Shooting Cessna in the Foot

By Robert Mark on December 13th, 2007

It’s been quite a busy few weeks for the webmaster at the Cessna Skycatcher blog since the Textron subsidiary announced its plan to assemble the C-162 in China. The blog has been the landing site for a number of heated comments poking hard at Cessna for doing business with the Chinese. One fellow called the company a bunch of Communists while another simply said they’d never buy another Cessna product (Cessna is a sponsor of Jetwhine BTW).

Cessna’s VP of Marketing Tom Aniello skycatcher_tom went online to explain the company perspective and a few more positive comments have appeared – I wrote one myself – but what I find truly unbelievable is that no one seems to be talking about the impact of the Cessna decision on the sagging flight training industry. But then I have often found that when it comes time to marketing their services, the flight training industry is often its own worst enemy.

No doubt a bunch of the 900 or so Skycatchers on order will be headed for flight training slots. Having spent have my life – or at least it seems like it – in the right seat of a Cessna 152 instructing, I’d be pleased as punch if I owned a flight school and had an opportunity to put my students in a brand-new machine. Many schools are still trying to convince people driving BMWs that paying extraordinary hourly rates for a 30-year old airplane is actually cool.

My guess is that the Skycatcher blog has evolved for the moment into one of those places where a majority of the minority (those folks who can’t stomach that concept of working with China) are getting all the ink. No doubt too, the press the Chinese have received during the rush of recalls in the past few months is part of that PR problem.

But despite the fact that I know some of the Cessna folks in Wichita, I think it’s time some of that vast majority of happy Skycatcher buyers got up off their duff and speak up. Think the Skycatcher is a good idea? Own a flight school that is set to take delivery of a 162? Head over to the Skycatcher blog and tell them. Don’t make the rest of us do all the heavy lifting.


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8 Responses to “Shooting Cessna in the Foot”

  1. Walt Shiel Says:

    Like Aniello, you either don’t get it, just don’t care, or are deliberately trying to obfuscate the issue.

    SAC is a company subsidized by the **Communist** government of China, a government that smiles at the US and insists on “free trade” with us (as though they have any such concept at all) while stabbing us in the back and targeting us with their ICBMs.

    True, every damn consumer product in the US seems to be made in China. That’s a pretty sorry excuse for continuing the trend with a major transfer of knowledge and engineering to the company that will very likely take over the consumer GA market…thanks in large part to Cessna’s C-162 decision.

    And don’t waive the “engagement leads to freedom” flag — it has not worked since the Nixon-Kissinger team started that nonsense 35 years ago. All we have accomplished is to create a manufacturing powerhouse that holds far too much of our national debt.

    Nothing in this idiotic and shortsighted decision will do anything for our “impact of the Cessna decision on the sagging flight training industry.” Its problems have very little to do with affordable, new training aircraft.

    Cessna has merely joined the ranks of US companies who really prefer to renounce their US “citizenship” to become part of the much-touted global economy by morphing into supranational companies. Cessna has been raking in the money as fast as they can process orders lately and could easily have managed to produce the 162 in the US at an affordable price. I suppose it might have cut into the CEO’s next bonus (poor guy).

    I am an American and a proud US Air Force veteran (with 1800 flying hours in three different military Cessnas). I look for that illusive “Made in the USA” label and will even pay more for it, if necessary. If I could afford a new aircraft today, it would not be a Cessna (something that clearly cause me more pain than it does Cessna).

    I have been a Cessna-booster (and Cessna pilot) for almost 40 years and have been writing about Cessnas for the past 12 years (two books, many magazine articles and a bimonthly column).

    I have lost a great deal of respect for a company with such a long heritage as a truly American company. Like it or not, they are helping a Communist country compete against us, and no amount of PR babble will change that fact.

    Walt Shiel

  2. Robert Mark Says:

    <<< Nothing in this idiotic and shortsighted decision will do anything for our “impact of the Cessna decision on the sagging flight training industry.” Its problems have very little to do with affordable, new training aircraft.>>>

    Please do tell me more about the problems of the flight training industry. Obviously you have something I need to learn.

  3. Walt Shiel Says:

    As for the flight training issues, I have no real solutions to offer but am tired of hearing everyone — for decades now — try to equate all the troubles of the aviation industry, including lack of new student pilots, with the lack of affordable new aircraft.

    The problems clearly run far deeper than that. After all, there are a lot of less expensive alternatives on the market already. Any flight school that wants to can buy some.

    The perceived benefits of undertaking expensive flight training apparently do not offset the costs of doing so for a lot of people. The why behind that has been the subject of many studies and articles, but few have found out how to correct it.

    No golden BB in my arsenal, sorry to say.

    Walt Shiel

  4. Owen Says:

    I’ve been following the Cessna LSA project from the start, reading every article, review, and comment I’ve been able to find on the internet or in print. From the very first, people have been trashing it. It’s too derivative, too expensive, too heavy, not innovative, sticks don’t make sense, nobody wants a Continental, whatever. Now this.

    I don’t understand why people feel the need to make these comments, but it’s become clear to me that the vast majority of them are based firmly in the comfort of ivory-tower ignorance. Anybody who’s serious enough about buying a new airplane to actually survey the market quickly finds out that the SkyCatcher is a very competitive offering. There’s always going to be people who have different needs and different preferences, but anybody running a flight-training business has to at least consider this airplane.

    Now, I screamed as loud as anybody when China got “Most Favored Nation” status however many dozen-plus years ago, but that fact is, that ship has sailed. Cessna has to compete in the market that exists, not the one that anybody would like to exist. Jack Pelton has the absolute obligation to his employees and to Textron’s shareholders to make a reasonable profit, and the second he suggests otherwise he should be fired.

  5. Larry Stencel Says:

    So you wanna know why the Cessna SkyCatcher website bloggers are so emotional, eh!

    You know guys, I was likely among the first few dozen non CSTAR purchasers of the Cessna SkyCatcher on Monday, Jul 23, at Oshkosh. Just after 1PM when I ordered mine, the count was at about 330. They didn’t tell everyone clearly up front that the airplane had been “revealed” on Saturday evening to the dealer network and led everyone to believe that pent up demand had produced those truly unbelievable sales figures in just over four hours of the first day of Oshkosh. This created a false buyer frenzy. When I asked where the airplane would be produced, I was told that it was ‘in the works’ and a decision was ‘close’ and was led to believe that only sub-assemblies would be built offshore – likely Europe – and final production would be done in three assembly centers in the US. Based upon this information and the fact that Cessna chose to use the O-200D and a proprietary G-300 (I see that as a positive), I decided it was time to take out my personal aviation insurance policy by tapping into LSA as I find myself getting older. Buying a Cessna seemed like the ‘all American’ thing to do. Not only that, but most other offerings have to be bought with inflated dollars thereby driving their relative costs up. In the beginning, I figured Cessna had done everything right and I ‘fell’ for it. Looks like others did, too.

    The Cessna was SUPPOSED to come in ‘well south’ of $100K and that greatly disturbed me. But … given the choice of engine and proprietary glass VFR panel, I thought, OK … I don’t like it but that’s life.

    I’ve owned and maintained a mid-70’s C172 for more than 22 years. I also have a pristine Piper Cherokee 140. As I find myself fully retired and financially able and fearful of losing my medical at some point in the future, I decided I wanted an LSA and to wait for Cessna‘s decision. I COULD have bought a Flight Design CT or Legend Cub or Remos or even Cirrus and gotten it sooner for similar dollars. But I chose to go with the ‘brand name’ airplane built in the United States. I didn’t see the wait to get it as an issue since my medical is current until 2009 anyhow and is likely to continue beyond that, as well. Plus, I have airplanes. But I DID want to have a mostly US built and branded high wing LSA airplane. I didn’t have major heartburn with offshore subassembly work; as already noted, other companies are doing that. I figured I was buying mostly “US” when I put my John Hancock on the order contract.

    Now lets examine just exactly WHO these ~1,000 SkyCatcher deposit holders are. From MY perspective, there are three broad groups. Full service flight schools are eager to lure new prospects with new ab initio rental airplanes for reasonable rates to ‘set‘ the hook. The light sport crowd is also eager to provide a de facto ’standard’ LSA training airplane, as well. So flight schools are our first broad group. Second, the folks who SELL Cessna airplanes and were willing to bet on such a new design likely ordered a bunch. They’re betting on the “come” that there will be buyers who want to wait and will later seek to own such a machine after the fact. I’m thinking early orders are from these sales ’flippers’ seeking to make a buck. Lastly, there are the ‘grey heads,’ – ME, and many more like me – private folks whose mission is changing and who have the desire and ability to own a new airplane and want to fly into old age simpler and easier. The Cessna seemed like just the ‘ticket.’ Simplicity and high tech and brand name all rolled into one. Seemed like a perfect match. With a brand name, when the time comes to ground ourselves, the residual value of a Cessna would be there to get much of the investment back.

    Now snap forward to when Cessna announced that the airplane would be built and assembled in China. At first, I imagine shock and then denial set in. It did for me. Once folks from all of the groups above had a little time to think about it, I imagine each felt very misled for their own reasons. Does it really make a difference if the C162 is assembled in China or the U.S. Well, given the recent uproar over illegal immigrants, I’d say that it most certainly does. At some point, a “line in the sand’” has to be drawn and pilots – you know, those self-reliant Steve Canyon types that comprise only 0.2% if the population, at best – have had enough of just about everything negative in aviation. And THAT is why I think the blogs on the Cessna website are SO caustic. I’d love to know how many of those are coming from folks who either put down a deposit OR truly planned to v. those who just want to complain. Still … when you read the blogs, the central theme is disgust with the China manufacturing decision. Doesn’t matter who they are; they’re all MAD!

    Now Cessna SAYS that it wants to lure more folks into flying and buying their brand of airplanes but IF that was true, why didn’t they price it ’south of’ $100K and take no profit from each like the Japanese did with their cars. They should have taken the long view v. instant profit. They will not convince me that producing and shipping parts to China and then shipping assembled airplanes back is cheaper than doing it in Wichita. If they are having a problem finding factory workers, GROW SOME in Kansas! Cessna says that it is hiring workers as a result … what kind of workers, I’d ask. A&Ps or poorly paid service workers putting the color decals on the assembled Chessna machines they can’t hope to afford after they wash them.

    If the few companies truly building airplanes in this Country can do it for just over $100K, so can Cessna. In fact, with its expertise and size, it’d be easier for Cessna. In MY humble opinion, Cessna has done more to harm aviation with this decision than they realize. Beyond that, they have seriously harmed the Cessna ’brand.’ You may have a hard time trying to buy a lot of things in this Country that aren’t made in China these days, but discretionary purchases like an airplane CAN be controlled. Just wait. They had a chance to do it right and they blew it. I think that Cessna will see a day when it will deeply regret this decision.

    I predict that when Cessna starts calling those that ordered airplanes, many are going to walk away from it. They’ve sold $110 million of airplanes but only collected $5 million in deposits. They have to MAKE those 1,000 airplanes but if buyers either walk away OR don’t come and buy the machines contracted for by the sales types, there are going to be a lot of SkyCatchers sitting on ramps. As someone rightly predicted, sales will flat line almost instantly. They’re only going to have to build 1,000 airplanes one time and then wait 30 more years for another chance. And IF they exercise their contractual “right” to raise the price, people will walk … no, run, as well. Those with deposits now sitting in Cessna’s bank account wield more power than they realize…if they band together. And, if I were a competing manufacturer, I’d be offering $5K discounts for those with verifiable Cessna C162 orders just like Remos just did. I hope Cessna’s counter runs in both directions. Are ya listening, Jack?

    I – for one – am sick and tired of hearing about this mythical global economy and the necessity to ‘play’ the game. America will become a Nation of folks working in strip malls and service industries for minimal wage if we don’t take a stand. One by one, major industries in this Country are going out of the Country or out of business. When is this going to stop? SO … you want to know why the bloggers are so emotional. THAT’s why.

    Cessna could have sold the first 1,000 airplanes for a predatory price with quantum increases approaching neutrality as time moved forward. IF – say – 10,000 SkyCatchers were sold in the first three to five years, Cessna would have hit a home run. I doubt if that will happen. Along with the China problem, there are other external world problems just waiting to derail the idea. Fuel, for one, could instantly kill their plan if it became unavailable or too costly to afford. The longer folks have to wait for their airplane, the more likely they will walk away from it, despite the deposits. If I were Cessna, I’d be trying to deliver airplanes NEXT year, not 2009.

    If you get the idea that I think I was mislead and sold a bill of ’goods’ by Chessna (sic), you’d be right. I’m mad about their ridiculous decision and subsequent tap dancing and I’m going to do something about it. Judging by the blogger comments, I think there are a whole heck of a lot of others out there that feel the same way. In the end, it’s the Cessna factory rat who is going to pay the price, not Jack Pelton and his golden BRS parachute.

    I didn’t know that on July 23rd, I realized a long held dream to own a new airplane … a Chessna.

    “Happy” SkyCatcher owners … I think not, Bob!

  6. Rob Mark Says:

    Some kind of thought went into these replies I know gents. It is much appreciated.

    From a PR standpoint, there is no doubt that the timing of an announcement like this was going to cause a ruckous at Cessna, not to mention for a bunch of people who believe no U.S. company should be sending any product orders outside the continental U.S. for any reason.

    There was an interesting story I saw somewhere yesterday that related to pay scales of autoworkers in other countries compared to the U.S. and Canada.

    Some countries such as Korea pay 1/10 what we do here in the states. To corporate America the decision seems pretty easy when you realize that most every U.S. company is dictated to by stockholders who demand dividends.

    While no one likes to hear, “That’s just the way it is,” that really is the truth. Corporate America was built on less-expensive labor long before Cessna made their Skycatcher decision.

    But let’s be serious too … we’re talking about more than one issue here.

    Should the pay rates in the U.S. be lower to compete with other countries or should we work to convince those countries to raise wages for their workers so they don’t act like a haven for U.S. companies to find cheap labor?

    Good question.

    Should corporate America think about the economic health of U.S. citizens above all else when they make their business decisions?

    Sounds good philosophically, but I doubt the shareholders of the thousands of companies building bits outside the U.S. will support you.

    Surely that says something about our society as a whole.

    Should we as Americans take a stand against the kind of economic injustice you claim Cessna is dumping on our industry.

    I’d only give that a maybe, unless of course you promise me you will never buy a PC while you are alive. Virtually none of what Dell and HP build are constructed from U.S. products.

    No one seems to have drawn a line there.

    Whether we like it or not, the world is changing around us and the U.S. does not wield quite the power it once did.

    Would I have made the same decision Jack Pelton did? I don’t know. But then I’m not paid to make those decisions either.

    Whether you agree with the Cessna decision or not is something I doubt I will change your mind on and that’s OK with me.

    At least, however, we should give Cessna credit for using essentially ALL U.S.-made products in the Skycatcher.

    This is not a perfect world. To me that’s not a bad compromise.

  7. LARRY Says:

    Up front, I apologize to all for the long blog responses. I type and I’m VERY emotional over the Chinese decision by Cessna.

    Quoting a recent AFP article I read on Yahoo online, the first of the baby boomers becomes eligible to claim HER Social Security retirement benefits effective next month, January 2008. Right behind her are 80 million more boomers born between 1946 and 1964. By 2010, 33% of the US population will be over 50 and 20% will be over 65. These folks have a disposable income of one trillion dollars and control 67 percent of the wealth in this Country.

    ‘Carol Orsborn, a public relations executive who writes a “Boomer Blog,” said this generation appears to be pursuing its dreams rather than dropping out to a quiet retirement.’ My point is that these folks have all the money, now have the time and interest to spend it AND are CONSERVATIVE in their views. After all, they are the sons and daughters of “The Greatest Generation.”

    Light Sport offers aging existing pilots who belong to the above growing boomer group a way to maintain their ability to legally (and painlessly) fly well into their retirements. It also offers non-pilot boomers with aviation interest and time a less painful opportunity to begin their aviation avocations later in life. As a member of the first group, it is my firm belief both the FAA and the alphabet soup aviation organizations have underestimated the amount of interest AND the financial resources of these aviators and aviator ‘wannabees’ while they both focused on growing new YOUNG pilots via LSA. Don’t believe me … go to Sebring and see just who is looking at all the airplanes. Better yet, see who is actually BUYING the airplanes and who the vendors are paying attention to!

    LSA will initially be (is) of more interest to the ‘grey heads’ with the money than to the younger pilots and wannabees who don’t have the financial ability to buy one new. FIRST you get the airplanes built and out there into the hands of the financially able and then – as the airplanes age and are available on the used market – you get them into the hands of the younger folks less financially able and then build more new ones. You slowly develop your market and your customer base over time … not with the very first machine you build. Job one is to get as many airplanes onto the ramps as you can.

    So you would think that the marketing and PR groups within a giant Corporation – Cessna – would recognize that the very first potential customer group they should try to go after is the boomers. You’d think they’d recognize – after building more civil airplanes than any other Company … EVER … that buying an airplane is generally a discretionary event available only to the financially able. And you’d think that they would recognize that doing anything to displease a conserve loyal customer base would be a big mistake. You’d think … yeah! Like someone said, maybe Cessna contracted marketing and PR out to China?

    The reason that most of those responding on the Cessna blogsite, YOUR blogsite – and all of the others – are SO against the Chinese decision, then, is precisely BECAUSE these people are boomers, they are conservative, they ‘have’ the money and are pro-America. They recognize that a line HAS to be drawn someplace. They recognize that taking work out of the U.S. will – ultimately – be bad for the Country.

    I didn’t previously tell you that I’m a retired VietNam era veteran of the USAF who spent a lot of time supporting flight test at Edwards AFB. Last evening, having dinner with a neighbor who is retired from the Royal Air Force and chooses to live in Florida part-time, we discussed this issue ad nauseum. We both agree that the Chinese manufacturing decision isn’t being necessitated by Cessna’s inability to build the airplane in Kansas at the (still too expensive) introductory price. It’s being driven by Cessna’s GREED to maximize it’s bottom line on each and every unit from the very first one. As I already outlined, and you have adroitly accentuated, it’s all about the bottom line and shareholders. But what if seeking the bottom line displeases the very customers they were – or should have – been going after? If I were Jack Pelton, I’d fire the lot of the Corporate marketing and PR strategy department, Rob.

    And here is a major point that no one has brought up…also discussed last evening. WWAGS? What Would Al Gore Say. Going “green” is all the rage, these days. How “green” is it to build parts in the U.S., ship them to China and then ship them back v. building them right in Kansas to begin with? Not very, I’d say. How many poor glaciers will melt and grizzly bears will lose their habitat because Cessna is overloading the atmosphere with greenhouse gases due to its manufacturing decision? Geezola, Jack!

    And here is one other point I am ashamed to admit but is germane to my argument. With no US made alternatives, I purchased three Chinese made small recreational vehicles for use at my hangar…a quad, a scooter and a thing I call a truckster – a scooter front end with a tiny pickup style back end. In all three cases, you would not believe the substantial crates that these things came in. How they can build, crate and ship these for the prices I paid only underscores the argument of low wages being paid to the Chinese worker and the lack of Chinese environmental impediments. More importantly, however, is the fact that the quality of these things is – at best – abysmal. The rubber hoses deteriorate, the paint sucks, the metal is ’different’ and the plating is barely adequate. Worse yet, try to get a replacement part OR find someone to work on them. The quality of all three is visibly substandard. If I could have bought a US made machine, I would have but the Asians have now cornered this market. How long will it be until they take over the civil airplane manufacturing world market if we allow them? We’re arguing the chicken and the egg issue, here.

    Well, we could argue this problem back and forth ad nauseum, Rob. YOUR position is based upon logic and corporate business acumen. OUR positions are based upon maintaining American dominance of this market segment and loyalty to our Country. we’re the customer; whatever happened to “the customer is always right?’ We’ll see who is right in a year or two but I – for one – once again predict that ’ol Jack and his ’goons’ in the Corporate ivory tower in Wichita are going to be very very disappointed once they start building SkyCatchers. I hope that a market evolves in China … cuz it’s evaporating over here as a result of their poorly thought out Corporate decision and failure to remain true to its customer base.

    As I already stated, I bought a SkyCatcher because I was mislead into believing that I was buying a mostly US made machine and was supporting the American worker and THE predominant US airplane manufacturer. Now that I know that I was mislead and am NOT doing that, I’m going to open my thoughts and try to buy a machine that IS US made OR, the best that I can. I do not believe that a Chinese made airplane is in MY best interest OR the Country’s best interest. After all, I (we) AM(are) the customer!

    The ONLY way Cessna can regain it’s reputation in MY mind is to offer me a refund of my deposit and/or and to make an announcement that it will CO-produce the airplane within the United States. Since Jack is so greedy, I doubt if either will happen … so I’m now out $5K (sic).

    I applaud your willingness to let those with the opposing viewpoint to have an avenue of discourse. Thanks, much.

  8. Ron Engles Says:

    Their design REQUIRES massive labor so the only viable option was to look for cheap labor. They could have made an LSA in the USA if they had actually DESIGNED properly instead of re-hashing a C150.

    The continued use of the term “global economy” is just a euphemism for trying to salvage a bad design. A bonded aluminum or even a mass produced composite structure would be leagues better and cheaper than the old riveted mess.

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