We are excited to have a guest post this week from Ian Twombly, Editor of AOPA Flight Training Magazine. Ian has an extensive background in flight training and has contributed to several industry blogs including the AOPA Pilot Blog and Flight Training Blog.
The team at Redbird Flight Simulations has an unusual talent for seeing gaps in the general
aviation marketplace. It started with the company’s flagship FMX full-motion simulator, a
low-cost, high-fidelity training platform that is causing the flight training industry to rethink the way it does business. Redbird’s new project, the Redhawk, has the same potential.
The Redhawk is more or less a refurbished Cessna 172, the world’s most popular training
aircraft. Redbird hangs a new turbo diesel engine on the front, and then completely reworks the panel, interior, paint, windows, plastic, and so on. What emerges is what looks and flies exactly like a factory new 172, but with more advanced engine technology. And of course, the price is more than $100,000 less.
This is the gap in the market that Redbird is trying to exploit. Flight schools and students love
the 172. They also love new technology and the aesthetics of a new airplane. What no one likes is the massive price tag. Redbird is giving the training market exactly what they’ve been asking for—a well-equipped airplane for a cheaper price.
There will no doubt be schools that buy the airplane at Redbird’s announced price of $249,000
“or less.” The “or less” depending on economics of scale, the flight school’s ability to provide a
donor airframe, and a few other factors. Those schools that choose to go this route will be getting a capable airplane at a good price. Continental’s Centurion diesel is what gets most of the aviation industry talking, but what really interests me and a lot of flight school owners is the leasing model.
Quality flight schools have a few big challenges to growth, with access to capital being the
primary obstacle. Redbird has teamed up with Brown Aviation Lease to offer what many hope
will be a proven idea offered in a revolutionary new model, in the same manner as the FMX
(motion simulation was proven, the price and capability were all new). By offering the airplane
for a per-hour rate, the flight school can have a predictable margin without the often unstable
relationship a local leaseback partner offers. That the airplane can be taken off the flight line
when demand slides, or more can be brought on as it picks up is exactly the type of flexibility
most schools need. The seasonal nature of training in many parts of the country demand it.
Whether or not all this actually comes to fruition is only a guess at this point. But given
Redbird’s history of success, it’s a safe bet the Redhawk will make quite an impact on the flight training market.
– Ian J. Twombly