By: Norm Goyer
The year 2011 is starting off with some good news and some bad news, but at least there is some news. The year had barely gotten off the blocks when Piper announced that it was not going to continue their program of importing the Piper Sport LSA from the Czech Republic’s CSA (CZAW). Their one year agreement had hit a bump in the runway. According to a Piper Press Release, the airplane was not at fault. That premise seems to hold water as many aviation writers had test flown the Piper Sport and reported very favorable about the aircraft, its construction and flight manners. The problem, as reported in the aviation press, was incompatibility of marketing philosophies. Now that is one real big bucket of worms. Piper was essentially going to rebrand the Czech CSA Sport Cruiser as a Piper, this is basically true, as Piper did make minor changes in the design of the aircraft. Neither Piper nor the Czechs are informing the aviation press what the real reason was. Here are a few of my guesses. And, they are only one man’s interpretation. I have suspected from the first I had heard was that future profit margins were involved somehow with the disagreements. Piper wanted to establish a dealer’s network of Piper Sport dealers who would subscribe to a learn to fly package program that involved the Piper Sport and other DVD and possibly simulator instruction. When the initial deal was made and signed, CSA ceased building their Sport Cruiser and only supplied Piper with the rebranded Piper Sport. Now the big question. Can CSA restart production or will this cancellation by Piper cause serious financial problems. It would be a shame to see that the Sport Cruiser was no longer in production. This is bad for both Piper and for CSA.
Piper did have an excellent name in the flight training category and had some very good airplanes. It’s hard to beat a Warrior for learning to fly and it becomes its own step-up aircraft. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I owned four Piper Flight Centers and was very successful, mainly due to the excellent Warrior. Another factor, is the LSA program has really not been proven as potentially profitable in today’s laid back economy. Yes, the LSAs seem to be selling well but are those that have been sold mainly filled the pipe line in dealer’s inventories and were not sold in large numbers to pilots to use as their own aircraft?
Piper has ventured before into rebranding known aircraft and found out that it was not that successful an enterprise. Remember the Piper Stinson? There are actually a few Stinson 108s flying around with Piper’s logo on the cowl. Piper really just wanted the Twin Stinson, which after major redesign became the Piper Apache, the dreaded “Sweet Potato.”
Then there was the episode with Ted Smith’s Aerostar. Piper didn’t exactly fill the skies with sleek twin engine speedsters. At one time Mooney tried to rebrand the Mitsubishi Mu.2 and the Ercoupe as well; didn’t work, was the bottom line on those ventures. In my opinion, Piper should have done what Cessna did; Cessna redesigned their super popular Cessna 152 into the Cessna 162. If the LSA type of flying ever really takes off, my money is on the Cessna. But, the aircraft is built in China, good for saving money, and assembled at Cessna to handle the quality control. The jury is still out on the 162, I hope that it is successful. Why didn’t Piper redesign their Tomahawk as an all new aircraft with a conventional tail, dump a few pounds and they just may have competition for Cessna? I loved the way the Tomahawk flew; design out the complaints and it just might have a new life as an LSA, a real Piper. I sure wouldn’t call it the Tomahawk II however, maybe it should be named after a more modern weapon such as the Piper Tommy Gun or how about the Piper AK-47.
Now for some good news, hopefully. President Obama has signed a preliminary bill allowing current members of the armed forces and veterans to realize their dream, that of becoming a commercial pilot. The initial plans call for $10,000 a year to be available for flight training. In my opinion here are the problems, Ten grand a year is not anywhere enough money to pay for flight training, might work as a down payment, but in 2011, you are not going to get many flight hours for ten big ones. But the real problem is, Obama did not fund the bill, and I doubt very much that Congress will come through for our armed services, when all those illegals, sorry, meant undocumented visitors, need cell phones, food, new cars, housing and free education. Help for our veterans? Not so sure this will ever get funded. It should, but will it?