For years, one company has led the fleet of light aircraft. Regular readers of this website already know who it is: Zenith Aircraft. The company may be at the back of the alphabet but they are first in deliveries*.
This particular year, however, the company based in Mexico, Missouri celebrates its 30th anniversary. Beginning in 1992, Sebastien Heintz has paired popular designs with hard work to build his company to occupy the number one slot as seen in our Tableau Public page. In fact, the race to the number one spot is not particularly close. Sebastien is joined in the effort by longtime associate Roger Dubbert, a modest number of employees, and a large and growing flock of very happy customers.
In the light aircraft space, including both LSA and Sport Pilot kits**, it’s a fairly even contest between fully-built aircraft (around half of which are imported) and kit-built aircraft. Some years one is larger than the other as this article shows. Yet through the industry’s ups and downs, Zenith remains on top.
Zenith’s success benefits from decades of design work by Sebastien’s father, Chris Heintz. The latter passed away in 2021 but had been honored many times for his numerous accomplishments in creating enjoyable, affordable aircraft. His sons are all involved in the aviation business. Any entrepreneur will admit that is quite unusual.
Along the way, Sebastien moved from Canada, where Mathieu still operates Zenair Ltd., in a cooperative arrangement with Sebastien’s Zenith Aircraft. At his U.S. address, Sebastien has stuck to kits only while Zenair works with others to supply either fully built aircraft to residents of countries where that is permitted or to professional build centers such as described in this video.
Happy Birthday, Zenith!
Not a twentysomething anymore, Zenith has developed into a market leader as a business enterprise as well as in the production of their kits. One of the many signs that the light aviation industry has grown up is the growing age of some companies.
This year Zenith Aircraft, the operation in Mexico, Missouri, celebrates its 30th anniversary. Something to be proud of, the company will pull out the stops for this year’s Homecoming. What’s that?
If you are not (yet) among the Zenith faithful, you may not know about “Homecoming.” Allow me to give a brief description below. You can see lots of images on the company’s social media accounts (links at end).
How Does Zenith Succeed? — Becoming the market leader in a field full of passionate, talented people is no easy feat. How do Sebastien, Roger, and team do it? I’m sure I don’t know all their tricks but here’s a few ways I’ve seem them use to build their lead. Why are such things important?
When you buy an airplane kit, the relationship is not unlike marriage. You will need to interact with this company and their staff and this needs to work well. Even more so for a kit than a fully-built aircraft, you want to have faith in the company’s team. The designs of Zenith are well proven, created years ago by Dad Chris, so the quality comes in the kit production and the assembly directions, plus knowledgeable tech support. If these three elements — design, quality, support — are expertly provided, your airplane should turn out well and your enjoyment of building process will be greater.
Listen to the Customer — All the good companies I know in this arena are good listeners. The best companies not only listen but act on commonly heard points by changing the design, the fabrication techniques, or the instruction set. I’ve often asked builders what they thought of these aspects of their aircraft purchase. Zenith always earns great reviews.
Use Social Media Effectively — Marketing is not a strong point for most companies in the light aircraft business. They may have a great airplane that you could like, but you may never hear of it. That’s a shame when they have good products. Zenith does not share this problem. The company is active in various mediums (magazines, websites like this one, video, airshows, seminars) but they pay great attention to social media. This is a proven method of reaching pilots who might enjoy your aircraft.
Host Workshops at the Factory and at Airshows — Not only did Zenith have a great blast of publicity when a CH-750 was the subject aircraft for EAA’s One-Week Wonder (video about building an entire kit during a single airshow), the central USA company also hosts regular events at their base in Mexico Memorial Airport.
At their company plus at certain airshows, Zenith offers “our hands-on kit workshops, held about once a month,” Sebastien noted. If you want to improve your technique and learn the tricks experts use to make the process go well, workshops are quite intimate and can focus on your needs.
Zenith’s top weekend is surely their well-attended September Homecoming & Fly-In, “which has become a relatively big event,” Sebastien observed. This Homecoming will celebrate Zenith’s 30th anniversary. Earlier Homecomings have attracted crowds and lots of airplanes. Everyone loves the STOL competition. They have workshops or tours for those considering their first kit. Vendors answer questions. And, of course, pilots eat well throughout the weekend and enjoy mixing with their fellow Zenith enthusiasts.
Offer a Broad Line of Proven Models — In end all that stuff above, while important, even vital, is not what gets pilots excited. Ultimately for kit-builders it is either the craftsmanship involved with assembling your own airplane or flying the result, or both. If an airplane doesn’t interest a pilot, it doesn’t matter how well the company performs. Fortunately for Sebastien and team, they are rich in airplane models to offer. Designer Chris Heintz was active and prolific over a long career and his boys sell the best of his designs today.
Get more from Zenith directly by clicking on their right column banner or using this link for Zenith Aircraft, which will take you to a page with all our Zenith articles and video.
Zenith produces affordable aircraft (while understanding that everyone’s definition of “affordable” is different from everyone else). Airframe prices start at $17,500 (STOL CH-701 model) and go to $32,300 (STOL Ch-750 Super Duty model). Engine, paint, avionics, and interior will more than double this amount — the engine alone may do that — but several builders have told me they got in the air for $55-70,000. I don’t know about you but I judge that affordable.
Zenith’s present line-up (May 2022) includes the following:
- Zenith CH 650 (details for all airplanes is found on their home page)
- STOL CH 701
- STOL CH 750
- Zenith CH750 Cruzer
- STOL CH 750 Super Duty
* What we can track are aircraft registrations, not deliveries. Aircraft take time to complete and some are not finished. However, what Zenith delivers and how many aircraft get registered will become very close over time, missing only those aircraft that never get N-numbers.
** “Sport Pilot kits” are kit-built aircraft that can be flown by a pilot exercising the privileges of the Sport Pilot certificate (even if the pilot may do so with a Private certificate or higher). To differentiate, Sport Pilot kit refers to a 51%-rule kit, where an Experimental LSA (ELSA) “kit” does not require 51% assembly by the owner. Within Tableau Public, ELSA are separated from 51%-rule kits and are counted with factory-built SLSA.