Some Unique Challenges For ICON Aircraft
Opinion Editorial written by Jason J. Baker — “The path which is well worn and traveled by everyone, never leads anywhere desirable, it leads to soul crushing mediocrity.” No worries folks, just a sentence that I am using in hopes to get some synaptic out of the box activity going. My Super Special SEO Consultant tells me that there are readers who use these things called synapses, while reading stuff and I always oblige to what he says.
The folks from ICON in Vacaville, CA have had a tremendously challenging path to master to get their A5 to scale-able production levels. The idea to democratize and revolutionize the world of seaplanes, the idea to depart from aluminum, tube and fabric or wood as building material and the insane idea that a new airplane could look pretty cool and be safe and fun to fly at the same time was and remains an enormous undertaking.
To be perfectly honest, ICON was often smiled upon and even these days, the company is heavily torpedoed by its very own industry and the people who clique and cliche around in it. When it comes to ruffling feathers, only Cirrus Aircraft comes close in terms of causing trolling crazies out from under their rocks and soliciting Flak from within its own industry. I find that a bit shameful, but I am not the final arbiter on approved or disapproved status quo doctrines.
Against all odds and naysayers, Cirrus is alive and well, selling their single engine aircraft at a whopping $ 724,900 if equipped to max level. I only know of one aviation scribbler who keeps his Cirrus fighting-ax buried in loose and shallow sand these days, beating and berating them and the horse they rode into town on, at every turn. Most aviation writers without severe mental issues have moved on and Cirrus is getting good press for a job well done.
But lets be real for a second: For the most part, Cirrus didn’t survive the war because of all the love letters received by fellow private pilots and aviation journalists, it survived by focusing on business and getting over obstacles, and last but not least – by converting paper plans into show room queens and then on, into bug killing monsters. In my view, ICON is doing the exact same and it is undergoing the same challenges, along the way. Its those funky clique people who continue to reject the idea that such a product could ever replace the old rivet-bombers.
But, Why Did It Take So Damn Long?
Copying an existing air-frame or idea and trying to improve it is one way for an aircraft manufacturer to try and make the kill. You’ll have an airplane that looks somewhat similar to all the others, is fairly simple to produce and you’ll get a serious number of units sold, no question. The Piper Cub is battle proven (literally) and its design and shape is timeless, prevented by default from ever fading into oblivion.
CubCrafters and Legend Cub and quite a few of the currently active floating hull manufacturers are a perfect school-book example of this copying- concept working out, creating tons of cash for the companies and filling order books to the rim. Imagine working in an industry where companies are looking at such flush- full order books that image advertising becomes laughable.
Going ALL NEW and designing from scratch is a completely different animal, though. Just like it takes me less time to copy and paste someone else’s text, converting a large white space into something that carries a message takes longer and requires more effort. Going all genuine exposes the manufacturer of anything to tremendous liability in an increasingly litigious environment. Add to this, that Seaplane- flying is over-regulated and tasked with a heavy burden of being viewed as a disturbance by tranquility loving waterfront property owners. Suddenly life ain’t so easy. The tree-huggers and protectors of the waters are real and even land-based aviation is being challenged by new residents buying affordable properties close to airports.
Its completely normal to see mistakes throw a project back by several years as designers and engineers clash heads about what to focus on. Funding is a serious issue. You can’t exactly walk into a bank and yell: “Hey Penguins, splendid business idea, look here! Now flush me with 0% APR money…“. Try it! I’ll see to be there with a camera to film the show!
The “Lets Not Fool Ourselves” Thesis
People with a desire for a mundane life do not generally go into the aircraft manufacturing business, nor do they harbor a deep and burning desire to fly airplanes. How many couch- slouches do you know who are in fact interested in flying aircraft? Do you walk into your local Walmart to recruit and convert the $13.50/ hour cashier to become the next Top Bun? How about the local kindergarten? Shouldn’t every High School student with grades better than D get a free seaplane rating? Why not? Shouldn’t we be much more inclusive?
I know that most of the people reading this magazine frequently dream of a world full of seaplanes, which are flown by common folk. But we would be lying through our teeth if we actually walked around propagating the idea that flying aircraft and seaplanes isn’t now or wasn’t always a highly exclusive activity, which – by and large – requires a higher than average annual income or corporate bonus structure. Yes, I know, reality sucks sometimes, but feeling jealous of those who did their homework and now rake in some serious cash, isn’t going to solve the mental crisis.
But… The Terrible Marketing!!!
Our Aviation industry is living proof of decades of failed concepts, struggling to get youngsters and other smart device addicts into flying aircraft. That’s not anyone’s particular fault, it just developed this way. One can’t fly with their eyes turned back in their skull from boredom. These days we better have an Extra 9000 XLi because one of the questions you’ll hear from a kid with solid gaming experience is: “Can it do stuff like Loops n stuff?” Its not easy to capture children’s attention and its getting increasingly difficult to capture adults attention with anything related to aviation. For the youngsters out there, the world revolves around other things. Meanwhile, people have hopefully moved on from needing disclaimers that driving recklessly isn’t exactly smart.
But… What About The Accidents???
There were two deadly accidents involving the aircraft which continue to spawn hundreds of comments on social media about the aircraft’s alleged unsafe characteristics. Like clockwork, the ICON A5 is named as the aircraft Roy Halladay flew last and that two of ICON’s employees got killed in one. Both accidents were investigated and showed NO sign of having been caused by anything related to the aircraft. A sad fact of aviation is that accidents happen. They happen with cars, motorcycles, boats and – you guessed it – airplanes. Another sad fact is that people have managed to kill themselves with paperclips. That doesn’t make paperclips deadly weapons. I don’t fill ill about people buying and owning paperclips, either! But Icon’s Marketing strategy is different from status quo and heaven help me, I know a thing or two about things which are departing from doctrine getting rejected.
Despite the fact that I have not flown the aircraft myself for a “pilot report” of sorts, I have had a standing invite to come fly the ICON A5 and write my completely open microphone piece on in, just about anytime I can manage to finance a week-long business trip to California. Takers? Have suitcase, will travel!
The (G)olden Days Are History
Mostly gone are the barnstorming days when showing up with any airplane was enough to seriously disrupt peoples otherwise normal life. The good news about Icon is that they are rocking on, refusing to submit to the naysayers. The bad news is that society has changed rapidly over the last few years and nervous Nellies call the cops and emergency crews the second a small airplane shows up in a location not traditionally used by seaplanes. A stark and almost grotesque example for this can be seen with ICON’s recent Gateway Arch appearances and the tremendous failure of our community and advocacy organizations to step up to local zealots, effectively regulating an activity by unfounded concern. Its seems as if our own people prefer to ding Icon, rather than face reality and one of the advocacy groups defends its silence and inaction in open light, for all dues paying members to see. Those pointing the fallacies of the system out are fiercely attacked.
There Is Another Way
We as a collective industry or “community” could as well relax and appreciate the added exposure and interest created for flying seaplanes within the non-flying crowd. Who knows how many other small seaplanes find new owners and how many people now actually think about becoming a seaplane pilot, if it wasn’t for the often declared ill-conceived advertising for the Icon A5.
In my opinion, connecting with boat-shows and other luxury venues is helping to make people with the necessary pocket change aware that there even is such a thing as a seaplane! We all just witnessed that most people won’t realize that any airplane landing on water is a completely normal thing! In my opinion its completely fine if the price-tag for the A5 is out of reach – there are seaplanes available at almost every budget as still, more people are hanging their headsets up than are getting their feet wet. We as a collective community of aviators ought to rethink our stance on ICON (and on Cirrus while we are already at it). Think about it. Comments are welcome via [email protected] – as always!
Jason Baker works as a freelance writer, marketing & advertising consultant and translator. He holds a commercial pilot certificate (SEL/SES/MEL), instrument rating as well as advanced & instrument ground instructor certificates. Jason is the owner & managing editor of Seaplanemagazine.com. For more information about consulting services offered, click on Consulting & Services. Advertising spots for 2019 are being offered now. If your company wishes to appear here in 2019, please get in touch now. Next: Opinion Editorials are always welcome on Seaplanemagazine.com