Tandem vs side by side marketability?

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Inverted Vantage

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So just curious what the general consensus is; I have heard that tandem seats are generally unsellable compared to side by side seating; opinions?
 

orion

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Tandem seats are generally considered sexy and preferred by many, primarily because it allows the pilot to sit on the centerline, just like in a fighter. But the reality is simply that the sales potential of a side-by-side is two to three times that of a tandem. Some companies feel that the difference is even greater than that so they wont even consider addressing the tandem in any marketing trade studies.
 

Grimace

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...the reality is simply that the sales potential of a side-by-side is two to three times that of a tandem.
I don't doubt that one bit... but by that logic, if there are more than three times more side-by-side planes in the marketplace than tandem seat planes, then the tandem may actually be a more marketable product....

And I would say we're pretty close to that 3:1 ratio. There actually may be a lack of tandems by that metric. The other issue is diversity within the marketplace. If you are looking to do an LSA-type airplane, there are a lot of side-by-side planes out there so you might think there's a niche there for a tandem seat LSA, but really, there's probably even LESS demand for a tandem seat LSA because speed isn't a significant requirement for those airplanes and flight-training and pleasure rides often are. So I don't think a tandem LSA would be a good idea unless it were, perhaps, something like a tail-dragging STOL machine (J-3 Cub-like) or intended for light aerobatics (Citabria, etc) since there's some precedent in those markets for a tandem seat and those markets may not have a lot of dominant players...

However, I think there could be a place for a tandem-seat fast-glass airplane with a smallish engine (100-200hp... somewhere in that range).... The only tandem fast glass airplanes tend to be very expensive and use monster engines. I'm not aware of any dominant plans or kit planes in that category at this time... I would be concerned with Lancair doing something like that, however they seem pretty well determined to avoid little engines these days...
 

addaon

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I think another issue is that many newer pilots only have time in side-by-side... before I got time in tandems, I never would have considered getting one. Now that I have some hours sitting on the center line, I would never consider building a side-by-side.
 

Topaz

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...But the reality is simply that the sales potential of a side-by-side is two to three times that of a tandem. ...
Heh. This has everything to do with understanding who really has the biggest influence upon the purchase decision:

She who will make your life miserable if you can't sit "together". :gig:

This is an over-generalization, but it still holds with fair accuracy: Guys want to fly for the thrill of it. Women want to spend time "together". The "best compromise" favors the side-by-side seater, since the alternative is often no airplane at all.

You can buck a market trend if you have something else besides the seating arrangement that makes the sale for you, but it has better be pretty spectacular. Simply being "different" than everyone else is usually a sure-fire receipe for betting on the losing side. The market has spoken very clearly about which type of seating they'll actually purchase. Guys might drool over the tandem-seater "fighter", but when he has to justify the expenditure to the spouse, you can bet some 'compromise' will be made, in the majority of cases.
 

bmcj

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Heh. This has everything to do with understanding who really has the biggest influence upon the purchase decision:

She who will make your life miserable if you can't sit "together". :gig:

This is an over-generalization, but it still holds with fair accuracy: Guys want to fly for the thrill of it. Women want to spend time "together". The "best compromise" favors the side-by-side seater, since the alternative is often no airplane at all.
LOL... Topaz raises a very important point!

As for myself, I much prefer tandem over side-by-side. Tandem gives better visibility to both sides and, at least to me, seems more natural to fly. The only limiting factor with tandem is that they are more sensitive to weight and balance issues since at least one person (and possibly both) are displaced for the CG. Side-by-side seating tends to be mounted very close to the CG.

Bruce :)
 

Grimace

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Is it too risque for this site for me to ask the following question....

Have you ever tried to join... or renew your membership in... the mile high club while in a tandem seat airplane? ;)

Exactly. Women prefer side by side seating.
 
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Dana

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However, I think there could be a place for a tandem-seat fast-glass airplane with a smallish engine (100-200hp... somewhere in that range).... The only tandem fast glass airplanes tend to be very expensive and use monster engines. I'm not aware of any dominant plans or kit planes in that category at this time...
What about the EZ's? Or aren't they fast enough?

Back in the 1930's, C.G. Taylor promoted the side by seating of the Taylorcraft as an advantage over the Piper Cub (which he also designed, before William Piper pushed him out of that company), as an advantage for the "pilot who wants to take his girl for a ride".

-Dana

There are 3 kinds of people: those who can count & those who can't.
 

Grimace

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What about the EZ's? Or aren't they fast enough?

EZ's are exactly what I have in mind... but they don't sell plans anymore. Sure, you can find them here and there, but I haven't heard of many people starting EZ projects recently...

And even with the EZ's in the marketplace, there's still the niche for conventional aircraft... and for a kit plane or two that uses molded construction rather than the endless sanding required for an EZ... I was going to mention the Berkut, but that takes an IO-540. Nope, there's still not much for the guy who wants a composite tandem airplane for $60,000 or less... I think there's a huge gap in the market there...
 

Topaz

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EZ's are exactly what I have in mind... but they don't sell plans anymore. Sure, you can find them here and there, but I haven't heard of many people starting EZ projects recently...

And even with the EZ's in the marketplace, there's still the niche for conventional aircraft... and for a kit plane or two that uses molded construction rather than the endless sanding required for an EZ... I was going to mention the Berkut, but that takes an IO-540. Nope, there's still not much for the guy who wants a composite tandem airplane for $60,000 or less... I think there's a huge gap in the market there...
The EZ's were an exceptional situation. The radically different configuration was the 'pull' on that, not the seating. It's why you started to see aircraft like the Cozy appearing as the composite-canard market matured. The Q2 was another example - that company never even contemplated a tandem-seating aircraft, heading straight from single-seat to side-by-side. All the trends in that market were towards side-by-side (following the general aircraft trend) before it collapsed with the departure of Rutan and the bankruptcy of Quickie Aircraft. The Cozy soldiered on alone for a bit, but one airplane usually can't sustain a niche completely on its own. People start to wonder why "nobody else does it that way". The Berkut hasn't ever been a major (or even significant) player in the homebuilt market. Not enough to influence market trends, anyway. The original release was surrounded by some well-orchestrated media buzz, but that never translated into significant market influence (or sales).

In the end, people simply will purchase a side-by-side airplane over a tandem one in the majority of cases, unless there are very large "other benefits" associated with a particular tandem design, as was the case with the EZs. If you're running a business, you generally don't want to buck major market trends without some other major 'pull'. Like I said before, doing so is pretty much setting yourself up to bet on the losing side.

I'm not saying that tandems aren't nice, or fun, or desirable. But you need something "extra" to make them saleable when pitted against side-by-side designs. Traditionally, that "something extra" has been performance, which unfortunately comes with a big price tag. It works in that higher-end market somewhat better because the airplane probably won't be the only big "toy" in the family, and so spousal support is easier to gain for such a "man-toy" purchase. But that high-end market for kit aircraft is relatively tiny, since affluent people generally prefer to purchase ready-made products, as time for them is at a higher premium than money.
 

Mac790

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EZ's are exactly what I have in mind... but they don't sell plans anymore. Sure, you can find them here and there, but I haven't heard of many people starting EZ projects recently...
You dont need original plans to build EZ nowadays, everything what you need to do is:

-buy TERF CD here eBay Motors: Rutan Aircraft Factory Encyclopedia Long EZ Airplane (item 230325724456 end time Feb-17-09 19:00:21 PST)
-download FREE templates here Introducing the Open-EZ 2-place tandem canard - Canard Zone

Of course because you dont use original plans you can't call it Long EZ.

and for a kit plane or two that uses molded construction rather than the endless sanding required for an EZ...
EZ's use moldless method because it's plans build plane rather than kit plane, It's hard to imagine that every single Ez builder makes his own moulds plugs etc.
I was going to mention the Berkut, but that takes an IO-540.
You can use 360 like James Redmon's did My BERKUT Project

Seb
 

Grimace

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Well Seb, as soon as I see a few new tandem canards on the flight line at OSH, I'll tip my hat to you...

As for the Berkut using a 360, I should have observed that it's a moot point... since they're no longer producing kits anyway.


And my point with regard to EZ's requiring endless sanding is that, in the larger picture, there's still a big gap in the marketplace for a tandem seat composite airplane. Yes, the Long-EZ comes close to filling that gap, but it's somewhat of a stale design. I believe there's ample room in the marketplace for a composite tandem airplane in the 120-200hp range. Now, as Topaz noted, it's a minority position in the marketplace... but it could still be a reasonably lucrative niche.... especially if you can smoke the wings off of the other contenders like the GP-4 and the Glasair sII. If you can cruise at an honest 220mph on 200 hp, I think you'll hold your own against the side-by-side airplanes, wives and girlfriends be damned. ;)

And, to give you my unsubstantiated, untrained, wild guess of the night... I think a composite tandem with a turbo-normalized 360 could cover close to 300mph ground speed while at altitude. Now that's something you could sell the the wifey! Hey honey... New York to LA is 8 hours in this plane and 4.5 hours to fly commercially. Now, if we add in the fact that we have to arrive at the airport 2 hours early, and it takes an hour to get off the plane and get our bags at the end of the flight... the actual time to travel is about the same. But having our own airplane means it leaves on our schedule, we won't have obnoxious jerks sitting next to us, and the plane will never leave without us...

I say that there is a niche waiting to be filled...
 
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orion

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I don't doubt that one bit... but by that logic, if there are more than three times more side-by-side planes in the marketplace than tandem seat planes, then the tandem may actually be a more marketable product....
That's sort of back-door reasoning since it assumes that there is more demand for the tandem than manufacturers were willing or able to supply. But the fact of the market is simply that the tandem airplane is viewed often as more of a fun, bore holes in the sky sort of a thing as opposed to a useful cross country airplane. Let's face it, even the diminutive RV-6 has more room aft of the seats than the RV-4 or RV-8, and the same holds true for any of the the other examples of tandem layout. And it's the slight bit of utility that makes it more palatable as a "reasonable" purchase.

As such, given the expense of developing an airframe, especially one out of composites, most manufacturers have simply decided to put their best foot forward in developing something that has a better chance of recovering that initial investment.

As far as smaller, LSA type airplanes are concerned, it's highly unlikely that any such animal will come about simply due to the difficulties of developing a sufficient allowable CG range in an airplane where the occupants make up such a significant portion of the gross weight mass. It might be possible if the seats were very close together so that the aft passenger's legs went to the outside of the front seat (but if it were close enough for the W & B solution it might be uncomfortable to sit in for any length), or if the airplane was designed so that it flew solo from the back seat and the passenger sat right on the CG.

But of course none of that addresses the issue of development cost versus the market. Those numbers and perceptions are a bit tougher to fight. The only way I see this happening is if someone develops his/her own, and then decides to put it out as a kit or plans built airframe. In this manner the development can be considered as sunk costs (since even if it fails the developer still gets the airplane he's after) and getting it on the market can be done slowly, as the money allows.
 

Topaz

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... Now that's something you could sell the the wifey! Hey honey... New York to LA is 8 hours in this plane and 4.5 hours to fly commercially. Now, if we add in the fact that we have to arrive at the airport 2 hours early, and it takes an hour to get off the plane and get our bags at the end of the flight... the actual time to travel is about the same. But having our own airplane means it leaves on our schedule, we won't have obnoxious jerks sitting next to us, and the plane will never leave without us...
Ummm, you're trying to convince the wife with... let me get this straight... logic? How's that been working out for you? ;)

I'm kidding, of course, but you have to realize that it's actually very hard to sell someone anything. The only way you get significant sales is to show them that your widget is something that they want to buy. For their own reasons. Your argument above, for example, will only work if she's more concerned about the time of travel than time spent "together" where the two of you can talk while on your vacation. She could just as easily see the tandem option as four hours that you're 'separated' - a minus - rather than a 'plus' by shortening a trip where you could sit next to each other and have some uninterrupted time.

Man-woman dynamics is a really interesting thing when it comes to decisions like a vehicle purchase.

...I say that there is a niche waiting to be filled...
Perhaps. But the market trends are against you, so I wouldn't bet the farm on it. As Orion mentioned, your best bet here is to build an airplane purely for yourself, but with an eye towards kit manufacture later. Selling investors on the expense of production tooling, startup capital, facilities, and a marketing campaign will be easier if you have actual consumer exposure data from a prototype. Gotta walk that line carefully, though. It's really easy to get positive responses from a 'sexy' product, only to have that response fail to turn into actual sales. We've talked earlier about how that's sunk more than one attempt at a scale fighter kit, for example.

Given limited financial resources, I'd probably try a one-off prototype, followed by plans-only sales to develop and prove the market, and then providing increasing amounts of "finished" molded components as you can pay for the tooling out of earlier proceeds. At the very least, strong plans-only sales will be a solid indicator of actual future kit sales, which you can use to pitch the expansion into full kits to an investor.
 

Grimace

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That's sort of back-door reasoning since it assumes that there is more demand for the tandem than manufacturers were willing or able to supply.
I am 100% certain there is more demand than the manufacturers are willing to supply... given that the number of suppliers is zero.

That's not to say that the market is big enough to support a family on kit sales, but I do believe there is a niche there that most manufacturers are shying away from in favor of what appears to me to perhaps be an over-crowded market at the moment.


If 8 out of 10 want side by side seating, then it's really tempting to say that you'd rather be in the market selling to the 8 side-by-side people than the 2 tandem people...But is that a good strategy?

There are about 50 companies that make a side-by-side seat LSA. There are zero that make a tandem. (You've pointed out when tandem LSA's are rare, but this is just one small portion of my point... bear with me)

There are over 70 plans or kits manufacturers that could fit into the ELSA category.

There are at least 200 companies selling kits and/or set of plans out there (I actually don't have any approximation for this number, but I'd bet it's easily that number, including foreign designs).

And the Rutan Vari-EZ is the only one that offers a tandem seat composite airplane in the 110-200hp range. And they are no longer selling kits or plans.

Sure... I suppose it's POSSIBLE that nobody whatsoever wants a composite tandem-seater. I guess that's possible. But I really really doubt it. I think this is a case of marketers... who really know marketing preferring to slug it out in a crowded marketplace where their strengths as marketers (the ability to grab attention, differentiate the product, etc) is a more crucial piece of the puzzle. But personally, as someone who views marketing as a necessary evil, I think I would much rather be the only company selling to 2 out of 10 buyers, than 1 of 70 companies selling to 8 out of 10. Of course, if you're awesome at marketing, then you'd probably prefer to sell to the 8 out of 10.... but that doesn't mean it's what's best for the company.
 

bmcj

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Is it too risque for this site for me to ask the following question....

Have you ever tried to join... or renew your membership in... the mile high club while in a tandem seat airplane? ;)

Exactly. Women prefer side by side seating.

Well, one would expect a tandem aircraft to be faster than a side-by-side one due to the reduced frontal area... which begs the question: Are you saying that fast aircraft and fast women don't go together?

OH, WAIT! I just had a brainstorm. If you have a 4-seater, you could make your wife sit in the back and call it a tandem!

Bruce :beer:
 

Grimace

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There's also the "banana seat" option... Isn't the Buddy Baby Lakes a two seater with just a long seat for the pilot and passenger to sit in tandem up against each other? Talk about cozy.... ;)
 

Topaz

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...Sure... I suppose it's POSSIBLE that nobody whatsoever wants a composite tandem-seater. I guess that's possible. But I really really doubt it. I think this is a case of marketers... who really know marketing preferring to slug it out in a crowded marketplace where their strengths as marketers (the ability to grab attention, differentiate the product, etc) is a more crucial piece of the puzzle.
Hey, I resemble that remark! :gig:

It's not so much that we prefer to market to a more crowded marketplace - quite the opposite, in fact - but rather that our (marketing people) goal is to secure the best possible success for our clients, in whatever terms they would like to define it. If there are clear market trends to suggest that success is more likely in the more-crowded market, that's where you point your efforts. Market trends are simply the public voting with their pocketbook. Watch what they buy, and you know what they like.

As for marketing being more relevant in a crowded market, don't kid yourself that any airplane will be "alone" in its market. The homebuilt industry is littered with companies that thought showing up at a few airshows was enough marketing for their "unique" product to generate sales. In all but an extremely few cases, it isn't. Rutan is the only one I can think of that's gotten away with that, off the top of my head. Even if you're the only tandem composite airplane on the market, you've still got competitors - every other composite airplane, some of the metal ones, boats, snow-mobiles, fast cars... Indirect competition can sometimes be worse than direct.

But personally, as someone who views marketing as a necessary evil, I think I would much rather be the only company selling to 2 out of 10 buyers, than 1 of 70 companies selling to 8 out of 10. Of course, if you're awesome at marketing, then you'd probably prefer to sell to the 8 out of 10.... but that doesn't mean it's what's best for the company.
Usually it is what's best for the company, assuming the company has a genuinely better product than the competition in some marketable fashion. I personally would rather go after eight customers than two, no matter how many competitors I have against me - provided I've got the better product. If my product doesn't provide a definable advantage over the competition, I've got no business in that market at all. If my "go after the two" airplane isn't any better than the "go after the eight" airplanes in some way in addition to seating configuration, I'm still vulnerable to them as competition. People may give up their preference for tandem seating for some other advantage that the side-by-side airplane gives - something as simple as the fact that the side-by-side's parent company has an established track record in business. Being "different" really isn't a "shelter" from having to compete, because you almost never have a completely "unique" product.

The perfect example of the trends is Van's Aircraft. The RV-4 is still available for sale, and I believe that he still sells a few here and there. However, Van's business is now solidly in the side-by-side market. He simply sold RV-6's at a better rate than the 4's, and saw which way he should take his business. The RV-4 is, by all accounts, an absolutely wonderful airplane. It's just that more people are willing to actually pay money for an airplane like the RV-6 and its decendants.

Is a molded composite tandem two-seater a viable product? It's entirely possible that it is. However, based on all the market trends, it's a long-shot. If someone has the faith, resources, and brass-ones to take that long-shot in the face of that evidence, more power to 'em. They may make a very nice niche for themselves. Or they might not.
 
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Gray Out

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Hello Grimace,

Nope, there's still not much for the guy who wants a composite tandem airplane for $60,000 or less... I think there's a huge gap in the market there...
Experiencing some delays and setbacks at the moment due to a heavy business load...but don't worry. The LSA tandem in composite for less than $60K is on the way to fill that little gap for the rest of us.;)

Gray
 

Inverted Vantage

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Good luck with that Gray_Out :) I have to say that without some significant changes to construction techniques, a sub $60,000 composite aircraft can be built for consumption; the labor costs are just too high.
 
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