Yet more on &quothobbyists&quot vs. &quotcivilians&quot (Looong)

Fascinating discussion, everyone. If this dialogue is any indication, Cirrus owners are not only an innovative lot, but also thoughtful about the future of GA.

I’m not (yet) a Cirrus position holder, but as an experienced CFI, I thought I’d add a few (looong) threads to the “hobbyists” vs, “civilians” discussion.

First, let me say that Cirrus probably represents the finest overall product in aviation today - I think anyone with a passion for flying has to be cheering hard for the company. But there is also a temptation to associate Cirrus (and Lancair, et al.) with a kind of revolution in general aviation transportation. From my point of view, there would seem to be very little evidence to support this. A few thoughts:

1.) Advanced avionics and electronics have the potential to add enormous utility and safety, but also INCREASE the amount of training and commitment required on the part of the student. The Garmin 430 is a wondrous device, but do the “civilians” really want to spend the time learning its intricacies? More to the point, this technology is available (literally) in any GA airplane made today, whether based on a “30-year old design” or not. So how is Cirrus providing us with anything new that will appeal to the broad populace? My suspicion is that “Highway in the Sky” will do nothing to radically alter the inevitable capabilty/complexity trade-off. In fact, a ten year-old can land an Airbus - if only he/she can learn to operate the autopilot!

2.) Cirrus has given us stunning performance for an aircraft with fixed gear, but real-world utility is not greatly impacted by the gains that have been made. For the average business trip in a small GA airplane (perhaps 300-400nm), we’re really talking a difference of minutes in elapsed time. If the Bonanzas and Mooneys of the world did not already provide the performance required to woo the “civilians,” how will Cirrus do it?

3.) Cirrus probably makes the most comfortable small GA aircrft today, but is the difference enough to warrant a transportation revolution? Fine materials, leather seats, good fit and finish - these are really the norm today. Is a Saratoga or Skylane really that different from a passenger’s perspective? Almost by definition, any propeller-driven GA airplane will face an obstacle to passenger comfort in the form of noise. A good set of noise-cancelling headsets, rather than new airframe technology, would seem to help as much as anything.

4.) Cirrus delivers outstanding value, but the operating economics do not represent a breakthrough. At 300k, the SR22 is within 20-30% of it’s natural competitors, and based on the number of employees in Duluth, I would expect the man-hours required to build a Cirrus to be in line with industry average (3000 or so). Let’s face it - Cirrus prices have been unsustainable. Since the most important operating economics revolve (literally) around the powerplant, I would not expect to see any improvement there. In today’s high-performance market, we basically have a choice of which airframe we’d like the 16gph IO-550 bolted to. No, the “civilians” are not going to stand in line to sign-up any more than they have in the past.

Finally, the singular element that separates “hobby transportation” from “serious transportation” is the ability to travel, on time, in all kinds of weather. Not being able to fly IFR for nearly six months of the year (no ice protection!) leaves all but a handful of GA airplanes for the hobbyists.

So, I applaud Cirrus for the brilliance of the incremental improvements it has achieved, which collectively make a great deal of difference to us “hobbyists.” It is probably even enough to create a profitable, innovative, dynamic company, that sells 400-500 airplanes per year over the long term (my hope for Cirrus).

For many, many reasons, there will never be such a thing as volume production (in the automotive sense) in aviation. It would seem the latest price/volume realities at Cirrus support that. I suggest we all stop worrying about a kind of quasi-utopian GA for the masses (won’t happen even if we wanted it to), and focus instead on creating the best possible experience for the fortunate few.

  • Brian Gruis, CFII (Minneapolis, FCM)