Archive for August, 2010

Can we build them less expensively?

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010


Does anybody, besides me, think the cost of new aircraft is a bit high? Those who know better have constantly advised  that it’s not the absolute cost but the value that one derives from the purchase.  And how does this tie into safety and training anyway? Hold that thought.

Up to a  point, the value argument is true. However, when one gets far enough up the economic pyramid the  equation becomes moot for most of us.  I just can’t stand that much pleasure or utility out of whatever the product purports to offer.

Untitled-6Doing some back-of-the-envelope calculations, I came across the pricing of a 1980 C172 (with Navpak II option – basic IFR) at approximately $40,000. By comparison, a  mid-priced car was about $7,500.  In 2009, the Skyhawk, admittedly with Garmin 1000 and perhaps a larger engine was about $280,000.  It appears that the market is not quite convinced that the performance and utility benefits are worth the differential.  The car weighed in at about $30,000.

That works out to a four-fold increase for car and seven-fold increase for aircraft. We could certainly indulge in the value discussion and this is NOT intended as bash of the manufacturers. Business these days is expensive and the government, despite adding lots of benefit, doesn’t make it any cheaper.

Light Sport Aircraft are much less expensive but even they are not cheap and then the discussion turns to why buy a new LSA for $130,000 when perfectly good used Skyhawks or Warriors are available for $80,000. My point is that somebody, at some time,  HAS to buy new aircraft. We won’t survive on recycling forever.

Why focus on redesigning or incrementally improving  the product instead of figuring out how to build an existing aircraft more affordably? When NASA and various organizations sponsor design competitions they invariably look to newer, faster, more capable but I don’t recall anybody looking at how to build a Cessna 182, Warrior or Bonanza (all mature designs) with fewer parts and reduced labor cost.

Getting back to training and in looking at the cost of becoming a pilot, the only thing that appears to be disproportionately expensive is the aircraft. This all ties into our initiative to address the shrinking pilot population.  Fuel, instructor pay, basic avionics and course materials have either kept up or lagged with inflation. So, what am I missing ?