Aviation and the Hard Sell

ICON Aircraft lands a ton of order deposits at Oshkosh. Flight instructors, take note.

Square's credit card reader for the iPhone

Square's credit card reader for the iPhone

Square's credit card reader for the iPhone.

Anybody who visited Oshkosh this year and spent more than about five minutes at the ICON Aircraft exhibit surely wasn't surprised to learn that the would-be manufacturer of the A5 amphibian light sport aircraft – an undeniably cool LSA that looks like a winged Jetski and will sell for around $139,000 – took a ton of order deposits. The pitch by ICON salesmen was an in-your-face, buy-this-airplane-and-you-won't-regret-it assault that you'd never experience over at Cessna, Beechcraft, Piper or Cirrus.

I watched with amusement as ICON salesmen laid it on thick for anybody who approached with questions about the airplane. One exchange went something like this:

“Well, I’m getting older and keeping my medical is an issue,” said a prospective buyer. “So I’m looking at all the light sport aircraft before I decide what to buy.”

“You want a light sport airplane? This is the one for you! It’s gorgeous and it flies awesome. You’ll love it,” promised the salesman. “Just two-thousand dollars to secure your delivery slot in 2015 – and two-hundred dollars of that goes to the Young Eagles.”

Then the magic words: “It’s a fully refundable deposit up to 180 days before delivery, and I can take a credit card right now.”

The pitch worked like a charm, at least for the scores of AirVenture attendees who handed over their Visas or MasterCards and began dreaming of what their lives would be like after they took delivery of their sleek new A5.

The prospective buyer I watched said he’d think about it. But he liked what he saw. At a distance of a meter or two, I was even drawn in, with one hand on my wallet as I thought of how I’d explain the $2,000 credit card charge to my wife.

Anyway, good for ICON. They’ve clearly decided the hard sell is the approach for them, and it’s working. I wish them huge success and hope I at least get to fly an A5 one day.

But none of this gets to the point of this blog, which is really about a new technology I saw at the ICON exhibit. The sales guys were taking deposits with their iPhones and iPads, using an app called Square (www.squareup.com) that transforms the ubiquitous Apple products into "elegant point of sale" devices, according to the app developer's website.

Here’s how it works: You download the Square app for free. Square then sends you the credit card reader that attaches to your iPhone or iPad, again for free. You link the app to a bank account and start charging. No merchant account is required, and no monthly fees are charged. Instead, Sqaure takes a 2.75 percent cut of each transaction. Payouts show up in your bank account the next day.

That got me thinking: we read all the time about aviation-specific apps for the iPhone and iPad, but here’s one for the masses that’s perfect for a specific kind of aviator: independent flight instructors.

Think of how much more convenient it would be for your students if they could pay by credit card (or for you, if you’re a student and your instructor accepts only cash or check). After all, credit cards are the preferred method of payment these days for everything from gas and groceries to, apparently, light sport aircraft – as ICON Aircraft is showing us all.