Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Cessna 162 Skycatcher: It’s Here!
Cessna's successor to the 152, the Skycatcher, is poised to shine in the trainer market
You can’t help but recall the similar rush to create the GA market following World War II. In those days, practically everyone with a slide rule and a drawing board was designing little airplanes for the plethora of military pilots returning from Europe and the Pacific. It was a boom that turned bust in record time, leaving the dregs of several dozen aircraft companies in its wake.
With Cessna’s heritage as the most popular manufacturer of GA trainers, the Wichita company was virtually guaranteed to enter this new market. The Model 162 Skycatcher was announced by Cessna President Jack Pelton in 2006, and by the time you read this, the first production airplane will have been delivered.
Cessna hopes the Skycatcher will help solve a major problem at Cessna since the demise of the 152. Like Piper and the old Beech Aircraft, Cessna always has fostered a basic trainer in hopes of strengthening the step-up market. The premise is that pilots who train in a particular brand are more likely to buy from the same manufacturer. Trouble is, the pilot population in general and student starts in particular have both declined dramatically in the last 30 years. In 1980, there were 820,000 licensed pilots. By 2007, that number had shrunk to well below 600,000. Though there was a slight improvement in the pilot population last year, Cessna knew it needed to facilitate the recovery by offering a new trainer of its own.
Despite the Skyhawk’s remarkable simplicity and durability, it always has been too much airplane for the job, both in operating cost and purchase price. I recently reported on a new 2009 Skyhawk with a base price of $297,000. I know of a flight school in Long Beach, Calif., that rents a 2008 Skyhawk SP for $159 hourly. For flight schools struggling to survive in a tough economy, the hourly rate is the primary key to profit, and even if a new Skyhawk is a leaseback, the rental rate may be prohibitive for all but the most affluent students.
The Skycatcher was intended to confront that problem head-on. Accordingly, the base price has been set at $112,250, and Cessna calculates a typically equipped plane will go out the door at $130,364. At only 40% of the Skyhawk’s cost and half the operating expense, it’s hard to imagine a new Skycatcher renting for as much as a 172.
Cessna loaned the first production-conforming airplane to San Diego’s King Schools, which is developing the Cessna Pilot Center private pilot training curriculum. From there, Cessna ferried the 162 to AOPA’s Aviation Summit in Tampa, Fla., and that’s where I flew the first machine with Cessna Chief Pilot Kirby Ortega.
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