The AERO effect
When a man is tired of AERO Friedrichshafen, he is tired of general aviation. Possibly channelling the expression of some more famous writer, this is – as far as I, and tens of thousands of visitors to the great annual international aviation exhibition would say – simply a statement of the truth.
You can slink over to the cluster of exhibition halls close to the shore of Lake Constance feeling tired and jaded, yet come away with a head spinning with all things aviation and a spring in your step, so inspiring are the sights to be seen and conversations to be had at Messe Friedrichshafen. There is an energy – a sense of people asking why not – in Continental ultralight, glider and light aircraft circles that infuses the blood of visitors to AERO from Britain.
With honourable exceptions like TLAC, we don’t make many light aircraft in the UK and our authorities seem bent on curbing the use of those we do have. By contrast, the Austrians, Czechs, Germans, Italians, Poles and Slovenians – in fact, the whole alphabet of European countries, from tiny ones to the biggest, appears to be shelling out new designs by the cartload.
These things are not produced in penny numbers either. Funk – the most prolific ultralight aircraft manufacturer you have never heard of – has made thousands of aircraft in Germany and Poland. You might remember the Belgian-made, Rotax-engined ultralight Stampe SV4 biplane replica we took a ‘First Look’ at in the September issue last year. Nicely engineered though it was, I don’t think I was alone in wondering how few people would want a non-aerobatic replica when you might still find an admittedly expensiveto-run original on the register. Well, the answer given on the manufacturer’s stand at AERO was they've sold no fewer than sixty-four. Ultralight Concept only flew the prototype SV4-RS in December 2016. When did a British company last progress from first flight to sixty-odd aircraft sold in two years?
And what is it about Belgium in particular? As well as Lambert Aircraft –, one company well known to Pilot readers – in the space of what seems like no time at all, Sonoca has popped up with an EASA
certified version of the South African Sling 2 and now, it appears, is weeks away from getting its glass-panel instrument training model signed off.
Interestingly, Sonoca’s facilities are in part the legacy of Avions Fairey, the Belgianbased subsidiary of Fairey Aviation. At home, Fairey – once one of the great names in the aircraft industry – famously saw its Great West Aerodrome falsely requisitioned under wartime provisions to become Heathrow Airport and was then as a company progressively merged out existence.
This was the story of so many companies that used to make light aircraft. There’s no chance of Fairey’s legacy – or even that of Avro, de Havilland, Handley Page, Miles and so many others we could name – playing any part in a British GA revival.
Considering this as the Pilot team came home via that old Great West Aerodrome on a joyless BA flight (why did they go over to card-payment catering, slowing the service to a snail’s pace?) it was hard to avoid feeling depression after being lifted by the AERO effect. There’s so little manufacturing activity in the UK and so much regulation, more of it building up as notices stream in from the CAA.
If Constance, the base of operations for Zeppelin and Dornier (now Airbus), remains a glittering lake, back here the prospect is of a dead pool. You and I, dear readers, are going to have to keep working hard to make sure we don’t drown in it.
Philip Whiteman, Editor