Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Profiles In Vision: Tom Peghiny

The #1 LSA distributor in America climbs for the blue on how to survive “The Econogeddon”

I like employing people and making things,” Tom Peghiny, president and founder of Flight Design USA, told me on a snowy winter day last January.
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“I do believe many of us will make it through this,” he says with conviction. “And I felt from the beginning of the LSA ‘movement’ that my ‘assignment’ was to make sure we’re one of the four to six main companies that survive long-term. So I never wanted to play the big shot by over-expanding our business or hyping up our image. I’ve always intended for Flight Design to have a true brand identity in aviation in the United States.”

Peghiny thinks of Flight Design as an independent company, like Rans, Vans or Maule. This means realizing that FD is neither a subsidiary of a major corporation, financed by a megabuck oil emirate, or the plaything of a millionaire likely to make the proverbial small fortune in aviation—by starting out with a big fortune.

Flight Design also has tried display shows, such as the Porsche Jet Preview; the broad-based event, however, proved somewhat disappointing in the end.

Peghiny’s company also brought the new MC (for “Metal Concept”) prototype from manufacturer Flight Design Germany to the annual NBAA Convention in 2008—the first LSA ever displayed at that event.

“They’re all great shows and are cost-effective. They just didn’t hit our target demographic efficiently. What really worked for us were events like EAA’s nationwide Sport Pilot Tour.”

He would love to see a major corporate sponsor resurrect the concept, currently inactive, through LAMA, the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association. Founded by another early visionary, Chairman Emeritus Larry Burke, LAMA continues to play a foundational role in implementing LSA.

“Another plus,” Peghiny continues, “is the great partner we have in Mathias Betsch.” Betsch, head of Flight Design Germany (and recent winner of LAMA’s 17th annual President’s Award for industry leadership), “has found ways to keep us in a good position with a big parts supply, and by not pushing us to over-expand or go crazy with our marketing budget.”

Anybody who has spent time around him at air shows or at his Woodstock, Conn., headquarters knows that Peghiny’s a hands-on guy. He enjoys all the aspects of running an aviation business.

“What’s good is, I feel I’m qualified to lead an airplane company. I’ve been studying for it for the last 35 years—I should know how to do this by now! There are so many parallels between the growth of hang gliders, ultralights and LSA.”

He confesses he loves getting in the truck and driving to a show. “And I test-fly every airplane that comes through our operation. That’s more than 35 airplanes just in our New England region.”

Now for the 64,000-euro question: What’s it going to take to, well, keep on keeping on?

“My personal thesis is, to be successful these days, you have to do everything and you have to do it all the time. That includes mastering guerilla marketing, running a competitive website, maintaining great relationships with dealers, working closely with banks and staying savvy about a lot of stuff. Maybe it’s always been that way: It’s true now for sure.”


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