STOL aircraft and profitable markets (Kitfox STI, Highlander Superstol, etc)

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DangerZone

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It seems the recession has slowly caught up with certified aircraft manufacturers, many aren't doing too good lately. The famous Piper company seems to be laying off people, and their partnership with the Czech also went south. It could be due to some previous expensive jet-aircraft project investments or lack of business ideas, who knows. But what seems odd is that Piper is missing a substantial market that once saved Piper in the past, the light STOL aircraft market. The PA-18 Super Cub and similar lookalikes are still produced by many other companies, and it seems they are doing good.

Lately the most popular models discussed are the Kitfox STI and the Highlander SuperStol. Even though comparing them might not be exactly apples to apples, it seems this is what is currently in demand: many pilots want an airplane capable of taking off the front lawn and having a decent cruise speed. For those don't know about these aircraft, this is what they look like:

Kitfox STI
7500112-HS-980x428.jpg

Highlander Superstol
IMG_0689.jpeg



Thus I was wondering why didn't (or doesn't) Piper take millions of dollars by simply building a good quality aircraft based on some old proven airframes? They have the tools, the workforce, the skills, and they haven't done anything to profit from this demand. With such tools/skills/workers and a clever redesign it would be possible to build an even better aircraft than both the STI or SuperStol and dominate the market. Some old Kitfoxes were made to cruise at 125kts and stall at 25kts even with big bush wheels if some aerodynamic changes are made, yet the performance of the mentioned aircraft is respectable but nothing to brag about. Even some old Piper Supercubs are sometimes made to perform better, take off shorter and cruise faster.



What am I missing from this perspective, from the other side of the Atlantic?
 
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BJC

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What am I missing from this perspective, from the other side of the Atlantic?
I don't know Piper's numbers, but it is reasonable to assume that their liability for a Super Cub is as much per airplane, if not more, than it is for each Meridian, and the profit per Meridian probably exceeds the potential annual profitability for all the Super Cubs that they could sell.


BJC

PS Most kit manufacturers have very little liability, because they have no insurance and not enough assets to warrant legal action.
 

Chris In Marshfield

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Thus I was wondering why didn't (or doesn't) Piper take millions of dollars by simply building a good quality aircraft based on some old proven airframes?
STOL/Offroad aircraft not withstanding, the Cherokee platform has been around forever and is still a crazy popular, easy to fly, quality airplane. Now that's an old airframe. The fact that a new one costs $400,000US could be the actual problem here.

I have to imagine, by volume of aircraft sales, that taildragging utility planes are in the minority. But just a hunch, though.

But taking off from your front lawn could be a problem...

~Chris
 

DangerZone

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I don't know Piper's numbers, but it is reasonable to assume that their liability for a Super Cub is as much per airplane, if not more, than it is for each Meridian, and the profit per Meridian probably exceeds the potential annual profitability for all the Super Cubs that they could sell.


BJC

PS Most kit manufacturers have very little liability, because they have no insurance and not enough assets to warrant legal action.
I see, good point. But if the Meridians don't sell, why not sell improved SuperCubs, Pacers and the likes as 'retro' aircraft?

If Piper was selling 50 Meridians a year and now barely ten, would it not make more sense to earn $10k profit from Supercubs/Pacers/whatever a thousand times a year than $100k they make on a Meridian ten times? It's just a rough estimation. Would it not be possible to keep the employees busy and still make a better/decent return that way?

But the legal action might be The reason, people tend to sue each other a lot these days.
 

DangerZone

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STOL/Offroad aircraft not withstanding, the Cherokee platform has been around forever and is still a crazy popular, easy to fly, quality airplane. Now that's an old airframe. The fact that a new one costs $400,000US could be the actual problem here.

I have to imagine, by volume of aircraft sales, that taildragging utility planes are in the minority. But just a hunch, though.

But taking off from your front lawn could be a problem...

~Chris
Yeah, a new one is $400k yet a good decent ole one can be bought for $40k and fly the same...

Is there anything preventing legally Piper (or some other certified aircraft company) to build kit/experimental aircraft just like Kitfox and Wild West and sell them as kit/experimentals/LSA to avoid liability?

Shouldn't LSA aircraft be allowed to take off from the backyard or front lawn in the USA?
 

Chris In Marshfield

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Yeah, a new one is $400k yet a good decent ole one can be bought for $40k and fly the same...

<snip>

Shouldn't LSA aircraft be allowed to take off from the backyard or front lawn in the USA?
Ain't that the truth! I remember when I was a kid hanging out a KPBI, looking at Cessna and Piper sales slicks on the rack, and seeing them priced in the high teens.

I guess the latter question depends where you live. I live within the "city limits", and there a laws on the books that strictly prohibit aircraft operations except at a designated airport (which includes our municipal airport and our hospital for the helicopter). Outside of the city limits, it's a lot easier. I have several friends and acquaintances near here that fly out of their yards. It's a lot easier since I live in an agricultural are of the country.

I'd love to fly off of my own land if it were permitted, and would love to fly a Super Cub, SuperStol, STI, Bearhawk/Patrol, or any of the other capable birds.

I still can't answer the liability/costs questions for the manufacturers, though.

~Chris
 

gtae07

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Is there anything preventing legally Piper (or some other certified aircraft company) to build kit/experimental aircraft just like Kitfox and Wild West and sell them as kit/experimentals/LSA to avoid liability?
Nothing legally preventing them from doing so, but it wouldn't help them avoid liability. If anything, they'd be more exposed to it (i.e. more attractive to plaintiffs) than most kit manufacturers because they have more assets.

Shouldn't LSA aircraft be allowed to take off from the backyard or front lawn in the USA?
In most places it's not illegal on its own. Airspace rules, clearance from obstacles, etc. may make a difference there. And even then, a lot of people just don't have the space or suitable terrain to do so.



The cost of new production aircraft has ballooned and killed most of the market. Most people now either buy used older airplanes or build/buy an experimental.
 

Victor Bravo

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The enormous lawsuits that have been successfully filed and won against airplane manufacturers is the primary reason IMHO, followed closely by the lack of volume production efficiency compared to cars.

Piper could re-introduce the Super Cub, and everyone in Alaska would be dancing in the streets (or on the glaciers). Until they saw the price, which would be higher than most of them would pay.

Cub Crafters and others have certified "improved" Cub style aircraft, and they are available for sale. There are many improvements and upgrades on these aircraft that make them better and higher performing than a stock PA-18. A large, slow-moving company like Piper probably cannot compete with a lean company like CC on a financial efficiency level. THEN they would have to upgrade and update their old PA-18 to be competitive.
 

BJC

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Some years ago, Piper offered a kit for the PA-18. The scheme was that the purchaser would built it, then took it to piper for inspection, where it was type certificated.

AFAIK, exactly one was built, and they ultimately bought it back.


BJC
 
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