Although the Greek philosopher Plato never flew a GA airplane, he explained why the Triple R Affordable Aircraft program was launched.
About 2,400 years ago, Plato authored the old saying, "Necessity is the mother of invention."
How right he was then - and now. The free market seems to always find a way to meet unmet needs, inventing necessities like white out, iPods, and affordable, rebuilt airplanes when market conditions demand action and invention by entrepreneurs, scientists, tinkerers or engineers.
Tom Bliss, publisher of AVweb and Chairman of the Triple R Affordable Aircraft program has spent the past two years considering the direction GA has taken - and developed the thinking behind Triple R - and the necessity of rebuilding the GA fleet.
Since joining AVweb in late 2011, Bliss met with GA leaders in avionics, engines, insurance, finance, apps, flight training, leading pilot associations and related markets.
He learned that about 80 percent of sales for these companies (and for some avionics companies, 100 percent) come from the retrofit marketplace.
"With that retrofit stat in mind, in mid 2012, I met with our management team at AVweb and told them I was convinced that we had to refocus on the retrofit industry. The reasons were simple: the cost of new airplanes had jumped the shark - leaving 99 percent of potential owner pilots out of the market. Unfortunately, our industry, including the GA press and most owner associations were ignoring that economic reality," Bliss says.
Bliss points out that in 2013, less than one pilot in a thousand took delivery of a new, personal GA piston airplane in the US. But thousands of owners spend from $10,000 to $100,000 or more for partial rebuilds every year. Bliss estimates that the refurb segment of GA (including engines, avionics, interiors, paint, tires, components and firewall forward accessories) is well over $1.2 Billion vs. about $400,000 million for new piston airplanes annually.
"Out of economic need, our industry has rebuilt airplanes though out its history. There are few statistics to show how many complete rebuilds are completed each year but it is safe to say there are hundreds if not thousands of GA aircraft that are re-equipped with new engines and avionics, paint and interiors every year - and the value of those rebuilds far exceeds the value of the 750 new piston airplanes built and delivered in the US in 2013", he says.
But until recent months, the rebuild industry has gone largely unnoticed by the GA media because there was no concerted effort to unite these independent businesses.
"Rebuilders tend to be great at what they do but not so great when it comes to marketing and PR. Their story is compelling and their products in most cases are outstanding," Bliss says.
Triple R is changing all of that--and changing the way our industry thinks about rebuilt airplanes.
"Until now, no one has established the necessary set of standards that establish what a "rebuilt" airplane should be and exactly who is qualified to be a rebuilder. That lack of certainty has confounded appraisers, insurance companies and bankers--not to mention potential owners.
The Triple R program requires rebuilders to qualify for Triple R status by virtue of their shop capabilities, talent pool, operating history, financial stability, FAA records and industry reputation," he says.
Once qualified, Triple R rebuilders must agree to follow each manufacturer's maintenance manuals and best practices for tear down and installation. In essence, rebuilders follow OEM guidelines to evaluate and replace all parts that do not meet minimum standards.
The Triple R rebuild process also requires that rebuilders document and upload to our website each step of the rebuild process with digital photography, logbook scans, serial numbers for all avionics, the engine and components.
Now that the cost of new airplanes has increased dramatically, it is simply out of the question to buy new for most owners and existing airplanes have not been modernized in a systematic, accountable way.
"I think everyone in our industry has been waiting for someone to point out the obvious - that owning a new GA airplane is simply unattainable for 99 percent of all pilots. But we can unlock the capabilities of existing airplanes by rebuilding, restoring and re-equipping them with all new engines, avionics, systems, paint and interiors at about half the cost of new," he says.
"GA is like no other industry on earth. Our products last 50 years or more and new versions perform about the same at those in 1964. Unfortunately, certified, entry level GA airplanes also cost about the same as a new Lamborghini." "Until there are breakthroughs in certification, aerodynamics and propulsion that leap ahead of where we are today--new-performing, rebuilt airplanes offer our industry a real boost--at less than half the cost of new in many cases", he says.
Bliss says he thinks Triple R can create new, lower cost entry points at every level of general aviation by rebuilding the legacy fleet and supporting Cessna, Beech, Piper and Mooney models for many years to come.
In the next few months, rebuilders will be bringing the first triple R airplanes to market. Based on the nearly 2,000 requests for more information received so far, Triple R should become a major force in the marketplace very soon.