"This is a very dynamic time for the industry, and for Remos,” Ken Weaver, VP of marketing for Remos Aircraft, told me the other day. We were chatting about the year or two ahead for the LSA industry, and I wanted to know how Remos, which produces the Remos GX S-LSA, sees itself emerging from the economic flat spin that has been so hard on everybody.
Weaver has a broad, deep background in general aviation. He’s a pilot who has worked in Part 23 and 121 OEM operations for 20 years, in various executive sales and marketing positions. He also has worked with numerous U.S. and international airframe manufacturers, including Piper, Mooney and Cessna. Most recently, Weaver served as president of Extra Aircraft.
He joined Remos’ parent company in mid-July of 2009, but he hadn’t been seeking work in the LSA part of GA: “Remos CEO Corvin Huber approached me about a new project involving LSA. Like many pilots, I had preconceived notions about LSA, but after talking with Corvin, visiting the factory in Germany and, of course, flying the GX, I was really impressed! The little plane was roomy and comfortable, and had outstanding visibility, performance, control harmony and responsiveness.
“‘Quality’ was one word that resonated throughout every part of the airplane and organization. It was obvious that a lot of work went into the aerodynamic, aesthetic and systems design. It’s a good-looking plane with balanced lines and attention to detail. It made a lot of sense in terms of ergonomics and ‘switchology,’ something I learned to appreciate while flying turbine aircraft.
“I already knew Corvin,” continued Weaver, “and I met others who had come on board—folks from Dornier, Airbus, Saab and other OEMs. I realized this was an organization that had attracted experienced, high-caliber people who had come based on the merits of the product and the company’s vision.” The management saw a commercial and technology base that could address the new operating and economic environment generated by LSA.
The more Weaver looked into Remos and LSA, the more excited he got. As a longtime pilot, CFI and industry insider, he had been concerned about the rapidly contracting pilot population and GA industry. But Weaver sees LSA and the sport pilot license as a way to reinvigorate the market.
“We believe the GX and LSA in general have the potential to extend and broaden the aviation market, and lower the barrier of entry,” asserted Weaver. “Remos has invested in extensive research, which suggests that there are a lot of nonpilots—300,000 households or more—with the income and interest in having an aviation experience. These are people who want to maximize their leisure time, are interested in personal growth and have, at some point, looked up at the sky, pointed at a plane and said, ‘I’d like to try that some day.’ In a weird way, LSA and the GX in particular are a means to an end.”
Weaver uses terms that reflect his intellect and his grasp of the big picture. Underneath the sophisticated manifesto is a core belief that’s easy to get behind: “We want to be the catalyst that grows an industry and creates a strong new generation of GA pilots. Remos believes that people who haven’t considered flying an attainable goal will now see a 21st-century product and a clear pathway to a modern, diverse aviation experience. Our operating belief is that if our industry can scratch this itch, it will spell the future of aviation.
“The message to communicate is that the evolution of LSA and the regulatory environment are the appropriate form to (a) provide a lower barrier to entry to the existing market consumer group, and (b) provide a meaningful and relevant opportunity for people to experience aviation.”
As others have noted across the GA spectrum, Weaver decries the elitist mentality that so often distances pilots from the result they hope to achieve: attracting new enthusiasts to aviation. “Aviation is a kind of insular, closed-off industry. We use concepts and nomenclature that are exclusionary to the uninitiated. We’ve put up figurative and literal fences around the industry; it’s only open to a select few.
“Gone are the days when Cessna sent out 14,000 airplanes a year. Even a couple years ago, we were thrilled to see 3,000 unit sales...but 800 of those were from one manufacturer selling for $450,000 a pop. Is this the ‘entry-level’ message we’re using to attract new pilots?
“There must be a smaller stepping stone into aviation reflecting our desire to fly by ourselves or with a friend? Something more appropriate to the pure aviation experience.” His reasoning is that it’s much easier to commit to instrument, multi and other advanced participation in flight once you’ve been initiated and enamored by the joys of flight that LSA offer.
Weaver noted how aviation runs in cycles: “We’re at the perfect storm of technology, aircraft development and regulatory/economic opportunity, where a new class of safe, economical and flexible airplanes can facilitate a viable commercial model that serves an increasingly diverse group of users.” He passionately believes the Remos GX will be one of those players, and notes how the company’s substantial core of investors are committed to the long haul.
The GX is the descendant of the 1980s European microlight Gemini and the Remos G3. “The Gemini was one of those ‘back of a napkin’ designs,” noted Weaver. “It was relatively successful, and the company went from a cottage industry to an industrialized manufacturing operation in the late 1990s. Product maturation followed with the development of the G3 and, later, the GX.
“Remos started from scratch. We re-examined every major system. What’s come out of the 300 Remos models flying worldwide is a plane that delivers a big-airplane feel in a small-airplane package.” It appears to have been a successful exercise, as Remos attained market leadership in 2009, according to independent industry sources. [See "Up-And-Comer: Remos GX” from P&P May 2009.]
The Remos view for the future vitality of the LSA industry parallels the comments of the company’s competitors: cautious optimism. “Making a business model with this in mind is more like a five-year plan than a 120-day sales forecast,” noted Weaver. “Like everybody, we need to sell airplanes, but we’re making the infrastructural and organizational investment to secure a long-term impact on the industry. Our staff has grown by 30% over the last 18 months. We’ve invested in our North American product-support and distribution network and international sales organization. We’ve also partnered with numerous industry groups, individuals, even our competitors, to assure the long-term success of this segment.”
In an industry that saw a 65% contraction in the last 15 months, Remos considers itself fortunate to have performed as well as it has. “In 2009, we sold one less unit than we did in 2008. How many other OEMs can make that claim? The first quarter of 2010 has been better than anticipated. We’re seeing modest but positive growth trends. We anticipate another 12 to 18 months to fully stabilize and signal a recovery. In the interim, we’ve done our best to be okay at the current rate, and to be pleasantly surprised if the recovery is faster. We’re leaner, meaner and smarter,” Weaver concluded.
And that sounds like a good action plan for anybody who intends to be here in 2015.