The AERO ef­fect

Pilot - - PREFLIGHT -

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

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