Roy Halladay crash latest blemish for Icon aircraft brand
Four weeks ago Roy Halladay tweeted a picture, snapped from the window of an aircraft, of the sun hovering above a blanket of fluffy white clouds. In the caption, he explains his gleeful disbelief at finally acquiring the small plane he piloted while taking the photos.
“What do clouds feel like?” he wrote. “I didn’t know either until I got my new Icon A5. I’m getting bruises from constantly pinching myself.”
The resounding shout-out from the retired baseball star helped boost a beleaguered brand, which had weathered negative headlines but contacted media last month when Halladay received his plane.
Icon had hoped its amphibious A5 aircraft would democratize piloting when the first model took flight in 2008. But as the plane moved closer to mass production, complications mounted — delays, price hikes, layoffs.
Then this past May, an A5 carrying two of the company’s top engineers crashed in a California canyon, killing both men and subjecting Icon to fresh scrutiny.
And on Tuesday came Halladay, killed when his A5 went down in the Gulf of Mexico.
“We were devastated to learn ... Halladay died today in an accident involving an ICON A5,” an Icon rep wrote in a statement emailed to the Star. “We have gotten to know Roy and his family in recent months, and he was a great advocate and friend of ours.”
While the cause of Tuesday’s crash is under investigation, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board ascribed the May fatalities to pilot error. Aviation expert Robert Goyer is sure the A5 is a safe aircraft, but isn’t quite as confident the company will come back from Halladay’s death.
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“It’s very possibly going to be a blow from which the company will have difficulty recovering,” said Goyer, VP and editor-in-chief of Pilot & Plane magazine. “(But) there has been zero evidence that there’s anything wrong with the plane.”
Icon’s A5 is a two-seat plane that can take off and land both on water and on dry land. It doesn’t float on pontoons, as amphibious planes commonly do. Instead, the A5’s fuselage functions like a boat’s hull when water-borne.
Categorized as a Light Sport Aircraft (LSA), the A5 is part of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s smallest class of planes, with a maximum takeoff weight of 1,510 pounds. By comparison, a two-seat Cessna can weigh 1,672.
While federal regulations don’t require pre-market flight testing for LSAs, training for would-be pilots is mandatory.
Still, Icon hoped full-scale production of its A5 would make recreational piloting accessible to everyone who could afford the aircraft, which retailed for $189,000 (U.S.) when it first hit the market. A Men’s Journal story calls the A5 “The Private Plane You Can Park in Your Driveway,” and executives and pilots compare flying the plane to driving a sports car or riding a motorcycle.
“It is strictly designed to be the ultimate flying toy,” wrote a reviewer in Flying magazine. “A personal watercraft with wings.”
But drama often percolated behind the scenes.
While the company took orders and deposits that ranged from $2,000 to $5,000, delivering the product proved troublesome. According to published reports, Icon had planned to distribute 175 aircraft in 2016, but shipped just 20 — all while laying off employees.
Last week, Icon announced another round of price increases on its signature plane. The base model would now cost $269,000, up from $207,000, while the fully-loaded version would jump to $389,000 from $257,000.
None of those setbacks hampered Icon’s online marketing campaign. Their YouTube page includes a 52-second video of musician Jimmy Buffett piloting the A5, along with a clip of John Krakow, who was piloting the A5 involved in the fatal crash in May.
A video of Halladay taking delivery of his A5 was removed Tuesday afternoon.