Posts Tagged ‘Tom Haines’

What’s the economic reality in the aircaft market?

Friday, November 7th, 2008

While it seems like bad news this week for GA manufacturers, I wonder if it really is. Within the last month Cirrus, Mooney, Cessna, and Hawker Beechcraft all announced layoffs and/or cutbacks in work weeks in order to reduce production to meet reduced demand. Only Piper seems to be bucking the trend so far. A Piper spokesman told me at Expo that it plans to deliver 44 airplanes in the next five manufacturing weeks before the end of the year–so no expected layoffs on the production line there by year-end. But production of some components for aircraft in 2009 may be scaled back in case demand at Piper softens. Piper reports only one customer who has not been able to get credit to complete a planned retail delivery.

What’s not clear is whether demand for piston airplanes is significantly down or whether manufacturers are playing it conservatively, reducing production in anticipation of reduced demand. It could be that the manufacturers have learned a thing or two from previous economic slow downs when they didn’t reduce production rates quickly enough and found themselves awash in high-priced inventory.

In looking at the economic situation I wonder how many pilots not making planned aircraft purchases are doing so because they truly can no longer afford or qualify for the purchase or whether it is simply them being conservative–putting off the purchase until the future becomes more clear.

Complicating the situation is the bonus depreciation credit for aircraft purchases made before year-end. The credit expires at the end of the year. Now, industry officials are debating whether lobbying for an extension of the tax credit as part of a 2009 stimulus package might cause those planning to purchase this year to get the credit to instead wait until later to purchase if the credit is still available next year. They’d like the orders this year and to also have the credit for next year. If push comes to shove, they’d probably rather have the stimulus package for next year even if it means some delayed sales for now.

What do you think? Has the economic situation caused you to cancel an aircraft order or has anyone you know canceled an order? What will be the impact of the economy on aircraft sales?

Follow along with us at AOPA Expo

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Whether or not you’re coming to AOPA Expo this year, you’ll be able to stay up-to-date with everything that happens through the AOPA website. In addition to the Expo sidebar on the homepage, AOPA editors will be posting daily blogs here about the latest events.

Also, if you’re on Twitter, you can follow us as we wander the exhibit hall floor and talk to other attendees. We’ll be tagging our messages with the keyword “#aopaexpo08″ to make it easy to track what everyone is doing–just go to our Expo Twitter account and see everyone’s updates.

If you’re going to be at Expo, feel free to follow us on your cell phone via Twitter and even tweet in with your own thoughts on #aopaexpo08!

Time to be greedy?

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Economy’s in the Dumpster. Credit is tight. Fuel is expensive. Geez. Lousy time to buy an airplane, right? Maybe not. As Warren Buffet says, “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” Well, guess what. Others are fearful, so now is the time to be greedy.

If you’ve got the cash or access to credit, now might be a fine time to buy an airplane. Hull values are down because of all the airplanes on the market (meaning you have a big selection). Insurance rates are trending down. Fuel prices remain high, but they will probably trend downward soon–avgas always lags gasoline on the way back down just as it lagged gasoline on the way up (although it may not have felt that way). Plus, if you buy before the end of the year and use the airplane mostly for business, you can benefit from several tax incentives currently available.

I’ll be exploring this subject and providing some buying tips at AOPA Expo in my seminar, “Buying Your First Airplane,” which occurs at 3 p.m. Friday, November 7, in San Jose.

In the meantime, what do you think? Is this the buying season for airplanes? Time for you to be “greedy” and take advantage of the down market or time to sell? Let me know your thoughts.

Flying car or pipe dream?

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

Terrafugia Transition

Seriously, folks, do you think a “roadable” airplane is doable? Would you buy one? Will it be possible to overcome all of the issues relative to making a car that meets modern automotive safety standards that can also safely and practically fly?

It’s been tried for decades–and even certified in the form of the Aerocar, but never marketed in a serious way. As you may have seen at Oshkosh this year, Terrafugia has a prototype called “Transition” they are experimenting with and a way cool animation of the thing landing and taxiing to the garage. The wing is being load tested and the Rotax-powered drivetrain powered up. See all the details in a story we ran a while back in AOPA Pilot, including the animation. The Terrafugia Web site has a video report from Fox News. (Fox calls it “Chitty, Bang, Bang”!–Hey, fair and balanced, right?….)

If Terrafugia is able to bring this two-place roadable airplane to the market for something close to $150,000, would you buy it? Will anyone buy it? Let me know your thoughts.

Steve Fossett, ELTs, and your money

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

How risk averse are you? What’s your financial threshold for investing in a 406 MHz emergency locator transmitter (ELT) that will increase the likelihood that you’ll be found in the unlikely situation that you crash some place that is not obvious? Would we have found Steve Fossett hours after his accident instead of a year later if he had invested in a modern ELT? Those are questions I’m wrestling with as I look at the ELT situation.

As it turns out, you have about four choices. The cheapest: Do nothing. Your old-fashioned 121.5 MHz ELT will be perfectly legal to fly with, at least in the United States, even after February 2009 when satellites stop monitoring that signal; going to Mexico or Canada–different story. Search and rescue crews will continue to monitor the frequency.

Next you could buy a 406 MHz ELT, which is monitored by the satellites and will likely do a better job of locating you and calling in the cavalry. But the G switch on the new models is the same as the old one so the likelihood of the ELT going off is the same as before–and they don’t have a terrific record. You’ll pay about $1,000 for a basic 406 MHz ELT, including installation. But, the next option, adding a GPS interface probably doubles that cost, but greatly improves the accuracy of the search because the system bursts coordinates to the satellite for easy tracking should you “land somewhere other than an airport,” as I like to say rather than using the “c” word with passengers.

Finally, you could get similar benefits by keeping your old ELT and investing in a personal locator beacon (PLB). It too can provide good accuracy in finding you, but it has no G switch, so it’s up to you to set it off if you end up in a bad situation. PLBs can be had for a few hundred dollars.

For more, see Ian Twombly’s sweepstakes project update this week and his feature article on the subject in the October issue of AOPA Pilot.

As for me, I’m uncertain. It would be nice to know the cavalry is coming, but do I want to spend $2,000 for the unlikely chance I’ll end up someplace as remote as Steve Fossett (his 121.5 MHz ELT apparently didn’t activate). Those PLBs might make a nice Christmas present for those who never know what to get me…. (Note to self: Send link to wife.) How about you?

Roll the equipment . . .

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

Firefighters at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport provided a new meaning to the term “roll the equipment” when one of their $1 million fire trucks rolled over while speeding around the airport on a training drill. Two firefighters were injured, according to the WSBV-TV Web site.



The City of Atlanta owns 10 of the apparently top-heavy trucks, purchased for about $12 million over the last three years.


So in addition to whether a firetruck ought to roll over, one has to wonder why they cost $1+ million a piece. But apparently they do–another example of how airline-related operations drive the expense of the aviation system in this country. A plain-old $100,000 fire truck would probably serve the needs of GA just fine. Compare that to other costs incurred because of the airlines–runways with pavement five-feet thick to accommodate the “heavies.” Cat III landing systems. Inefficient in-trial separations because of wake turbulence. Meanwhile, the airlines whine that we should all pay user fees because, they like to believe, a “blip is a blip.” Well, what GA blip needs a $1 million fire truck?

Photo courtesy

All aTwitter about new media

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

I’m at the FOLIO publishing conference this week in Chicago (I visited the Garmin store–very slick and just up Michigan Avenue from the Apple store). What’s interesting about publishing conferences the last few years is that there are almost no seminars on putting ink on paper. It’s all about e-media–blogs (we’re there!), video, and social networking. Lots of talk about Twitter, Facebook, Digg, and others. Do you think AOPA should be putting content out through these channels? Do you participate? I recently set up profiles on Twitter and Facebook. Take a look. Let me know how and if you use such media. We’re anxious to know how to best communicate with you.

Sonny and the $22 million Bellanca

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue (right) with CFI Ron Carroll and a Robinson R44 in front of the Georgia captiol.

Look out Georgia Dems! If you thought Sonny Perdue was a formidable force with a Bellanca Super Viking at his disposal, think what he can do with the addition of a helicopter.

I was among the crowd of thousands at the 2007 National Business Aviation Association convention in Atlanta when the Georgia governor told of his exploits using general aviation over the years. Perdue, an enthusiastic pilot since his boyhood in central Georgia, routinely flew a Bellanca Super Viking to campaign stops around the state in his 2002 bid for the Georgia governorship. He won–the first Republican to win the seat since Reconstruction. He says the Bellanca is worth $22 million–the difference between the $3 million he spent to win the seat and the $25 million his non-pilot Democratic opponent spent to lose.

Perdue, 61, claims the speedy four-seater allowed him to be more places than his opponent and especially allowed him to easily access smaller communities than his opponent.

So if the Bellanca provided easy access, imagine what he can do with a helicopter. We’ll find out because Perdue in July earned his rotor rating in a Robinson R44 with Ron Carroll, an instructor at Blue Ridge Helicopters in Lawrenceville. Perdue used his vacation time to solo and a total of 66 hours to get the rating. All in all, he has more than 2,800 hours of flight time. On the fixed-wing side, the governor has a commercial certificate with a multiengine rating.

Because of Georgia term limits, Perdue won’t be eligible to run again until 2014, enough time for him to truly hone his helicopter skills. Also enough time for any opponents to recognize his secret weapon and begin flight training now! May the best pilot win.

Multimedia, 1970s-style

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Occasionally I have horrible flash backs to my private pilot ground school experience. It was the winter of 1976/1977. I wasn’t even 16 yet and had only been in an airplane–any airplane–once. The three-hour weekly session was held in a dowdy conference room at a rail yard for a freight line–heated by steam to a sauna-like atmosphere. Lights dangled from the high ceiling casting a yellow glow across the sparse and threadbare room. I felt as if I were in a Soviet interrogation cell. The classes were held on school nights. And, yes, I confess to falling asleep from time to time.

The “multimedia” consisted of chalk and a blackboard. The instructors brought a few charts to hang on the wall for enticing subjects such as calculating headwind and tailwind components. Primary support material came from FAA Exam-O-Grams–my forehead hits the desk as I write those words. These dry, grainy black-and-white government publications contained good information–presented poorly.

I thought of all this recently while listening to John and Martha King of King Schools describe their new online private pilot curriculum. The Kings have taken their famous highly interactive, engaging CD/DVD courses and made them available online. Now you can access your course from any Web-connected computer. The system keeps track of your progress on the server, so no matter where you are you can log on and pick up where you left off. For more on the courses see their Web site. You’ll find the courses the complete antithesis of Exam-O-Grams. You new student pilots out there have no idea how good you have it!

Apparently feeling masochistic, I Googled “exam-o-gram” and found a Web site where you can download those old government documents. At the site, I clicked on one enchanting Exam-O-Gram from 1967 titled: “Simple ADF for VFR Navigation.” Here’s the engaging first sentence: “To test the applicant’s knowledge of the practical aspects of cross-country flying, FAA written examinations contain test items on the use of radio aids to VFR navigation.” (Remove forehead from desk.)

Caution: Do not click on the Exam-O-Gram site while operating heavy equipment.

How was your ground school experience?

Saving $4,000 in the real world

Monday, July 28th, 2008

My August “Waypoints” column “Saving $4,000 in Fuel,” has generated a number of questions and comments from readers also curious about running their engines lean of peak. I just landed this afternoon at Appleton, WI, after flying LOP from Frederick, MD. Brutal headwinds kept our groundspeed in the 140s all day, stretching our flight time to about 4.4 hours. As usual en route to OSH, I stopped for fuel, this time at Mason Jewett Field near Lansing, MI, where avgas was a reasonable (by this week’s standards) $5.05. Nice airport, but completely deserted this beautiful Sunday morning. My fuel burn LOP was about 12.5 gph while true airspeed at altitudes of 6,000 and 8,000 feet was around 160 knots. Rich of peak, I would usually see about 17.2 gph and maybe 165 KTAS.

A big difference today was that I could have made the trip nonstop, even with the strong headwinds of about 25 knots on the nose. That wasn’t even an option when operating ROP. The Garmin GNS 530 showed that we could have landed at ATW with an hour and 16 minutes of fuel nonstop from FDK. Because of the uncertainties of traffic flows associated with AirVenture, I chose to stop. On a “normal” flight I would have charged ahead and made the trip nonstop.

To answer a few of the questions from members: You can expect exhaust gas temperatures LOP to be in the 1,400s, depending on conditions. As for fears about burning exhaust valves, George Braly of General Aviation Modifications, Inc., reminds that the exhaust valves spend 75 percent of their time seated, allowing heat to be wicked away into the engine. Also when seated, they are not exposed to the combustion process, which can run 4,000 degrees F or so–making 1,400 degrees seem downright chilly. Those operating LOP properly with good monitoring equipment shouldn’t see problems with exhaust valves.

One member reports running the Lycoming in his Cessna 182 25 degrees LOP and shaving about 3 gph off his fuel burn, but costing him 9 knots. That’s a larger speed decrease than most Continental engine drivers will see, especially when running only 25 degrees LOP.

Keep sending your questions and sharing your experiences. Everyone benefits.