How to develop a startup jet: Just do it, then crow about it

 - January 28, 2008, 6:27 AM

The “affordable jet” has become synonymous with the flying car. It is always two to three years away from becoming reality. It has been for the last 20 years, and judging from what we are seeing, it may continue to be a dream for the next 20 years. Having invested in several aircraft companies, I certainly don’t claim to be an authority, but I do offer the following advice:

Keep your mouth shut. The Segway is probably one of the most innovative products this decade. Did you hear anyone boast about it before it was launched? No. They did the smart thing by keeping their mouths shut, burying their heads in their work and announcing a finished product. Unfortunately, in the aviation industry, people tend not only to make announcements, but they go even further and promise weight, range, speed, altitude, climb performance and so on. My advice is this: keep your mouth shut, certify the aircraft and only then announce it to the world. Some assert that announcing the product generates sales. However, these sales are counterproductive because the contracts are generally non-binding and/or refundable (and certainly non-bankable), and they almost always get the manufacturer in trouble because the selling price ends up being below their cost. Some claim it helps keep the competition out. It doesn’t. If anything, it fuels the competition because all aviation people have one of two problems–the “if they can do it, I can do it better” syndrome, or the “they have no idea what they are doing, but I do” mentality. So if you insist on using the Microsoft approach of announcing a product to deter competition, then at least wait until you have the cash, the credibility or the track record of Microsoft. That is what Cessna did with the Mustang. The last thing this industry needs is yet another black eye from a delayed or failed project–so please keep your mouth shut until you have a flying, living, breathing, certified (or certifiable) product.

Don’t waste money on marketing. Every single penny you have should go toward certification. Why would anyone want to market a $1 million jet? Everyone knows they will sell as fast as you can manufacture them (or faster). So don’t sponsor anything, don’t buy a page of advertising, don’t even print a brochure. Just build it and they will come.

Don’t knock the competition. For some reason, everyone you talk to who is working on a $1 million jet has a reason why his/her jet is better than the other guy’s jet. If you want to take cheap shots, at least have something to show for it. Until your aircraft is certified, your license to criticize is hereby revoked.

Consolidate. If you were to add up all the money spent on developing all the affordable jets offered thus far, it would exceed half a billion dollars. This is sunk cost, mostly with nothing to show for it. Had all these resources been pooled together, the market would already have an affordable jet on its hands.

The effort is exponential. When you have one child, you have a certain workload. When you have two, the work does not double, it increases exponentially. The same applies to airplanes. Certifying an aircraft is difficult, time consuming and expensive. Certifying an airplane and an engine simultaneously is close to impossible. Doable, but not advisable.