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A year of surprisesA year of surprises

An airplane purchase agreement like no other, another airplane kept a secret until ready for the market, and a personal jet years in the making made a maiden flight at last. A venerable brand turned out new models and named a new leader, while another name you know rolled out a brand-new single-engine turboprop made to fill a gap between Caravan and King Air. The general aviation industry kept everyone on their toes in 2016.

Aerial photography of AOPA Editor at Large, Dave Hirschman, flying the new X Cub near Yakima. Yakima McAllister Field (YKM) Yakima, WA USA

Depositors and prospective buyers were taken aback when Icon Aircraft unveiled the terms under which it would sell its long-awaited, amphibious light sport aircraft. The company had crafted an unprecedented collection of terms that limited many owner rights, including the right to sue the company, a clause that could be bought out of the deal, though other restrictions could not.

Reaction was swift, and much of it negative.

With buyers balking and the company scaling back production plans, the company announced in May that a new contract was in the works, along with layoffs, and a scaled-back production timetable. Having previously planned to deliver 175 aircraft in 2016, the goal was trimmed to 20 aircraft. Layoffs included 60 full-time jobs and 90 part-time and contract positions, leaving a workforce of 160. Founder Kirk Hawkins said the company production schedule had been “overly aggressive,” and “we are working hard to find the balance between high-rate production and our exacting standards for quality, performance, and affordability.”

Icon's May reset came with news the company would open regional flight centers, starting with its headquarters location in Vacaville, California, near San Francisco. A second Icon Flight Center opened in November in Tampa, Florida, and the company plans to open another in Texas in early 2017. Icon announced in September it would open a facility to manufacture composite parts in Tijuana, Mexico, where it planned to begin production in November using Icon tools, and under the company’s supervision and standards. In the same breath, the company announced it would no longer source parts from Cirrus Aircraft in Duluth, Minnesota.

Cirrus, meanwhile, was in a more celebratory mood when October brought the dawn of a new era in general aviation, with the arrival of a long-sought FAA type certificate for the SF50 Vision Jet. Delayed by the recession of 2008, the pressurized turbofan instantly became a natural step up for owners and pilots of the Cirrus fleet, composed of 6,500 piston airplanes. The company already has 600 orders, and plans to produce an airplane a week in 2017. The first customer delivery was made with much fanfare Dec. 19.

The following month, a competing single-engine jet design emerged from obscurity. The Stratos 714 aims to fly higher and faster than the Vision Jet, though it has a long way to go. Originally planned for 2010 delivery, Stratos Aircraft of Redmond, Oregon, logged the prototype’s first flight Nov. 21, and that 10-minute mission marks the start of a long journey. The company is seeking investors.

Probably the most dramatic of the year’s surprises came in June, when the XCub arrived on the scene, fully tested and FAA certified before most of the world even had a clue it was around. A secretive six-year development effort by CubCrafters of Yakima, Washington, produced the $297,500 XCub, which AOPA Editor at Large Dave Hirschman got a chance to fly before the word got out. The XCub made an impression: “The XCub is exhilarating to fly and aesthetically appealing inside and out,” Hirschman wrote. “The clever layout of the panel, passenger seating, and stowage compartments show it was built by people who know their customers and the features they value.”

Mooney International Corp. took a more conventional approach with the new Ovation Ultra, which made its first flight in June, with typical fanfare and sporting various improvements and upgrades the company had announced in February. Mooney, which continues to produce aircraft in Texas, also named a new CEO, Vivek Saxena, a veteran aerospace executive who spent most of his career at Pratt & Whitney.

We expect an announcement that Mooney’s new Ovation Ultra and Acclaim models have been certified any day now. That would not be a surprise.

Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Editor-Web Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: Aviation Industry, Technology

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