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Sat, Nov 11, 2006

SMA Struggles To Educate America

Engine Manufacturer Wants To Sell You On Diesels

SMA earned an STC to install its SMA SR305-230 diesel engines in certain Cessna 182 models in July of this year. Since then, they've sold six engines in the US, and six in Canada. That may not seem like many, but SMA is ecstatic about it.

"This is really, really big for us," said Luc Heugas, SMA's vice president of sales and marketing. "We have three distributors now in the US; we plan to have six before AirVenture in July of 2007."

SMA (Société de Motorisations Aéronautiques if you're wondering what it stands for) was born of a collaboration between Aerospatiale, Socata & Renault in January 1997. Since then, it's gone through some serious growing pains including a bankruptcy and subsequent acquisition by French engine manufacturing giant SNECMA, part of the Saffron Group.

"If you look on the floor of AOPA Expo this year, you'll see new airplanes and new avionics," said Heugas. "The only thing that isn't new recently is engines. The new planes with their new avionics are still flying with 50-year-old-technology engines."

SMA wants to change that. It's struggled the past few years to educate the US aviation community on the advantages diesel technology offers. One of the biggest is fuel savings.

North American sales manager Pavel Hosa related the story of two identical Skylanes flying from Europe to Oshkosh for AirVenture last year; one equipped with an SR305-230, the other the standard Lycoming. According to Hosa, the diesel burned 42-percent less fuel for the trip.

Hosa believes public awareness of the availability of diesels in the US is high, "But our potential customers just don't know why they should get one."

Heugas said, "Our goal is to get in the US market. We plan to be manufacturing engines here within two years. We've been speaking with US OEM companies and we hope to make an announcement in January." And don't ask who before January -- Heugas doesn't kiss and tell.

If you don't own a C-182, but want an SMA engine for your plane, don't look to SMA to develop an STC for it. Heugas says SMA developed the C-182 STC only to get the engine flying in the US. Future STC development will come from companies interested in selling the engine. "We want to be an OEM engine manufacturer. The STC process was a necessary evil. We have it, but we don't want to do it again."

Heugas says the company is working towards a 350 hp diesel engine. "We think there is a lot of interest in the US market for an engine of that size."

So besides burning less fuel, what are the benefits? It's quieter than gas engines for one. The C-182 installation meets or exceeds all US and European noise requirements - something that can't be said for the original engine.

If you'd like a chance to see and maybe even fly an airplane with a diesel, SMA has a plan to help. It's beginning a demo tour of the Americas in January. It'll be flying a diesel-equipped C-182 around South America first, then in North America starting in March. Keep an eye on the company's website to see when it'll visit a city near you.



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