Taking GA into the personal jet age

As chief executive of One Aviation, Alan Klapmeier is an evangelist for the very light jet. His task is to convince would-be buyers that his products are a viable, cost-effective progression of general aviation.

Have you always loved aviation?

An old story is that I cried a lot as an infant. A lot! One of the only ways my mother could stop me from crying was by taking me to the airport. After that there were model airplanes, then hanging out at the DeKalb, Illinois municipal airport, followed by being a Civil Air Patrol cadet and learning to fly there. From the early high school days I told people I wanted to start an airplane company.

What was your first job?

In my mind my first real job was starting Cirrus, designing airplanes, while also working at my alma mater, Ripon College in Wisconsin. Starting Cirrus also meant working on, and learning from, other aircraft designs such as rebuilding a wrecked 1960 Champion 7G-C, building a Glasair kit and helping maintain other general aviation [GA] aircraft. My particular interest was learning from the experience, with my goal to have an airplane company. From the Cirrus days on, my view has been: “How do we get more performance, more safety, more comfort, less cost, and fewer barriers to entry?” Most aviation people believe that as the performance goes up, the complexity must go up. I disagree.

Why did you leave Cirrus?

The short version would be a disagreement with the Cirrus board on how to create value. Or, perhaps more broadly, on the definition of value. After I left Cirrus I partnered with Ed Underwood, a former Cirrus board member, to look at other general aviation projects. Meeting the principals of Farnborough Aircraft, we became convinced that the Kestrel could be a revolutionary GA product.

What distinguishes One Aviation from its competitors?

I believe what sets our products apart from others is that we have a relatively small team that is dedicated to producing great products for the customer. I fly these airplanes. This is how I get around. That’s different from a company where the chief executive is not intimately involved with the product, but is only checking the balance sheet.

How can GA grow?

People say the first barrier to entry is cost. The second is that nobody needs an airplane. I disagree with both. General aviation happens to be this ideal combination of flexibility and performance. Leave when you want. Get where you want. Broadly speaking, it’s not about cost, it’s value. The perception is that it’s risky and complicated, and those are things people want to avoid. I know people who feel that way about computers. The barrier to entry is: “I don’t want to look stupid in front of somebody when I can’t turn my computer on.” That is what sets our company apart – we are trying to focus on what makes our product easier to operate.

Will new markets like air taxis boost very light jet orders?

Because it makes sense, it will happen some day. The problem is that it hasn’t happened yet. Some of the attempts to do it ended up with financial black eyes, which delays the process. But it borders on the being almost inevitable. As an industry we need to do a better job of communicating the value and utility of GA. I started saying a long time ago that in order to be successful you have this very small window of opportunity. You have to be dumb enough to start and smart enough to finish – which really boils down to perseverance. If we as an industry do that, instead of taking the easy road, this can be a very, very, large industry, and an even more important part of the economy and society.

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