ROLEX VS. TIMEX
In the letters section of this issue, Mid-Continent Instruments and Sportys Pilot Shop duke it out over how much a back-up attitude gyro should cost. Its the classic Rolex vs. Timex argument, at least with regard to price. It also illuminates a trend I see fairly often in aviation, which is price set not by the cost of manufacture with a reasonable margin tacked on but by so-called psychological pricing.
Embodied in this is the notion that if two products do the same thing, the one that costs more is probably better. We are all susceptible to this ruse and in aviation, we are especially susceptible because perceived quality is directly associated with perceived safety, thus were often spring loaded to pay more for a product because, well, our lives are on the line. Honestly, in a true free market, I dont see anything wrong with psychological pricing. Its just the way American business works.
But in a free market, buyers can also examine products carefully, poke and prod and see through the smoke screen. That, in a nutshell, is Aviation Consumers job. When two products are compared side-by-side, theres a certain subjective price-value equation. Typically, the more expensive product really is the better one, having more features, better packaging, longer warranty and so on. But that doesnt mean its the better value when compared to the functional requirement at hand, which is another way of saying that extra features are sometimes less of a value to the buyer than they are a means of increasing sales margin on the product. Thats why in the automotive industry, SUVs are more profitable than economy sedans. Yet both do the same job of getting you from A to B. Manufacturers sometimes forget that not all aircraft owners have a money tree and affording an airplane is a struggle for many of us. That means inexpensive products will always have a place. Again, buyers are free to decide if features justify the higher cost.
Conversely, a durable product thats sold too cheaply may be no bargain for the buyer because the manufacturer hasnt built in enough margin for long-term support. In the case of the Sportys gyro, this is a legitimate concern and we raised it in our October 2005 review of this product. But, in my view, with regard to the gyro, this concern is addressed by one thing: pedigree. Sportys has been around for 45 years and we think its a safe bet that theyll be around to stand behind their bargain gyro. For some companies, thats not always the case. Read on.
WHO CAN WE SUE?
I have always taken a dim view of resorting to lawsuits to settle any kind of dispute. Theyre an expensive distraction and rarely solve anything. A recent AD that arrived in our mailbox is giving me second thoughts. The AD requires the removal of the Aero Advantage dual-chamber vacuum pump which we installed in our Mooney 231. (See the November 2003 issue of Aviation Consumer.) Aero Advantage ran into problems with premature failures-the AD says 25 of 285 pumps sold have failed.
But rather than improve the product or work with owners, the company just folded and disappeared, leaving owners holding the bag. By the time we remove the dual-chamber pump and install a replacement, well be $2000 into this fiasco. In my view, this kind of shabby treatment of customers and irresponsible business behavior is why people get in the mood to sue. If I could find Aero Advantage, I might be tempted. Aero Advantage owed-and still owes-customers some kind of good-faith settlement for having sold and then abandoned what turns out to be a defective product.