A big part, says Peghiny, of Flight Design’s successful national presence is the infrastructure the company has built: “Instead of a centralized personal fiefdom, where all the airplanes and parts from Germany come to us, we have seven centers coast to coast. That allowed us to immediately set up a service network that was national, not just local. And it will help us get through the slow down: We don’t have a 40,000-square-foot factory to run and 50 employees to feed.”
Even so, economic realities have meant that Flight Design has had to lay off a few people recently.
“In my 17 years of making and marketing ultralights, I’ve seen ups and downs in the economy,” he says. “I saw this coming. Nobody can say that there has been a shortage of irrational exuberance about LSA over the last couple of years—there had to be a ‘correction’ of some kind.”
We chat a bit more about the glory days of hang gliders and ultralights, and the recent boom in powered parachutes. All three movements were also fueled on unbridled enthusiasm and, too often, shaky business models. Today, only one U.S. hang-glider company, Wills Wing, and very few ultralight and powered-parachute makers survive.
“Market ‘shakeout’ is a natural phenomena. I do honestly believe, though, that the LSA movement has greater legs than those earlier sports because we offer more utility. We dovetail into mainstream aviation better; there’s more value in LSA, which makes it a better investment with better longevity. There will be a shakeout though, unless the industry works together to help grow the market.”
How, I ask, do we do that?
“LAMA, LAMA, LAMA,” he answers. “It’s the best vehicle for manufacturers and distributors to work together. By recognizing LAMA’s good works, and buying space in its LSA Malls at trade shows, where often smaller manufacturers can’t afford their own booth space at all, we can build awareness that we’re all in this together. I truly don’t believe, as a company, that we compete with other LSA manufacturers anyway. We really compete with ourselves to succeed. The decisions we make as a company determine our success or failure. What we offer as an industry has value. There’s enough of a market for a lot of us. We do need to focus on what we’re doing, though.”
In a recent, comprehensive owner’s survey, Flight Design received more than 90% “satisfied or very satisfied” accolades from its customers.
Tom Peghiny’s pleased with that review, to be sure. But ever the hands-on guy, he quickly follows with, “It shows we’ve still got some work to do.” I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of guy I want standing behind my airplane.
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