The Turbo Renegade gets more power.
By Mary F. Silitch
GENERAL AVIATION airplanes no longer can be sold the way General Motors sells cars, the way Cessna and Piper used to mass-market airplanes in the good old days of the 1970s aviation boom. Too many things have changed since then, and the whole infrastructure necessary to support sales at those levels is nearly gone. The low- interest easy money, reasonable insurance, investment tax credit and cheap fuel are all gone, along with advertising agencies and salesman whipping up enthusiasm. Even most of the dealers are gone, too, though their signs are still fading in the sun at hundreds of local air- ports.
Piper, under the direction of new owner Stuart Millar, has made a resounding rebound in the piston-engine field, but before Stuart Millar there was Armand Rivard.
President, chief executive officer and owner of Lake Aircraft, Rivard was one of the first to realize that a new book was being written in the aviation business. "We've made money every year since I bought the company in 1979," Rivard says, and since 1979 marks the beginning of the present decline in the aviation business, one begins to feel he might be privy to some marketing secrets.
Rivard obviously is pleased to be in the airplane business. His whole family is involved and his personal touch and style can be seen at the company's manufacturing plant in Sanford, Maine, and corporate offices in Laconia, New Hampshire, and in the branch offices at Kissimmee, Florida, and Renton, Washington. One of the nicer things about being in the amphibian business seems to be that the airplanes operate in attractive areas. New Hampshire in the summer, Florida in the winter and Washington in between. Why not?
"We moved to Florida in 1980 because Florida has the largest number of Lakes (aircraft), and the water and weather suit our sales and training needs. We opened the Renton facility for much the same reasons: The northwest has the second highest concentration of our air- planes."
Rivard isn't revealing his business secrets, but in addition to the smaller size, there are a number of obvious differences between Lake's style of operation and other manufacturers' operations. For one thing, the product doesn't stagnate. In the II years that Rivard has owned the company, the airplane has been improved a little almost every year, and a lot in some years. The four-cylinder Lake Buccaneer and its much-modified descendants finally gave way to the six-cylinder Renegades in 1983, and now the 200-hp, four-cylinder model (200 EP) is available only on special order. Today's airplane bears little resemblance to the original Colonial Skimmer from which it derived, or even the pre-Rivard Buccaneer.
The Renegade was a new airplane, flying on a new type certificate. The six- passenger airplane is about 3 feet longer than the old LA-4-200 (18 inches of the addition are in the cockpit), with a 250- hp, six-cylinder Lycoming 10-540 mounted on the pylon. In addition to the engine and fuselage, the rudder, elevators and hull design also were new, and the large rear access door that had been an option became standard. In 1988, the gross was raised 90 pounds, and in 1989, the horsepower of the turbocharged version was raised to 270.
Small manufacturers have problems related to their size that large ones don't, and one of the main ones is credible sup- port of the product once it is in the field. Prospects are loathe to part with upward of a quarter million dollars for a product that they feel may be orphaned by its manufacturer, so Lake has overcompensated in other ways.
Three maintenance facilities are attached to its sales facilities. Here any and all maintenance can be accomplished, from annuals to overhauls and rebuilds. The shop rate is $36 an hour, about on a par with everybody else these days, but the hours are always shorter when the mechanics know the airplane as well as Lake's A&Ps do. Annuals are flat-rated at $575 for four-cylinder airplanes, $655 for Renegades, not bad for a complex single. "An annual on a well-maintained Renegade averages between $900-$1000, and the average Buccaneer $1200-$1500, because they're older," Rivard says. Work is done quickly, because the mechanics are familiar with the airplane and the parts are on hand.
Speaking of parts, Lake's parts credibility is in the capable hands of Hans Vosteen, product support manager, a legend in the water-flying business. On our last visit to Laconia, his office was being moved to the factory in Sanford. In addition to being a parts guru, he operates and dominates what is the equivalent of a Lake owner's club.
Vosteen has been with Lake since 197 1. "When Lake was in Indiana, I used to ferry an occasional tail dragger for the company. One day, about 1962, or so, I was stuck somewhere and had to fly a Colonial Skimmer home. That started me flying the airplanes." In 1971, he went to work for Lake full time, writing the parts book between 1972 and 1979. At present, he is the only interpreter of it, which seems a good form of job security.
The resale value of low-production airplanes always has been a little irregular, so like a Wall Street underwriter, Lake is active in maintaining the after- market for its airplanes. The company buys and takes in trade a number of used Lake airplanes, which are refurbished and sold. These activities, in addition to being profitable on their own, allow the company to maintain or control the used Lake market, to the benefit of Lake owners. Used airplanes are sold with a fresh annual, and the mandatory 25-hour training course.
Insurance is a special problem with water aircraft. A slight miscalculation that might do no more than scratch the paint on a runway landing can result in heavy damage on the water. Amphibians also risk gear-up landings on land, in which the damage is generally insignificant, and gear-down landings on the water, which are invariably catastrophic, usually totaling the airplane.
Aware of the damping effect that unbelievably large insurance premiums have on amphibian sales, Rivard attacked the insurance problem with a very thorough training program for Lake buyers, in an attempt to keep those owners from making expensive mistakes. The factory sponsored training is tied in with an insurance program; premiums reflect the decreased risk inherent in insuring a well-trained pilot. The training program has worked: Lakes in the program are now insured from
2 ½% - 6% of hull value, a great reduction of prior rates, and an improvement over rates generally available for other amphibians.