Remember those dreadful Baby on Board placards plastered in the window of every other minivan a decade ago? Thankfully, theyve faded from fashion but they were emblematic of a marketers dream: the minivan arrived just as baby boomers were having kids of their own. Detroit stroked the demographic bubble with perfect timing.
An e-mail I got from reader Ron Gibson the other day makes me wonder if the emerging light sport industry may find a demographic sweet spot, too. In asking for editorial coverage of light sport airplanes, he wrote, I intend to sell my Skylane within the next couple of years and purchase a new LSA. Im sure there are many older pilots who are tired of sweating out their biannual visits to an AME and would very much like to be kept informed about the LSA. And so we shall. We have coverage of the light sport segment planned for an early 2005 issue of Aviation Consumer. In the meantime, to satisfy my curiosity, I got myself over to the first Sport Aviation Expo held down the road in Sebring, Florida during the last week of October.
My impressions: the show was small, relaxed and quiet. It was lightly attended but well organized with a good mix of emerging products and services. Think of it as EAA in Rockford, circa 1964. You could talk to anyone you liked without elbowing to the front of the line, you could walk where you pleased without a security goon pouncing and flight demos were available for the asking, with takeoffs from a runway just a few steps away. In short, the show was exceptionally well executed.
All very nice, of course. But is there really an industry here? My view is that reader Gibson represents just part of the demand for these new airplanes and yes, the industry will happen. But early buyers need to be skeptical and cautious. While demand for LSA airplanes will develop, I detect the faint whiff of the ultralight market in the late 1980s, with too many products for too few buyers sold by too many companies destined to roll over and die.
With prices as high as the mid-60s, these airplanes arent cheap, even for those accustomed to more capable rides. Well be examining the market closely in 2005 but in the meantime, if youre interested in LSA, remember this: youre buying not just an airplane, but a company. A new LSA wont be much fun if the company you bought it from orphans the thing a year after the check clears.
Drop a Dime. Please
As we go to press, Ive just learned that a couple of friends have gotten tangled up in airspace busts, one a presidential TFR in Florida, the other an inconsequential glancing blow to the Washington ADIZ. In a bitterly contested election, weve seen Florida blanketed with so many TFRs that flying has become a giant game of Whack-A-Mole, with an F-16 escort as the unwelcome prize.
I think we all agree that this TFR nonsense has gotten out of hand and, in Florida at least, it has caused genuine economic disruption for many GA businesses for questionable security gain. That said, we really need to stop busting these things. The information to avoid them is out there and the reality is, you can no longer fly at all without calling for a briefing. Cmon guys, just drop the dime and make sure the airspace is flyable. If we dont, were giving the government more ammunition to make all airspace unflyable. Permanently.