Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Price of Belite 254 too high?

I received an email from a friend, it had the following quote embedded within it:

"I was shocked and saddened by one plane that did a re-appearance. The Kitfox Lite is availabable again as a kit or flyaway. If you want a Part 103 fly away from them with the new carbon fiber wing it is $63,000!!!!!! What has happened to the logic in the market? Part 103 is supposed to be an entry level."

I'm sorry to hear of the negative response to the pricepoint, so I wanted to try and explain our point of view. (Also, we are not the Kitfox Lite, we are the Belite! :-)

First of all, we were offering bolt together airplane kits for $25K, including brand new engine, at the show. This price point resonated with many people. For another $1K, we would upgrade the engine from the 28HP to the 45HP. The only major task left for the purchaser is covering with fabric, and a good fast person can get that done in one week. (We quoted 250 hours of time, FWIW.) For that price, the fuselage and all metal are completely welded, and the wing is fully assembled.

Carbon fiber is AMAZING, and also ridiculously strong and light. With those benefits, there is a high price point to be paid, so we do have a considerable upcharge to move to carbon fiber. Commercial sites such as sell carbon fiber tubing, suitable for spars, for around $150 per foot. (Their lengths are too short to be usable, we developed our own patent pending process for making spars in appropriate lengths.) It takes 48 feet of carbon fiber spars to make two wings. We charge an additional $7K for the carbon fiber upgrade at this time, although we may have to raise that price.

The airplane in question was loaded beyond belief -- carbon fiber everywhere, big engine, powerfin prop, full panel with built in transceiver, and transponder, electrical system, fuel gauge, much more. About the only thing missing was an autopilot (and we're talking to TruTrak about that!) It will soon also have a BRS parachute. The price point for that particular plane is aimed at people who don't have time to build, and want the very finest part 103 airplane possible. That is our carbon fiber airplane. We make the best part feature laden part 103 airplane in the market, period.

What I discovered at the show is that part 103 serves many purposes:

1) It is a low cost category, for those who want to build at the lowest possible cost. We service this market by providing kits including our 'classic' kit which is wood and aluminum, not carbon fiber. At this time, carbon fiber is not a low cost product, as I explained earlier.

2) It is a fun level category, for those who simply want to fly without hassle of medical, registration, or license. All of our aircraft variations fit this market.

3) It is the only alternative for those who have been denied a medical, yet still want to fly a real airplane. This class of customer is not looking for a part 103 aircraft which doesn't look or feel like a 'real' airplane. They want our airplane, which flies like an old fashioned taildragger. They love it! Many of these potential customers are interested in getting all of the aircraft add-ons that they can get, for instance, the full panel with transponder, the parachute, the better propeller, better landing gear, hydraulic brakes -- all things that add hundreds to thousands of dollars at a time.

4) It is a great area for technology exploration, which I am doing. Part 103 allows just about everything, within a very simple set of rules. We have accomplished in 6 months what takes years at other aircraft companies.

I have seen many companies make pricing errors on their products -- I believe that the aircraft industry suffers disproportionately from a stronger desire to fly than to ensure that jobs are created and companies are preserved. I tend to err towards the latter, for which I make no apology.

Even so, our $25K bolt together kit seems like a pretty good deal. If we substantially reduced the welding, we could substantially reduce the price. Perhaps I should do that, and I will consider it.

Yes, we did get feedback from others on lower cost kits. If I was in the market, I would carefully evaluate the additional work remaining on all of these before making a decision. I saw great products from many companies!

One of the other interesting pieces of feedback that I received was on people who had bought partial kits, such as tail feathers or a wing kit, from other companies. When they went back to get their next kit, the company was out of business. Hmmm. That would sure destroy the feeling of a bargain!

In 2008, I remember hearing about a lot of the same types of conversation of pricepoints in the LSA (light sport) market. Even as people complained about price, one dealer reported that 90% of the customer base was buying airplanes with most options.

I am very interested in your feedback! Please feel free to offer comments or email me at