Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Light-Sport Chronicles: Staying The Course

Too many songbirds, not enough bird seed–what to do?

Recently, a gentleman e-mailed me who had invested a ways back in an LSA company, not because he expected to become the next Piper, Flight Design, Rans or Legend Cub, but because, in his own words, "I just love airplanes." A lifelong financial professional, he wasn’t after a fortune—except maybe the proverbial small one from a big one. He just loved airplanes. Sounding very much more like a romantic than a financial pro, he confessed to postponing his own sport-pilot training until his LSA design was ASTM-certified—so he could earn his ticket in the very airplane he hoped to produce.

Alas, after four years that day never came. He and his colleagues recently shut down the project, citing prototype production costs and the 107 competing LSA designs—all chasing a paucity of consumer dollars. His company would have needed to sell 40 airplanes just to break even on its initial investment.

The investor also lamented that publications tend to focus on market leaders. I heard the disappointment within the lament. And, in truth, we and other publications strive to cover everybody out there. We love the whole industry and are as motivated to tell the rags-to-riches stories as much as we herald the biggest name players.

Still, I didn’t take the investor’s caution lightly. But as my publisher contends, “Companies that can weather this trial by fire are the ones that survive.” Indeed. One of the fascinating things for me about the LSA industry has been how long the fire of trial has continued to burn for so many companies. Clearly, many outfits have figured out how to hang in there.

Magazines don’t and shouldn’t bear the brunt of getting the word out. There’s no shortage of promotional opportunities today, starting with the biggest game-changer, the Internet. So the question then becomes, how important is it to our readers that we spread coverage as broadly as possible?

Personally, I so believe in the considerable resourcefulness and pluck of everybody in the LSA industry that I sometimes err in the “positive spin” direction, even though in this economy it hasn’t been easy to always wave the pom-poms. And I remain convinced that if we stay optimistic, stay flexible and stay creative in finding ways to build, publicize, own and fly light-sport aircraft, we’ll also stay the course and become an enduring aviation movement.

Surviving as one of the “little guys” with negligible market share and no deep-pocket backers to fund their promotional play is a catch-22 challenge. Investors won’t continue investing without some sales. But more sales won’t come without continued exposure. But continued exposure won’t come without money, which goes back to investors and sales.

And how do you hear that special note in the penguin horde of 100-plus models crying for your attention? We can’t fly every single LSA out there, fun though that might be. I’ve been on the LSA side of the game for two years now—and I’ve flown maybe 25% of certified LSA!


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