The normal rules of supply and demand dont seem to apply to all things related to aviation. Theres an explanation for this and a couple of years ago, I heard Alan Klapmeier, CEO of Cirrus, summarize it: flying is so much fun that many of us are willing to pay anything to do it.
Perhaps that explains why aviation cottage industry businesses come and go like the weather and, ever the enthusiasts, we sometimes buy the products of these companies in the blind hope that theyll be around to support whatever dingbat gadget we thought was good idea when the VISA card was unsheathed.
Sadly, our hopes are occasionally dashed. This months poster child for a good-idea-gone-bad is the Aero Advantage dual-chamber vacuum pump. As reported in this issue, Aero Advantage ran into technical snags with the pump and experienced some unusual failures on certain engines. But rather than stick with it and engineer a fix, Aero Advantage decided it lacked the financial resources for further development and simply folded the company. We bought and installed a dual-chamber pump in our Mooney 231 for long-term test and like an unknown number of other customers, were left holding the bag, at least temporarily. If the pump needs a rebuild or other support, were out of luck.
What we find especially galling is that Aero Advantage didnt bother to notify us of this development. A colleague sent us a link to Aero Advantages gee-were-sorry Web page announcement and so ended the game. (Excuse us, but our address is on the check we sent to pay for the pump.) Obviously, in our view, this is the sort of unacceptable business behavior that buyers shouldnt have to tolerate. If this were a piece of software or a minor gadget, we would be annoyed about the company walking away from it but it was marketed as-and bought as-as a safety-of-flight enhancement.
That fact that the FAA was involved in its approval exposes customers for a second potential insult: the failures could be deemed serious enough to warrant the pumps removal via airworthiness directive. With no one in the customers corner, the Aero Advantage pump would then become a $1000 paperweight. (What was it Klapmeier said about paying anything?)
If theres any good news surrounding this fiasco its that a company with an established reputation-Sky-Tec-is involved as an investor and pledges that someone will pick up the pieces of Aero Advantage. Sky-Tec is a serious, long-term player in GA, having expanded its well-regarded lightweight starters through a combination of good products and good customer service.
Sky-Tecs involvement notwithstanding, theres a bitter lesson here for both customers and companies. For buyers, be wary of single-product aviation start-ups to the point of cynicism. Sorry, but buyers are customers, not investors. They shouldnt be thought of as expendables who signed on to share the risk just because they signed a check.
While were happy to see inventors and developers pursue new ideas in GA products, we think before such ideas are brought to market, the principles should have in place enough resources-read that capital-to carry on when things dont go as planned. If that requires buying back defective products that didnt work out, so be it. The other alternative, simply folding up and walking away, does lasting damage to the industry, to customers and to other companies struggling to make a go of it.