(October 2011) Those of us who have been around airplanes for any length of time understand the concept of stepping up, whereby a nonpilot becomes a pilot, learns to fly in a certain brand of airplane and then remains loyal to that brand while gaining experience and moving up through the model lineup to bigger, faster and more expensive airplanes.
Let me be quick to point out that this concept is no more a theory than is density altitude. It’s an explanation of how things work. When you learn to fly in a Cessna, a Piper or a Cirrus, you tend to want to stick with that brand if there is an airplane available for you to move up into. I was talking with Cirrus sales representative Adam Hahn the other day about that company’s Cirrus Vision, its under-development single-engine jet. I mentioned to Adam that I’d spoken to a couple of Cirrus owners who would write a check today if they could get a jet. Adam looked completely unsurprised. He said, essentially, that nearly every customer who buys an SR22 also wants a Cirrus Vision jet. It’s the perfect step-up model. Except that it isn’t yet available.
The fact about stepping up that manufacturers have to realize is that many pilots are going to do it.. The only question is: Will they be buying one of that manufacturer’s airplanes or one of its competitors’?
On a small scale, my family with our modest aircraft sales business saw this effect way back in the 1970s. It works the same way today, or it should.
This is what would happen. Lots of people would come to the airport to learn to fly. In short order, every one of them would fall in love with the whole experience — we can thank our terrific instructors for that fact. A few of those pilots would indeed buy an airplane (sometimes within weeks of soloing).
A few of those former newbies, the ones with the means and drive, would move on quickly and purposefully to ownership of bigger, faster and more capable airplanes. For many of them, the pinnacle was a Skylane or a Centurion. For more than a few others, that love landed them in the left seat of a cabin-class piston airplane — a Cessna 421 Golden Eagle or a Beechcraft Duke. Even though we were dealers for just single-engine airplanes, we were thrilled to see our customers moving up in the world. (The check we got for the referral didn’t hurt either.)
My dad, ever the curmudgeon, often said the only reason he had the flight school in the first place was as a way to lure people into aviation in order to eventually sell them an airplane. I never really believed him about not caring about the flight training, but his simple scheme to sell airplanes worked like a charm. Indeed, in numerous cases, the entire aviation history of a pilot who owned or owned and flew a multimillion-dollar turbine airplane could be traced directly back to their having read an ad written by my mom and placed by my dad in our local newspaper.
These pilots are everywhere. The first customer for a Mustang, David Goode, the ski pole mogul, is that guy. He started out flying Cessnas and kept moving up. He traded in his Cessna 310, an airplane that hasn’t been built for 40 years, for the Mustang. Well played by the Wichita icon.
Goode’s sticking with Cessna is the kind of loyalty that everyone who’s ever worked selling airplanes at the company knows about firsthand. This loyalty is, in fact, a big part of the proud foundation on which the company is built. Today, Cessna is the standard bearer for that model, as the only airplane manufacturer that builds a comprehensive lineup of training airplanes and that supports a network of dedicated flight-training centers, its Cessna Pilot Center network.