In my June column “Concern for the bottom line hurts general aviation,” I talked about the bottom line concerns of GA manufacturers. I received a significant amount of feedback, both positive and negative. I appreciate both types of feedback and I would like to address one of the comments.
Gbigs wrote: “There was never a time when the bottom line was not first order for a real business. Sure companies blow money on R&D if they can afford it, but make no mistake — there is no R&D without a bottom line.”
An axiom of this is that, in most cases, there is no bottom line without first having research and development (R&D).
A good example of this is the Ford Motor Company in the 1920s. Ford had risked all to produce the Model T and it was hugely successful. But in the late 1920s Ford refused to spend money to develop a replacement for the Model T.
Meanwhile, the other car companies made improvements to their cars and in the late 1920s Ford was losing market share and almost did not recover. Finally R&D came up with the Model A and the company recovered.
So R&D is very important to the long-term health of a company and an industry.
The most important point here is that the GA industry needs to compete with the recreational vehicle market and, to some extent, the commercial transportation market as well.
In the recreational vehicle market, there are snowmobiles, jet skis, ATVs, motorcycles, and much more.
I have a 200-hp 4 stroke snowmobile that I can go out on a -20°F morning and turn the key and it will start right up and run with no problems. In addition, it is a thrilling ride and will get your juices flowing when getting a $10 hamburger. And it is very dependable and easy to maintain.
By comparison, to start an aircraft engine, I would need to pre-heat the engine for a significant period, which cost money. Then I would need to hit the primer numerous times, set the carburetor mixture, and hope that it starts. Then baby the throttle to keep it running, check the mags, and then after warming it up for a while, go flying to get a $100 hamburger.
There are a few problems here. First, young people want instant gratification. They want to go now, not after preheating for an hour or so. Young people have also grown up with only fuel injection cars with electronic ignition and controls. They have no idea what a carburetor is or what leaning the mixture is all about, let alone what a magneto is. There is also the cost thing and where to store the vehicle.
For an industry to survive, it must target its products to meet the needs and expectations of the end users.
The general aviation industry is focused on meeting the needs of lawyers, insurance companies, and old retired males. We need to wake up and realize that the good old boys are dying off at a significant rate.
And maybe, just maybe, we need to focus on newer technology and try to expand the marketplace to include people born after 1950.
In most businesses today, if you are standing still, you are being passed by others. The general aviation industry has been standing still way too long.