or number 1 -Flight schools; survey’s have indicted that approximately 95% of USA schools are presently utilizing the C-172, and the “average” flight school has 4.5 aircraft of this type in their fleet. It is “estimated that a minimum of two (2) LSA’s could replace the C-172; lowering net operating cost AND resulting in also brining the cost of a “pilots” license to about 55-60% of the traditional private license – a great “selling “point for flight schools.
    2. Based on over 1,500 flight schools nationally, the sales potential is estimate to be in excess of a minimum of 250-300+ sales annually.
    3. A SECOND market, with less volume and need, is that of the “aged/medically handy caped” (weekend) pilot, with annual sales estimated of 100-150 aircraft.
    ’3. Since the biggest and greater “need” market is by far the flight school owner/operator
    and it is HIGHLY recommended that a “full blown” marketing /sales program be targeted FIRST there; and secondly, a less aggressive effort be made to reach the aged/medical issue market.
    4. Initial concentration will be made in “hi density” markets” nationally to determine acceptance of the “newer” LSA aircraft and pilot licensing criteria to test the receptiveness of entry level student (candidate) pilots.
    5. Conclusion: The biggest market by far, which is “vacant”, is the flight school.
    OK, since I’m not on ANYONES payroll here – enough “free” information.

    Dismal failure – depends if you have an investment or of a busine$$ mindset?

  2. Bill Dominguez says:

    I think that what killed the 162 was Cessna’s success with business jets. In this age, companies with success in the top end of their industries market do not want to bother with the lower end. If Cessna really wanted, they could have developed a more appealing LSA, but commitment is geared towards the biz jets, because was where the million dollar revenues are.

  3. Jack Bantle says:

    I would like to put in a plug for the RV-12. I had the opportunity to briefly fly and I loved it. Vans really knows how to design and build an aircraft. With mass production the price might come down a little and with a folding wing design, a person might be able to get by without a hangar. I am currently spending $3,500 a year for a hangar for my Cherokee not to mention what I give for 100 octane avfuel. Chopping these expenses way down could put fun flying back on the menu. Now if I could only convince my wife!

  4. 1. RV-12! RV-12! RV-12! With mass production the costs will come down or stay reasonable
    2. Get the ethanol and lead out of the mogas and make it available on every general aviation airport.
    3. Get rid of the third class medical
    4. Forget about sleep apnea
    5. Forget about ADS-B
    6. Forget about ELT’s (they DON’T work)

    • Tom; And the “Oscar” goes to – the RV-12!
      TOTALLY agree on all parts!
      Now if Cirrus had the cent$ to buy up or joint venture with Van’s this would be the entry level trainer THEN upgrade to the SR-20 perhaps? Seems to me their marketing guru’s don’t see this “natural” up-grade progression Cessna employed 40-45 years ago.

  5. Skycatcher;: The envelop please?
    For 25+ years, GA has longed for a suitable replacement for the tried and proven C-150/152.
    Enter the “LSA concept”!
    What the non marketing idiots didn’t have the vision to SEE was the BIGGEST market (potential) was a contemporary replacement for the 31K+ C-150/152′s built during the 1959-85 year run.
    Frankly, rather than “appeasing” the anticipated (vertical/limited) demand by the aged and minor medical handy caped pilot community, the BIGGER, by far, was the market potential to the flight school; a more economical bird than the C-172, the training aircraft of choice by perhaps 95% of flight schools nationally.

    Given the 1,320 lb LSA weight limitation by our friends at the FAA, my question(s) are these:
    1. How much (reasonable) payload would be required as a TRAINING aircraft – 400 lbs+?
    2. What power plant (available choices) would be as light as possible AND produce a minimum of 100 HP or so? (Rotax?)
    3. What range ( training principal use ONLY ) would be required, given the C-150/152 had 19-20 gal usable* or about 3 typical (1 hr) instructional flights? YES for Skycatcher – NO for others.
    4. Did the original design consider “abuse” from students during training – a stronger/study nose gear would be REQUIRED? (NO?)
    5. Was a cross-wind component of , ideally, 12-13 knts considered? (NO/YES?)
    6. Was overall “comfort” with cabin width, 42+” considered? (YES?)
    7. Could the “bird” be made in the USA; North Carolina, or other tax free and grants given to start-ups, for a total production cost of say UNDER $95K? (?????)
    8. Would the “fixed” (excluding debt service) and variable operating cost (500 hrs annually) be no greater that 60-65% of a typical C-172? (YES?)

    If this could have been done from the on set, you would have:
    1. An aircraft designed BEFORE the fact for the flight school market with an annual absorption (purchase) rate of 200-250+ birds for the next 10 years – NEED!
    2. An additional 100-150 purchase by the “aging/medical” issues market – the one the LSA was originally intended for!
    3. Total sale potential: 300+ annually!

    * 34-35 gal OPTIONAL fuel tanks available

    AND the winner is?

  6. The Skycatcher failed because it was an inferior product compared to other LSAs. It was over-priced and over-weight. Even if Cessna had chosen the Rotax engine, that would only have cut 38 pounds off the weight compared to the O-200. By comparison, the Flight Design CT has an empty weight of 701 lbs compared to the Skycatcher’s 830. When you have a MTOW of 1320, that kind of difference is the kiss of death. Being made in China might have made some difference, but you can pick any American household these days and find all kinds of products made in China. Had Cessna designed a superior product and priced it competitively, they would still be selling it.

    • Phil,

      Then what would explain the dismal sales of all other LSA manufacturers??

      I agree, the Skycatcher was caught up with a bureaucracy management problem, because the engineering and feasibility of making a great airplane was never put to the test prior to development. I don’t think the “made in China” label killed it, because had the airplane been under $100,000 and had a useful load that was reasonable, everything would have been fine.

      The Cessna Aircraft company failed the buyer, as when first put on the drawing boards, the Skycatcher had over 1,000 positions (see deposits) on the books. Once the airplane was manufactured, it didn’t meet the expectations for quality and performance, and the rising price was the nail in the coffin.

      The engineers didn’t have the total focus on weight, because a composite structure such as the CT by Flight Design, is a heavier airframe on all accounts. Perhaps Cessna should have looked at the Cessna 150 and looked at an airframe already certified and figure out a way to make a lighter structure, either in a scale for the airframe, or lighter materials in areas that were not structural.

      If I were the CEO of Cessna, I would have outsourced component manufacturing, whether it was in China, Mexico, or Indonesia, just as long as the price was kept below $100K. If you have ever done component manufacturing before, you would be surprised by how efficient the Chinese are at some tasks, and explains why everyone enjoys the free cell phone with your wireless contract. Unfortunately the FAA process for manufacturing did not take this into account, so the process delay and certification was delayed and ended up with the demise of the airplane.

      • Dismal failure? There are plenty of manufacturers and models for sale. In 2012 the best-selling piston single in the U.S. was the Cessna 172 at 113 sales. Flight Design alone had sales of 76 aircraft that year. Cirrus sold 84 SR20s that same year. I don’t know of anyone claiming that Cirrus is a dismal failure. Just how is the LSA market a dismal failure?

        • Phil;
          Might review my “list” of specs I summited earlier. Although the 1,320 MTOW was a bit of a handy cap, not a “deal breaker”, as you may have eluded to. The TWO major areas that weren’t considered were, give-in the LARGEST market for the LSA or a replacement for the C-i50/152, the Skycatcher was hampered by BOTH payload AND an engine weight issue, which resulted in a lower, about 350-370 lbs payload. Take your typical LSA with a 21 gal fuel capacity, lower than most, and add the combination of Rotax (lighter) powered engine, beefed up nose gear, and you’ll have the “flight school” model If a manufacture had built a bird ORIGINALY aimed at the flight schools need as the primary target market, the “leading manufacture” in the game would be the one matching that criteria hands down.

          The build/production LSA criteria, ideally, should have been:
          1. Minimum payload of 400+ lbs (training model)
          2. Usable fuel 18-20 gal* (Rotax powered a must) * optional fuel of 34-35 gal
          3. Study/durable nose gear (training model)
          4. Production/wholesale cost to dealers under $95K
          Perhaps the RV-12 is the one closest to date?
          As I stated previously; the biggest primary market were (is) your flight schools; the secondary was (is) the aging/medical issue folks.

          In summary: Not ONE single (major) manufacture is interested in the LSA or light piston for one simple reason; high (financial risk) in an unpredictable and largely recreational aviation consumer market – disposable income?
          Until when and If capital investment (smart money) is made by an entity who envisions potential profitability in this market place, you’ll continue to have under capitalized, although well meaning folks, who are inept at management/marketing, attempting to capture some piece of this market with an unsystematic and “shots in the dark” approach.

        • Phil,

          Yes…the LSA is a dismal failure, just ask Dan Johnson the LSA guru. There were fewer deliveries in 2013 with the LSA Cub being the leader in deliveries. That tells you something of the market, doesn’t it? Considering how many players are in the market, and how many actually are delivered, something smells about this segment.

          I noted Gordon and Kent’s comments, and I think both of them have points to be considered in the general aviation game. Seriously, Cessna is a mature company that makes money selling light jets and that is where the expertise is….and the money. The industry needs a good LSA manufacturer that can bring a great product to the market, is well engineered, AND the most important part is to know how to sell it.

          If you look at the industry, it is surrounded by the technical types, but is shamefully vacant the marketing and sales types. The strategy in aviation, is to build this great airplane (Terrafugia flying car), and think about reality later! If you are a believer this is going to ever be produced in quantity, and profitability, then I have an announcement that aviation fuel will be 30 cents per gallon in 2014!

          The very last thing that the aviation manufacturer considers, is how are we going to sell these aircraft, which is what Cirrus is now trying to figure out. The marketing strategy that Cessna used to build a world class leader in general aviation, was the simple concept of – learn to fly in a Cessna, and we will sell you your next airplane.

          The truth on why general aviation needs a management change, is brought forth in the ideas and concepts at http://www.get-aviation.com I think you will find it has some concepts and defined objectives to bring aviation back on the reality track.

          • Mike, both you and Rod have listed your objections to the LSA definition, but I don’t see any statistics to back up the claim that LSA is a dismal failure. The fact that registrations were for 2013 doesn’t exactly equal dismal failure in my book. I’ve looked for sales numbers for 2013 and they are surprisingly hard to find. I did find a post in the EAA forums that was interesting: “I looked at some recent GAMA sales stats for the past 5 years and they illustrate that no one is selling much of any models, low or high priced. For the first 9 months of 2012, 597 single engine piston shipments were made from manufacturers worldwide. In 2011, total single engine piston shipments were 749 from all manufacturers worldwide. S-LSA sales stats published by an authorized body like LAMA are very hard to come by, in fact I find it perplexing that LAMA does not do this at least for its members. The stats I did find come from Dan Johnson who researched the FAA registry but they are a cumulative total, not year over year numbers. From Nov. 2006-to Sept. 2012, 2,385 LSA aircraft were registered. Simple math shows then that the yearly average is 398. That’s more than 53% of certifieds, not a great number but imo, not bad comparatively for a category in its infancy. ” I think that the large number of manufacturers that is still in business is testament to the fact that LSA is not a dismal failure. And I suspect that if you could add up all the LSA sales for 2013 they likely would exceed the total number of C172 (the largest single-engine piston seller) sales for that year.

  7. The only “ghost” that doomed the Cessna Skycatcher was the Cessna 150.

    The 150 has a 60-year reputation as a reliable, safe, easy-to-fly plane with capabilities superior to the Skycatcher. And, with no shortage of them on barnstormers.com in the sub-$20K price range, you can buy a squadron of them for the price of a Skycatcher or comparable high-end LSA.

    The 150 is the flying counterpart to the 1965 Ford Mustang. It’s fun, not very big but not very expensive to buy or fly. Sure, owners of the Skycatcher (or other LSA) can fly using driver’s license medicals can do their own maintenance and modifications, but recent and pending legislation are removing those advantages.

    Flying is half about fun (or need) and half about numbers, and the numbers just don’t add up for the Skycatcher when you compare it to the 150 — which is a pretty damn lively “ghost!”

    • Hi Keith; although I identify with your plight for the C-150/152, both great aircraft in their day, neither, at present, qualify under the LSA rule. Secondly, no matter what you do, (up-dates, etc), I don’t feel a 70 year old design would be well received by the NEW breed of potential student pilot candidates.
      The C-150/152 is FINE considering capital cost; that said, unfortunately, they don’t qualify as an LSA.
      And those with “medical issues” will just have to be patient until which time the “FED” increase’s the gross weight to include the C-150/152 line OR current LSA’s (pre-owned) are selling for say under $75K , at which many are approaching that $$ number very soon.

  8. Mr Misegades,
    Of course you are right, but unfortunately instead of admitting their mistake and taking measures to correct it the corporate direction leaned toward blaming it on the choice of assembly site. Not many corporations are willing to simply say ‘we were wrong’ .

  9. I think this is just another example of companies run by a people with little or no experience or knowledge in the field for which they are responsible. Time and time again I see good companies with someone at the helm and staff in place that know the product and their customers grow and grow. Then come the college educated “Business Experts” who ignore or dismiss those who helped built that which they are now taking over only to create massive problems requiring massive amounts of money to fix and claiming all the time how great they are at fixing problems.
    So many gave their opinions at the shows and it seemed Cessna and its “Business Experts” were listening but this announcement just proves they were not. It does not take a degree to start, grow, and become a successful business. Cessna could have been the leader in this market but insisted on xx% to be the margin even if the market would not bear that price. I honestly believe the only companies that will make it in this market are the small that don’t have the demanding corporate overhead and who’s president/owner is in the hanger or plant turning wrenches as well.

    • AND, sadly, the “ROI” (Return On Investment) is the responsibility of management to its stockholders – wouldn’t you say? Now add in the “opportunity cost”?
      Yes, I would agree that many of the “young” formally over educated (academically) “MBA” types lack creativity, solution finding abilities, entrepreneurial and “outside the wingspan” thinking – with “age” brings wisdom – in most cases!

  10. Kent Misegades says:

    I respectfully disagree. Long before Cessna announced that the Skycatcher was to be built in China it suffered from the infamous problems with spin recovery. This aerodynamicist predicted this when I first saw the plane – its aft fuselage and empennage design nearly guaranteed problems with spin recovery. Second, Cessna made a fatal error succombing to pressure from Cessna Pilot Centers who did not want to learn how to maintain the Rotax 912, Cessna’s original, and correct, choice of engines. Instead they chose the new Continental O-200D, a reliable engine but heavy, inefficient and not certified for mogas, an incredible omission considering the O-200 was the first engine to receive an Autogas STC in 1982. The heavier, less efficient Continental destroyed the plane’s useful load and range, leaving the plane with a spartan interior compared to the competition. Since most LSAs come from overseas, Cessna could have overcome the bad press about China, if there had not been the quality issues that evolved.

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