WHEN you venture into the world of airplane ownership and evaluate different aircraft models for purchase, it quickly becomes clear that each offers various combinations of strengths and weaknesses. Some have outstanding payload at the expense of increased fuel burn. Some are capable of accessing very short runways at the expense of cruise speed. But very few offer the unique blend of qualities of the Cessna Skycatcher.
For the price of limited useful load and expensive, difficult-to-find replacement parts, the Skycatcher provides an airframe and engine that are less than 10 years old with reasonably sporty performance and modern avionics. Here, we explore these trade-offs and evaluate the ownership experience.
The Skycatcher story is an interesting footnote in general aviation history. Introduced in 2007 as a modern, low-cost airplane for training and personal use that adhered to the then-new light-sport aircraft category, it attracted more than 1,000 orders before the first delivery took place in 2009.
With an ever-aging fleet of 150s and 152s, private individuals and flight schools alike were attracted to the concept of an updated two-seat Cessna with more cabin space, modernized avionics, proven product support and a target price of less than $100,000.
At that time, the market appeared to be ripe for such an aircraft, and the 162 appeared to be poised to fill the void perfectly. And because it was certified as an LSA, it could be flown by sport pilots without a medical certificate. But for a number of reasons, it is considered to have been a failure in the general aviation marketplace.
By most accounts, this was primarily because of two closely related factors: failure to meet the original target price and the decision to assemble the aircraft in China. While Textron Aviation (then Cessna) thought the latter would enable them to sell more airplanes by tapping into the Asian market, this never happened, and the existing US market was forced to absorb costs that it would have otherwise never incurred. Engines, for example, had to be shipped from the US manufacturer to China for installation before the complete airplanes could then be shipped back to the US.
In order to maintain acceptable profit margins while such logistical expenses added up, Cessna was forced to raise the Skycatcher’s price accordingly, from an original target of $100,000 to a final price of $149,000. Buyers were soured by both the price increase as well as the decision to assemble the aircraft in China, and orders were canceled in droves. Ultimately, Cessna ended up building and selling 275 airplanes before canceling the program entirely.
As of this writing, nine Skycatchers were listed for sale in various places in the US. All but one was built in 2011. The average airframe and engine time of those listed was approximately 850 hours, and asking prices ranged from $39,500 to $69,950, with an average price of $53,950.
Among the examples listed for sale, only two had been upgraded with ADS-B. This is a significant concern when shopping for a 162 because the only ADS-B solution that has been approved by Textron Aviation at this time—the Garmin GDL 82—is an expensive one.
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