I got an email the other day from a curmudgeonly character named "Bill" who, despite his gruff manner and reluctance to discuss the subject in any detail, nevertheless voiced some criticisms that are quite common these days.
The reason for Bill's rant--and something tells me he doesn't need much to get going--was the piece in this month's issue by Mac on the Cessna SkyCatcher. Bill was rankled at the positive review Mac gave the airplane and called the 162 a "reinvention of the wheel with some shiny stuff on it" and a "$100,000 toy."
I've always thought the "reinvention of the wheel" saying was hilarious. Thank goodness the wheel has been reinvented again and again. The first ones were terrible! But through constant reinvention, they've been getting better ever since.
As far as the "shiny stuff" comment is concerned, the crack implies that the shine is for the sake of the shine, and nothing could be further from the truth. The Garmin avionics in the 162 make the gauges in an old 150 look positively prehistoric. The Garmin suite does a lot more, does it more reliably and makes things safer and is cheaper to buy and maintain. But apart from that, it's all flash. Sheesh.
Bill's "$100,000 toy" comment was off base, too. First of all, the SkyCatcher is not a toy. Most of these airplanes will go onto the line as trainers. Is $100,000 (actually, a bit more than that) too much to pay for a trainer? It depends. You can get a couple of 162s for the price of a 172, and Cessna has sold hundreds of those airplanes in recent years to be used as trainers. So maybe not. And the 162 is, indeed, one of the top two or three airplanes that I would have my kids train in.
I do agree that airplanes cost a lot. Do they cost too much, though? Sometimes, they do, but not in the case of the SkyCatcher. Its price is actually very good. Believe me, Cessna is not going to get rich building this airplane. The margins are far too slim. Besides, saying the SkyCatcher costs too much is like saying that my house costs too much. That is, it's like saying that we wish that airplanes cost less. I strongly share that sentiment. But it's not going to make my house or your dream airplane cost less.
And let me make one thing clear: Airplanes cost a lot not because the airplane makers are artificially inflating the prices of their wares in order to dupe unsuspecting consumers but because it takes tens of millions of dollars to get a very light airplane to market and the number of sales a company can hope to get on that airplane are relatively small. And remember that airplane manufacturers have to pay other companies--engine makers, avionics suppliers, tire makers, accessories suppliers--a huge percentage of the value of the airplane before a consumer pays penny one. And that's not even factoring in the cost of overhead. Let's face it, the 162 is very attractively priced. Besides, if we care about aviation, we want airplane companies to make money. We really, really do.
I didn't write this piece, but I get the criticism from time to time when I write a strongly positive review of an airplane that I've glossed over the weaknesses. I think it's important to understand that the airplanes we fly are, for the most part, certified to extremely stringent standards. And Flying has always and always will be strongly supportive of strict standards, as there is overwhelming proof that these standards improve safety. The truth be told, most of the time, not all of the time, the airplanes I'm flying are just good airplanes.
Are some more comfortable, better handling, easier to land or faster than others? Sure. And we say that. Now, the SkyCatcher is an LSA and is, therefore, not conventionally certified, but as Mac pointed out in his piece, that didn't keep Cessna from going through internally the same process it uses to certify a Part 23 airplane. The result, no surprise, is the kind of positive review Mac gave the airplane. Because it's a good airplane at doing what it was intended to do.
Does it cost more than a run-down 30-year-old Cessna trainer? You bet. But if Cessna tried to build the 152 all over again, it would cost $200,000 or more. That is a fact of economics. But I do wish airplanes cost less. They just don't.
There are options, renting, flying clubs, partnerships and shared ownership. But the whining option seems silly and self defeating. If you want to fly, find a way.
The SkyCatcher happens to be one such way. We should be celebrating that fact.