In my fantasy future, airplanes are advanced and affordable, and GA thrives once again

11:30 PM

This article is part of the monthly Blogging in Formation series, and this month's topic is "One Wish for Aviation."

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

It's 2018, and you've just walked into the showroom at Futuristic Aircraft, just off the ramp of your local general aviation airfield. The feeling is much like a giant car dealership found across town, where fine automobiles are for sale next to entry-level rides. These cars are all built to advanced safety standards, producing impressive performance from state-of-the-art engines. Their voice-activated systems control everything, and even the base model - which sells for just $23,950 - features electronics so sophisticated, they would blow the doors off the Starship Enterprise.

But in Futuristic's airplane showroom, shiny new ships are on display, none of which look like conventional airframes, in fact, they look more like cars than airplanes. A red carpet emblazoned with the Futuristic logo invites you to sit down, take a whiff of that "new airplane" smell and see how your hand fits perfectly on the yoke. As you take in this incredible flight deck, you cannot resist the temptation to twist some knobs and dream.

Nearby, airplane sales people are trying not to look eager as they wait just far enough away to make it look like they are sort of uninterested. Make no mistake though, they are ready to pounce the second you make eye contact, and will do "whatever it takes" to make you a deal right there on the spot. Throw in the upgraded prop? Done. Want the "S" interior package...the one you HAVE to add just to get the popular sunroof option? Can do. Bump up the trade-in on the worn Skyhawk that you flew in? Might have to "talk to the Sales Manager" about that one.
As you sit in the extremely comfortable leather seat of Futuristic's latest model, the X340si, it just feels right. The interior looks very close to the Lexus sold across town, right down to the environmental controls that allows you to simply dial in an interior temperature - cold or hot - and forget it. You already know this four passenger GA airplane has a powertrain comprised of a FADEC turbocharged diesel engine that sips Jet A coupled with a hybrid electric propulsion system, and that the engineering of the retractable landing gear has been developed so far, it no longer raises your insurance premium even one thin dime. And you see the specs on a sales card cleverly perched at eye level...on just 3 gph, the X340si will carry 1,000 lbs of full-fuel payload at 235 KTAS in pressurized comfort at FL 370 for a range of 2,900 miles. This is clearly not your grandfather's flying machine.
The fit and finish of this craft is amazing. The paint is thick, glossy and exquisite, and the lines of the sleek composite fuselage relate more to a fine sports car than the square aluminum-body GA airplanes manufactured through the years by the legacy makers. Inside this ship, you almost forget you are in a machine that can fly, because the cockpit is so closely related to the interior of the finest mass-produced luxury cars available in the U.S. or the E.U.

And before you on the all-glass panel is a solid MFD stretching from one gull-wing door to the other. Powered by four redundant micro-computers, this high-tech display system delivers everything your grandfather used to find in his stack of six steam gauges, plus full weather, navigation, engine and traffic information in over 10 million combinations. The software is so customizable, if you can imagine it, you can program it. Oh, and yes, it is ready for 2020 with full ADS-B capability.

O.K., that's it you say, you've gotta have one of these babies. "Sign me up," you shout to the sales guy who has now beamed himself far closer to your face than feels comfortable. "How much?" you ask, and he points to the sticker and shows you the "out the door" price of $98,750. You take a long gulp of reality and tell him that the price is not within your new airplane budget.
"But WAIT," the sales guy says, you are in LUCK. Motioning to follow him, he takes you to the back corner of the sales floor, past other high-end models, to the smaller but equally sleek X140i, their starter model. He cuts the to the chase: "Here you go, 156 KTAS, 600 pounds of full fuel payload, same powertrain technology as the X340, only smaller displacement. This particular model does not have upgraded Egyptian leather seats, but it does offer a programmable glass panel similar to the X340, and the sticker is just $45,675." As he sees your face light up, the sales guy swoops in for the kill. With an outstretched hand, he smiles and says "I want this to be your new airplane, my good friend. Tell you what I'll Sales Manager pre-authorized me to sell one of these out of our inventory for $43,950 out the door, and it's your lucky day. Let's do this, I need your signature right here, right now. Do we have a deal?"
You look at your old C-172 out on the ramp - long in the tooth and requiring a large avionics upgrade just to be ADS-B legal - and decide to go for it. A couple of hours later, with loan approved and papers signed, you are in your sparkling new X140i, at the departure end of the runway ready to blast off into an exciting new world. You double-check your engine instruments, because with hybrid technology, there is no sound of the engine until you firewall the throttle. And when you do, the new ship launches in about 500 feet and climbs out at 2,500 fpm, taking you and your passenger in a glorious, safe, and super-efficient ride through the flight levels.

As you reach cruising altitude, the Flight Director reduces power right on cue, and everything on your panel - and in your life - is in the green. You are smiling wide as your state-of-the-art machine whisks you through the sky when POOF...suddenly you WAKE UP sitting in a ratty chair in your hangar  back in 2013 staring at your trusty old Skyhawk, and realize this was all just a wonderful daydream.

Yes, that, my flying friends, is my one wish for aviation. To live in a world where general aviation airplanes are engineered and built to the same standards as our automobiles, and priced accordingly. Gone is the hassle and costs of annual inspections, since manufacturing has evolved so far, only the occasional recall is needed to fix something small when it breaks.

With these future airplanes selling for the same prices as cars, flight schools have reduced their fees, so it now costs just $1,995 to earn a private pilot's license. Due to low buy-in and affordable training, over 100,000 new pilots a year are now becoming licensed, and these fresh pilots are buying these new low-priced airplanes in record numbers. Every major car maker has jumped in, with Ford, Chevy, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and even Subaru cranking out airplanes right alongside Cirrus, Cessna and Beechcraft. With so many new pilots using NextGen air traffic control and ADS-B to avoid trading paint, the market is very competitive, and even a new entry-level training airplane can be found for $14,950 on sale.

Will this day ever come? Not as long as airframe makers have to slog through an insanely expensive and antiquated certification system that is the major roadblock preventing the affordable development of new airplane concepts.

Of course, I'm not saying this will ever happen, so you can stop grinding your teeth waiting to write me a scathing hater email. But since this month's Formation Blogging topic is "One Wish for Aviation," this is my wish, affordable airplanes priced just like our cars. I dream a world where innovation is encouraged by realistic regulations and rewarded by enough buyers to make the creation of new airplane designs not only exciting but also wildly profitable.

Because if training remains $10,000 for the ticket, and it takes three-quarters of a million dollars to buy an advanced, XC cruiser with full IFR capability that can legally carry four adults, we have work to do. And if that that craft requires $6 per gallon fuel, $12,000/year for insurance and $2,000+ annuals, we are so, so screwed, because as each day turns to night, less and less of the aviation family will be able to afford to fly.

That is not a situation that is going to be fixed overnight. But it must be fixed in a big way if we are to have an honest shot of providing a financially-sound GA world for our grandkids to enjoy decades from now.

The Blogging in Formation series launches the first week of each month. Here are the six "Formation" bloggers:

House of Rapp – Ron Rapp
iFLYblog – Brent Owens
Adventures of Cap’n Aux – Eric Auxier
Flight to Success – Karlene Petitt
Smart Flight Training – Andrew Hartley
Airplanista – Dan Pimentel

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