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Mon, Feb 27, 2012

Barnstorming: More Loose Thoughts In a Tight Formation (A Never-Ending Process)

So… Where Do We Go From Here?

Analysis/Commentary by Jim Campbell, ANN Editor-In-Chief/Aero-Radical, First Class

Hi folks... long time, no editorialize.

We’ve had our hands full dealing with the fact that we are, indisputably, the victims of a series of criminal actions from an entity that is shaming the world of aviation with each passing day… but we do survive and we are going to get past all this. In the meantime, though, I have to admit, that many of the good things I had hoped to accomplish by now have been slowed or headed off by the inexplicable greed of a few truly dishonest creeps who are doing us ALL no good (a story that is growing more ponderous by the day). I’ll update you all on that at some point, but in the meantime, let’s do what we can to keep our Aviation Transformation effort on track and see what we can do to forge a new and positive future for the world of aviation.

I’m more and more convinced that we don’t need to ‘save’ this embattled industry so much as bid adieu to what we knew and to then take what it was, and then recraft it and rebuild it. The most important word in GA, from here on out, may turn out to be “Innovate” -- in every form and fashion. We must engage in a 'foundation effort' on the road to reinventing an aviation world out of the old—which simply does not and cannot work anymore… much as we hate to see it go.

OK... let’s get something clear right from the start.

GA (As We Once Knew It) Is Dead.

The wondrous world of sport and general aviation that we grew up with -- and worked and played in -- is no longer sustainable as we know it. And if it isn’t truly dead, it’s certainly on life support with a “Do-Not-Resuscitate” tag on its toe.

That sounds bad… and sad and regrettable… and it is -- but it’s time to get past the grieving process and get on with the survival and renewal process. If we admit that the GA world we knew is swirling the drain, it leaves it up to the rest of us to create a new and sustainable model for the sport and general aviation spectrum. While the old model really can’t be saved (and frankly, shouldn’t – it’s time to get on with the future), we need to make a clear decision about what kind of future we wish to replace it with.

And I have to tell you, if this isn’t the time for truly radical and creative brainstorming, nothing is – and that’s the root of what we are hoping to accomplish with the Aviation Transformation process. It’s time to get truly inventive, to consider the most aggressive and creative concepts, and engage in a movement whereby we not only build a sustainable model for the future but one that can eclipse everything that aviation has done in the past. In other words, as great as aviation has been, it can be so much greater in the future… if we all band together and make it happen.

OK… let’s take a stab at some brainstorming and idea-farming as an intro to the process that I’d like YOU ALL to involve yourselves in. A few things appear to be evident as either key-problems or foundation/building blocks necessary to insure a healthy future for a GA Transformation.

Let’s look at just a FEW key issues…

Aviation is too expensive… and too exclusive, too complex, too dangerous, too misunderstood, too great a target for the legal community (see “too expensive”), populated by too many scam artists, poorly represented by (many of, but not all) those who claim to be trying to help it, and firmly grounded in ancient, myopic, counter-productive thought processes. In the process of organizing the upcoming Aviation Transformation Conference (which will happen as fast as I can make it happen…), I eventually came up with eight major categories of Aero-Issues and Problem-Solving pivot points. I will discuss those shortly, in a separate editorial, but let’s take a look at a few of the obvious issues and pivot points needed to start the cascade process that will result in a true GA Revolution/Transformation.

A number of the issues that come up again and again (and are by no means, the only things we need to deal with) include the fact that aviation is simply too expensive… though there are countless issues that contribute to that sad state of affairs.

For instance: The means by which we develop, certify and produce airplanes is overly complex, convoluted, expensive and subject to the whims of folks (FAA, principally) who care little for the catastrophic effect they’ve had on aviation.

That being said, let’s admit that the current state of certification is outdated, convoluted, counterproductive, and frustratingly ineffective… rather than enhancing safety, it inhibits innovation and therefore makes our products and planes far less safe than they might otherwise be.

BUT… there is a model (albeit one that is not without fault) that shows tremendous potential… and is being used RIGHT NOW by the LSA industry and ASTM. Very simply… it is time for the FAA to step aside and let this industry innovate and develop a similar consensus standard for all of GA. The current certification process guarantees an industry that will remain outdated, overpriced, over-regulated and far less safe than it can otherwise be. Let’s use the ASTM/Industry Consensus Standards model developed for the LSA market and intelligently adapt and extend it to the rest of GA so that tomorrow’s airplanes will be easier to innovate, as well as be developed with the true expertise needed to make sure that the aircraft are as safe as they can be… by the same folks who dream up and develop these aircraft and not some faceless bureaucrat who has built a career on mounds of paperwork and saying “NO.” Getting the FAA out of the Cert biz (though allowed to supervise and audit as they do now for the LSA community) will be an excellent way to (in part) reinvigorate the GA biz.

OK… so airplanes are too expensive… but they’re also too damned antiquated and plainly haven’t kept up with the times. Only the avionics industry has kept today’s airplanes (barely) relevant… but our airframes, powerplants and support systems still have roots in the Second World War… or worse. We have to dedicate this industry to embark on aggressively innovative thinking in order to develop the kind of aircraft that will inspire a whole new generation of flyers to learn to fly, and to then buy, airplanes. We can go nuts in dreaming up all kinds of novel and exciting concepts… but in the meantime, we need to embark IMMEDIATELY on a path to develop the transitional airplanes and airplane companies that can help us on the incremental path to the future… though to be honest; I think we have some exciting and powerfully compelling elements at our disposal RIGHT NOW.

Let’s do some brainstorming here… in the process of looking to the next generation of GA airplanes, let’s first admit that there will be (At Least) two genres of GA airplane to consider for the future… GA birds that are built (primarily) for the enjoyment of flight (FunPlanes), and GA airplanes that are built to go places (GoPlanes).
There are some intriguing things happening in the FunPlanes arena right now but we can’t yet speak about them, but in concert with better efforts from the LSA community, I have a feeling that we can expect some solid contenders in this field. On the other hand, in the ‘GoPlane’ field, things are not going so well. Serious GoPlanes are extraordinarily expensive to buy and increasingly expensive to operate… and as fuel prices keep skyrocketing, that is not likely to change.

Additionally; the companies that populate that aspect of GA are in a world of hurt. We have serious concerns as to how long Cessna will be building single engine pistons (and the inside word says… NOT LONG), the Beech line is moribund, the ever-efficient Mooneys may never be seen again, Cirrus has turned from a much-trusted and honorable company into a scandalous example of what happens when dishonest jerks take over a once-thriving enterprise (and most important, we have little reason to believe that Cirrus will stay in the US for much longer), Piper is an unknown quantity until new management makes itself and its direction better known, and so on.

You get the drift… Much of the companies of old are simply not ready to bring us the future… and several of them will be history in short order. Sad.

There ARE some bright shining lights, though, that might be referenced for guidance and direction to a better future. Diamond Aircraft is at the top of the list. One of the most inventive companies in the business and one that has survived its own unique brand of tribulations, I see Diamond as holding most of the cards, for the foreseeable future, as GA rebuilds itself. As matter of fact, they may be in the best position, so far, to field a transitional aircraft… since they have most of the elements available to them already to get a headstart on building something compelling… and different… and progressive. I’d love to see them take one of the statistically safest GA 4-seat airframes in the biz (the DA40), pair it with their new Austro diesel engine (170HP turbo), add a more pilot friendly panel – like a full-boat 2 or 3 tube Aspen panel or Avidyne R9 system, couple it with the DFC autopilot (with envelope protection and a few tricks they’re not ready to talk about yet) and a few more accoutrements to slick the airplane up -- inside and out. THAT would be a solid transitional airplane… it can run Jet-A all day long and burn half the gas of some of its competitors while remaining easy to fly and bridging the gap between the FunPlanes and the GoPlanes.

While I’m brainstorming, I’d love to see a similar treatment for the late and oft-lamented Mooney Encore (one of the most efficient and capable GA singles ever built and it’s FIKI!). Get a little more HP out of the Austro, build in a hard-changing GA IFR panel, and you have a serious GoPlane – but you get the drift.

Other Promising Players?

There ARE several. I am enormously impressed with the direction of Flight Design (especially with the aid of one of the other honest gentleman of GA – Tom Peghiny) and the upcoming C4, if it meets its promises and holds it price, has some spectacular possibilities. The C4… especially if matched with an alternatively-fueled powerplant would make one heck of a transitional airplane.

And then there is Alan Klapmeier. Reportedly not very happy with what has happened to his life’s work in the hands of some truly deceptive and dishonest persons (and even a Brother that seemed to have no problem throwing him under the bus in order to get ahead), Alan is already on Step One of his plan to re-energize GA -- first with a talented turbo-prop -- but later with a new generation of GA singles (Piston and Jet). I have the utmost confidence in Alan…a guy who has proven to be one of the most ethical in GA… and I simply can’t wait to see him take his next steps… because we need his innovation, innate knowledge of what is needed to rebuild GA, and the all-important fact that he is, unlike many, a man to be trusted.

And boy… I’d love to see Jack Pelton make a comeback. Jack ‘gets’ GA and I’d love to see what he might do if unencumbered by having to run a behemoth like Cessna and was left to follow his instincts. THAT would be exciting.

Other ‘Foundation’ Issues

A few other major issues to contend with… Aviation needs to become much more of a social/inclusive process. We are far too arrogant, and isolated – and we provide a less than welcoming countenance to those who would seek to join us. I’ve opined, often, about the need for concepts like Aero-Clubs and a running discussion with AOPA’s Craig Fuller seems to indicate that they are heading in a similar and even more progressive direction, so I’m convinced that making aviation more 'social' is tantamount to an imperative if we are to truly rebuild the flying world.

In an exchange with Craig, via email, the other day, I noted that if you look at the social reinforcement that other interest groups maintain (boating, bikers, RV’ers) all of this makes sense… but an airplane is a far more difficult thing to share… so you have to emphasize the activity rather than the means and that means that we’re heading for some MAJOR changes in who we are as an industry and community and some VERY challenging opportunities/modification necessary to seek what will be, admittedly, a radical alteration in the way that aviation conducts itself, personally and professionally.

Legal Stupidity

The legal system is killing aviation. What was once a model for the world has been turned into a laughing stock as the liability game has decimated industry after industry… aviation in particular. There needs to be a thorough overhaul… period. What is happening now is dishonest, counter-productive, unethical and just plain foolish. The legal system says what it wants to and maligns an industry long before a matter gets to court… and when the matter does get to court, there are limits on what truth can be told. It’s not “Fair.” And it’s killing us off. Drastic legal reform is needed… NOW. We’re going to have a lot more to say about this shortly and recent case-in-point involving one of the greatest success stories (details to follow) in GA needs to serve as a rallying point in a no-holds-barred war against a legal system that is betraying us all.

Aero-Ethical Issues

Without going overboard, we really can’t emphasize enough that this industry needs a character/ethics overhaul. While the great majority of players in aviation are great and mostly honest folks, there are simply too many scoundrels out there whose malevolent efforts have hurt us all. The overall attitude about how we conduct our business has to change. I recently noted, in an email, that I had talked to two people one day… serious players in the industry who are about to bail because of business as usual -- not just that business is bad -- but because of the innate dishonesty of some of the major players (and you know how much trouble we’ve gotten in for trying to bring that up….). This is the elephant in the room and no one wants to take the issue on but a few foolhardy souls (yes, Us included)… but that desperately needs to change once and for all. We need to innovate a new industry… and then we need to create and maintain high standards that the public will trust. Right now, that’s not happening. And I assure you that I can identify hundreds of people that have been driven out of this business by this nonsense and I’m sure that there are thousands more. We must quit being our own worst enemy and build an industry whereby ‘Aero-Integrity’ becomes a ‘Foundation Effort' for everything we do.

In The Meantime

I promise you that we’ve not given up on our desire to play a part in the Transformation of Aviation. While we’ve had to fight a few wars over the last many months, I have used the time well to continue an aggressive and frank dialogue with hundreds of people from all aspects of aviation and aerospace -- and it has been TIME WELL SPENT.

The first thing we plan to do, on the flightpath to Aviation Transformation, is to raise the bar in terms of the discussion that needs to take place about one of the most pivotal properties necessary to rebuild aviation…. Innovation.

We’re going to be addressing the innovation angle aggressively in an Aero-TV series called “The Innovators” – it features those who have a justifiable rep for innovation… but instead of rehashing past glories, we’ll be talking about what they want to see done from here on out… some REAL brainstorming -- as part of our Transformation mission.

But what I’m looking forward to, nearly as much as the Transformation effort itself, is the people I will be working with as we take this process on. There are brilliant people in this community (and a few more on the periphery…) -- staggeringly, inexplicably, undeniably brilliant. MY major goal for my own efforts is to find a way to corral a bunch of them together, give them a pep talk, agitate them a little, and then set them loose, stand back and enjoy the revolution. THAT will be a joy to behold... no? If you think as I do, though, then PLEASE join us…

MUCH more info to come...

FMI: I Want To Add MY Ideas About How We Can Transform Aviation!

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