Wild Nordics

Adventures, Passions, and Surviving Finland

The Classic Incumbent vs. A Modern Challenger – Which one would you buy?

By on 09/04/2023

I recently watched John Armstrong’s informative video (embedded below) comparing a Cessna 172 with a Diamond DA40 NG, and I wanted to share my own observations and thoughts on these two aircraft. I got my Private Pilot’s License (PPL) in Finland on the DA40 NG before transitioning to Cessna 172s. Almost all of my hours since finishing the PPL have been in Cessna 172s but it’s not because the Diamond isn’t an incredible aircraft.

Hourly Rental rates and Availability kill the DA40 Appeal

After getting my license, the school I trained with wanted €338 wet an hour to rent the plane. On top of that, it was a scheduling nightmare as the plane was continually used for school flights. I found a club located at the same airport in Helsinki that had a DA40 but the situation wasn’t much better – Their hourly rate was a more reasonable €180, but there were 300 members chasing the one aircraft.

Out of desperation for better options I found Flying Club an hour north of Helsinki in a small town called Hyvinkää. They had 4 older Cessna aircraft from the 80s in good condition. Aircraft availability was good, even at short notice. Wet rates for the 172s back then was €150 wet and given that 100LL was selling at near €10 a gallon, it was a very good deal. Clubs like this one usually own their Aircraft outright which helps to keep the rates low – hourly rates comprise of engine hours, fuel, insurance, annual repairs and season cards.

There are a lot of Cessna 172 aircraft around. Since the first model was launched in 1956, Cessna have sold in excess of 44,000 units, making it the most sold aircraft in history, beating even the Boeing 737 by a factor of 4. Diamond since first launching the DA40 in 1997 has sold 2,200 aircraft. In General Aviation terms that is very respectable but still a long shot from the commercial success of Cessna.

The Diamond DA40 NG is a Superior aircraft

As John subtly pointed out in the video, the Diamond DA40 NG is a superior aircraft in almost every regard: Speed, Handling, Fuel efficiency, Safety, Environmentally friendliness (aka no lead). This is achievable with computer aided design and modern engine technology which wasn’t around when the Cessna 172 was designed in 1956.

Over regulation of General Aviation and the lack of economies of scale have kept Cessna banging out the same design for better or worse. People are still buying new Cessna Skyhawks, in fact around 200 a year. Diamond is only producing around that number collectively across all of its models.

Cessna still has a tight grip on the training market, especially in the USA where 100LL is cheap. According to 2022 sales figures, demand for Cessna 172s is holding strong. So why is it that people still opting for pop riveted Cessna Aircraft when they could have a composite Diamond DA40 for the same money?

Cessna 172s are a well known Commodity

Flight schools like Cessna 172s because they are reliable and have a reputation for being able to tolerate abuse from students. The aluminum frame is easy to inspect and repair compared to composite materials. Many believe the jury is still out on the long term durability of composite material in a harsh training environment.

It is hard to argue about the simplicity of traditional Lycoming and Continental engines. Diamond’s sophisticated Turbocharged FADEC engine requires more expertise and and specialist equipment that your local A&P Mechanic may not have. There may also be some expensive repairs looming around the corner. The DA40’s gearbox is a timed component and at least one of the DA40s I know required an unexpected new Turbo which wasn’t cheap. Speaking of parts, the network for Cessna bits and pieces has a few more players than the limited one stop shop of Diamond.

At least up here in Finland people like the Cessna aircraft for their high wing. It makes for easier winter operations where snow piles are high. I never had any problems with the Diamond but the low wing required a bit more vigilance.

Which one would I buy?

If I was buying a new certified aircraft for hauling around the family it would hands down be a DA40 NG (or DA50 RG if I could afford it). I love them for theirs speed, simplicity to fly and sexy looks. But until then I will keep flying around the trusty Cessna 172s. What about you?

Enjoy the video from John at Lifestyle Aviation if you haven’t watched it already. (23 min)

To learn more about the DA40 also check out this article by legendary Aviation journalist Paul Bertorelli.