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.
As 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.