ICON: The People's Plane
While commercial aviation experiences numerous stresses such as increasing fuel costs and shrinking profit, a few airplane manufacturers are trying to take advantage of Federal Aviation Administration regulations that create room for small, light, recreational aircraft.
The 2004 FAA ruling established a new Light Sport Aircraft category in the hopes of luring former pilots back into the air and attracting new enthusiasts previously discouraged by cost and time commitments. This new class, as well as an easier-to-obtain Sport Pilot License, simplifies access to the skies for private individuals. Piloting experience was pared down to its essentials so that certification now requires just 20 hours of flight training and costs between $3,000 and $4,500, about half the time and cost of the previous, easiest-to-obtain license. Planes in the new category are strictly restricted to two occupants, must weigh less than about 1,300 pounds, must fly below 10,000 feet, and cannot fly faster than 120 knots, or approximately 140 miles per hour.
On June 12, ICON Aircraft, a privately held startup based in Los Angeles, bet that ultra light recreational aircraft will revolutionize private aviation and unveiled a sleek new plane named the A5, a small, futuristic aircraft, which features folding wings that tuck neatly under a slim rear tail and is about as long as two compact cars parked back-to-back, with a wing span of 34 feet. When it finally rolls onto runways sometime in 2010, the A5 will cost about $139,000. The A5 is one of the first planes explicitly designed to cater to a freshly minted market that experts estimate could be worth as much as $2 billion annually. Since the regulation changes, ICON Aircraft's sole purpose has been to bring the freedom, fun, and adventure of flying to all who have dreamed of flight and believes that consumer-focused sport aircraft can do for recreational flying what personal watercraft did for boating.
Founded in 2005, ICON includes founder & CEO Kirk Hawkins, an accomplished engineer and graduate of Stanford Business School, along with a top team of engineers, designers, investors, and advisors in Southern California, where there is the largest concentration of aerospace and automobile design resources in the world. A former U.S. Air Force pilot, Hawkins began working on his idea of the tiny plane in 2004 as a student at Stanford. He pictured a new kind of aircraft company that models itself after successful, design-savvy successes such as Apple or BMW who have found the right balance between engineering and consumer-oriented design. The product of that vision, the A5, is Hawkins' bid to transform an industry dominated by vastly complex commercial aircraft designed specifically for transportation. To make the aircraft broadly appealing, Rather than modeling commercial planes with their complex cockpits, ICON prefers to follow in Apple's footsteps and favors simplicity to attract average consumers. ICON's sport aircraft are not only designed to deliver an amazing and safe flying experience, but also to inspire us the way great sports cars do.
The current economy poses challenges to ICON's success due dampened discretionary spending, creating greater competition for consumers' leisure dollars. The A5 will be pitched as a luxury product at a time when consumers are sharply cutting back. Steadily rising fuel prices aren't likely to help, either. The A5's engine, which burns either jet fuel or regular gasoline, earns about 18 miles to the gallon and has a range of about 300 miles. Hawkins acknowledges that the timing of the launch could be more optimal. Still, with its relatively affordable price tag and sports car looks, the A5 is likely to turn heads. "In the end," says Hawkins, "we just want to make the coolest consumer airplane in the world."
Click here to view a slide show of the ICON Aircraft A5 airplane. You can see a video on the A5 here:
Sources: BusinessWeek and IconAircraft.com