Is this the new GA?

The word “legacy” is often used to refer to products that are dominant today but threatened by disruptive influences. Legacy airlines, for example, are today’s largest carriers but ones burdened with aircraft bought earlier and with labor contracts negotiated years ago. Legacy connotes power, but also vulnerability.

The same logic can be applied to general aviation. Cessna and Piper are certainly legacy manufacturers. Decades back both become larger corporations increasingly distant from the original work of Clyde Cessna or William Piper. Others have already succumbed to market forces or have materially changed. Think of Beechcraft or Mooney. Both are quite different organizations from what Walter Beech and Al Mooney once created.

All this reflects normal developments that happen over time. Legacies can be good, even great, but one fact is true: Legacy cannot stand still.

New companies will approach stealthily, perhaps to sap the strength of the older business. Cirrus Aircraft can now claim to annually sell more of a single model than Cessna or observe that Diamond or Eclipse have stolen sales from legacy producers.

This happens in many fields. Think Compaq, Pan Am, Xerox, Kodak, Oldsmobile, or many other names as onetime giants that may continue to operate today but are not the powerhouse brands they once were. Business in a capitalist society is a demanding pursuit.

Part 23 Rewrite Project
Only a decade back, very few Americans knew the brand names Tecnam or Flight Design. Today, both are much better known thanks to their success with Light-Sport Aircraft.

While both will continue to serve that sector, each has projects that have grown beyond those parameters. Today, Tecnam is flying its P2010 or “Twenty Ten” (pictured below) and Flight Design expects to fly its C4 (pictured above) by summer of 2014. Both are four seaters.

Tecnam_P2010_inflightAs they prospered, these companies learned the conventional methods of gaining government approval for their airplanes. Tecnam already has Part 23-certified aircraft and Flight Design has secured EASA approval for its two seat models. Tecnam is advancing with its P2010 approval through EASA first but has stated it will pursue FAA FAR 23 certification for the Twenty Ten. Engineers at Flight Design may choose a slightly different path, with Special Condition approval while they watch what happens with the FAA’s much discussed Part 23 rewrite project.

Part 23 Type Certification approval is a costly and time consuming process; it can run to tens, even hundreds,  of millions of dollars and take years. The thorough procedure has assured many thousands of buyers that they are acquiring well proven aircraft, but the expense is so considerable that new model introductions have become rare and even updating current models with equipment or features is slow to occur.
For example, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association claims a simple Angle of Attack indicator costs 10 times as much to add to a certified aircraft as the on an Experimental Amateur Built aircraft.

Under pressure from GAMA and its members, the FAA announced a new initiative called “Twice the Safety at Half the Cost.” The cost halving refers to the Part 23 rewrite project that will employ industry consensus standards for the steps producers must take to gain FAA approval.
The effort has been underway for two years and is making solid progress. It is possible it could be implemented in a few years.

LSA use such a method and the pace of development has been torrid; 136 models have emerged in less than 10 years and the concept works well enough for the FAA to embrace the idea for Type Certified aircraft. FAA’s role as final authority remains but the prescriptive elements of certification criteria will be set by industry experts working with FAA technical staff. The anticipated result is a sharp reduction in cost for improved aircraft and equipment.

A Matter of Timing
More LSA producers are also announcing work on four seat (or larger) models and it seems certain that some of them will find market acceptance. In the second decade of Light-Sport, several leading brands will be entering the world of general aviation airplanes, prompting some to refer to the development as the “new GA.”

The diversity of LSA designs suggest not all these companies will follow the same design path.

Both Tecnam and Flight Design employ carbon fiber fuselages to make sweeping, graceful lines that please the eye while allowing air to flow smooth over their exteriors. Both use three doors … most uncommon among legacy producers. Both are fixed gear aircraft saving weight and cost. Both use 180 horsepower engines that can accept 100 LL or automobile fuel. P2010 carries 63 gallons of fuel while C4 will have 70 gallons on board. Performance is close for either P2010 or C4, though Flight Design predicts a slight edge in speed.

The two designs differ in various ways. Flight Design has selected Continental Motors’ IO-360-AF engine and Tecnam chose the Lycoming IO-360-M1A engine. Tecnam uses strutted metal on the wings and stabilator while Flight Design has cantilevered all-carbon wing structure. Where Tecnam has selected avionics from leading suppliers that presently meet FAA specifications, Flight Design plans to mix instrumentation with some TSO gear alongside proven non-TSO equipment. Tecnam plans to use a fixed pitch two-blade propeller, while Flight Design uses a three-blade prop. Both expect to offer variable pitch props as optional. Flight Design will install an airframe parachute.

Either airplane is expected to sell for less than a Cessna 172, currently listed at north of $400,000. As each C4 and P2010 is larger and faster, this may be compelling for new aircraft shoppers.

However, one noteworthy difference is a matter of timing. Tecnam is further along, already flying its Twenty Ten. To meet present-day certification, the company has selected all certified instruments and will spend the money to achieve FAA approval under Part 23 through reciprocity with EASA’s equivalent process. (Tecnam has already achieved this with its Twin.)

Contrarily, Flight Design is carefully planning its market entry to coincide with the ASTM committee devising industry consensus standards that are modeled after the successful use of this method for LSA. Until the work of ASTM’s F44 committee is complete and accepted by FAA, Flight Design may seek Special Condition approval.

With AirVenture set to begin in mere days, we can expect to hear more from the “new GA” companies.  While disruptive influences can be stressful for legacy companies, they can be very exciting for consumers. American pilots have much to look forward to in the months ahead.


  1. James says

    Ok, guys, i am a lite sport pilot, owner of a ’46 Ercoupe. Got my lsa ticket at 67 and have logged about 300 hours last 2 years – mostly x-country. Nice to fly down to see son/grandson 200 miles away and old homestead 550 miles away in half time it takes to drive. Regrets? Wish i had done it MUCH sooner! Plus? Son is now pursuing pp license:-). Invested about 40k in total upgrade of Ercoupe. It would be nice to fly something faster when faa allows, but for now, its worth every penny invested!

    • says

      SMART; and to quote you James; “Flying down to see my son/grandson 200 miles away and old homestead 550 miles away in half the time it takes to drive”. UTILITY value – even in a classic Ercoupe – anyone reading this? At least he’s not taking up space in the “pilots lounge” socializing and not BUYING even a sectional from the noble flight school/FBO sponsor! OK. who disconnected the “Lounge Hobbs Hour Meter” on the recliner? Oh, you again, aren’t you that guy who’s about to have your Ultralight repossessed?

      • Greg W says

        This is the type of “utility” I had implied with my Aeronca. With as small a market as aviation we do not “need” the young to be interested in large numbers. I see many in their ’30’s-40’s that will state they would love to fly but can’t afford it. Then they rattle off all the “stuff” and cost that publications and organizations say they need, ignoring the simple legacy LSA that caused them to stop by in the first place. As to my music collection, vinyl records and tube amps are the “new” big thing in recorded sound now, so being out of step has put that back in the fore-front again.
        We are just a microcosm of the country on these forums, we fight over the few things we disagree about and ignore the things we agree about.

        • says

          Hi Greg; Nice to know SOMEONE can “see the runway for the trees”!
          Simply, pilots (owners) who DON’T belly ache/complain while sitting around the “lounge” discussing the last time he/she flew was in a Piper Colt, or a 1961 C-150 in 1966!

  2. Roger says

    OR, we can be advocates of AFFORDABLE flying, like the proposal to eliminate the useless third class physical for no -commercial flying.., then have flight checks based on hours, say 200 hours, not on those every two year check rides I get after my 50 hours. THEN, have owner assisted aircraft bi-annuals. Mostly let’s have all light aircraft scheduled like LSA for new equipment… Much more affordable I the experimental categories. BUT, are we willing to unite and push for these changes? Just a thought….

    • says

      Say Roger; Boy, I sure glad I’m not in BUSINESS with you! – IF I need a tax write-off, I’ll look you up! Oh, and could you kindly explain what YOU define as AFFORDABLE – a 2014 Skyhawk “wet” for LESS than the operating cost at say $50/hr?

  3. TedK says

    The problem plain and simple is the FAA. They are trying to treat personal aircraft as baby airliners and god-forbid you use anything but your disposable income to pay for flying.

    Flying on a Private license should be no different than driving your car on a personal (not CDL) license. If your boss can reimburse your use of your car, then YOU should have the option of flying an airplane vice driving your car. The Feds should NOT be able to say it is ok to drive but not fly.

  4. Neil Salmi says

    I believe Rans Design started and nearly completed a Part 23, recreational certificate for the S 7 courier in 1997. However the FAA dropped this certification category. Later LSA was created. Rans was way ahead of it’s time.

  5. says

    Great article, Dan. I did an article in the May issue of “AOPA Pilot” quoting 13 aviation leaders on what general aviation will be like in 75 years. I chose that number because AOPA was 75 years old that month. One of the predictions that sticks in my mind concerns the cost of that $400,000 Cessna 172 reaching $1 million in 75 years, resulting in all of us flying today’s light sport aircraft based in flying clubs. That’s not too much of a stretch, given that Europe already operates far more flying clubs than the U.S., and originated the idea of a light sport aircraft through the European ultralight aircraft. Sounds like those four seaters will make great flying club aircraft as a cost clubs can afford.

  6. Mike says

    Greg W. has the point I have made for many years now, and that is cost isn’t the real hold up in general aviation piston aircraft….there just isn’t very much interest in the category anymore. You can purchase a very nice airplane for under $70,000 and when you compare this to the average price of a new car in 2014…I am talking SOLD and out the door, you are looking at over $32,000!

    We do need innovation, and the light sport manufacturers are the companies that will guide the future of this segment for many years, because Cessna and Beechcraft have figure out the money is in the jets and turbo-props. They could sell 50 Skyhawks, and exceed the profit of these airplanes with the sale of 2 Cessna Citation Sovereign’s. Why wouldn’t you pursue the higher profit aircraft, without the liability of having a few idiot private pilots crash and take you to court? I am not saying all are idiot’s, but when I read the NTSB reports, I scratch my head about the ignorance of some people. Jets….they require a certain dedication and safety is taught constantly…or is it common sense is TAUGHT constantly!!!????

    What puzzles me, is all the engineering talent and capital spent to try and get the flying car to be a reality, when the engineering should be spent figuring out safer, more reliable, and lower cost of manufacturing! Because the flying car will sell less than 50 units in 50 years, but having an airplane that can be purchased for under $150,000 and requires an inspection that costs less than $1,000 and never breaks down, shouldn’t that be the ultimate goal of this industry? The fact is, a modern automobile will go 100,000 miles before the first major service, 200,000 miles without having to replace major components and this is common today.

  7. Paul D. says

    More and more it seems that General Aviation is priced for the wealthy. It cannot and will not grow with such a financial restriction and exclusion. The cost of the fuel alone will become if not already prohibitive for many especially with the assumed advent of 100NL. There seems to be little if any effort to reduce such a burdensome operating cost. Why is there not a more concerted effort by the AOPA, the EAA and other notable GA organizations to lobby for a wider distribution of Mogas availability at GA airports around the country but there’s nary a peep. Fed control, the FAA, demands more expensive equipment, ADS-B, be bought and installed in GA airplanes by 2020 further adding to the operating cost burden.

  8. says

    Gent and Ladies:
    At just turning “71”today; here’s my accessment on “recreational” aviation:
    1. The current cost/benefit equation simple DOESNT work for PURE or solely recreational (non-utility) purposes. 2. Recreational (aviation) will ONLY survive for those who see a UTILITY (need) value, i.e., transportation to a vacation home OR partial business use of sorts 3. To MANY other LESS costly leisure time activities that can be done without the skill or intellect (and risk) of flying; ATV for example?
    4. The “young” (for any duration) just aren’t INTERESTED – period – REALITY!

    Like I said earlier; the BIG BANDS had their time (1935-47). sadly , I missed that era by about 15+ years; but I have one hell-a-va collection of the “Count”, Woody, Benny, Krupa and Rich on CD; I know, THAT’s outdated already too!

    AND thank you Greg; I too believed in Santa, the Good Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny at one time – and then I became an adult – more fun being a child though, right?


      I love big band music. I turned 71 in April. My mother and uncles/aunts use to play that music when I was a young boy. I grew up listing to it and still love it today. Young people today seem to want instant gratification and 40 to 65 hours to spend learning to fly over a year can be too long for many of them.

  9. Robert Stansfield says

    That is all well and good. New technology and production does enhance a good product and drop prices over time. But, until the cost of an aircraft drops to about the cost of a good auto, flying will only be a dream for most workers. I am talking in the $40 TO 50k range. Look at the cost of a home or rental today. Who is going to pay several hundred thousand for an aircraft? Government regulations keep piling costs on owners and new avionics cost as much as a car. The $100 hamburger is getting to be a $500 hamburger. I don’t like being an oger. I love flying. Until the cost of flying comes down GA will continue it’s downward spiral.

  10. Greg W says

    The market I think exists just not in the current new price range,( based on the comments from non-pilots/owners that I have met). If there is money for $20K snowmobiles and $40-50K pick-up trucks then there is money for an airplane If they think there is any use for it ,including recreation.The customer could be found through good marketing by some one like Rod. My ’46 Champ will get me anywhere as fast as a car, faster if not straight north/south along the freeway. It will cruise at 85, average 70+ ground speed at an equivalent 18-20 mpg, the same as my truck or Chevy Blazer. The cost? $18,000 less than either car. I will have a ’54 Piper Pacer out of restoration soon, for sale at $27,000. It is a four seat, with back door ( that is NOT new design folks!), 120+ mph cruise speed, 7gal./hr., 900 lbs useful load. Legacy aircraft that while a little slower will burn less fuel and carry as nearly as much while costing magnitudes less to purchase. I will be giving up as I am no “salesman” and cannot sell real cost/benefit performance to the average customer today. Today’s “customer” wants all the gadgets and performance, load/range, that they will likely never need and then complain of cost. There are many aircraft that can be purchased, flown and maintained for the cost of a new car or less. They are fully capable of the needs of most private fliers. Need more payload/fuel or speed, why?, the country has NOT gotten any bigger. To those that do fly older aircraft when those “in the know” make light of your machine ask what they fly, most of the time they don’t fly anything. Mr. Beck, I wish that pragmatists like you and dreamers like me were in the same area WE together could change the tide but alas that time was the middle of the last century and I have been passed by. I will end this tirade with a quote from Pres. T.Roosevelt and do wish more of us thought like this still, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…” Greg,Pilot,Owner,Mechanic A&P/IA

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *