GA Report Card
Lots of good reports have come out of the Sebring LSA show in January, and the recent Sun&Fun show at Lakeland, Florida. The weather was good, crowds exceeded forecasts, and even the national economy is showing signs of life. So how is general aviation doing in general? About eighteen months ago, I wrote a piece that highlighted many worrisome trends; maybe it’s time for a reassessment.
Well, the GA accident rates have not improved noticeably, with the experimental and LSA pilots leading the trend; even the ASF (Air Safety Foundation) Nall Report acknowledges the continuing lack of progress. The increasing use of glass panel cockpit devices has not resulted in any positive reduction in the accident rates, as the NTSB and even ASF reports have identified. That man-machine interaction is a difficult balancing act, with the distraction of color moving map displays predominating. With pilots causing 70% of the GA accidents, we have not yet isolated the root causes as inadequate proficiency and low FAA standards.
Fuel prices have continued to rise unabated, from about $5.00 per gallon 100LL to now $7.00 in some places. Hanger and ramp vacancies have increased as well; I guess the planes are going somewhere else. Avionics prices continue to rise; just check the Trade-A-Plane ads for the vast selection of cockpit toys that are in demand. Interestingly, a check of avionics installers show backlogged workload and even increasing labor rates, so pilots must be finding the money somewhere. This will surely help our economy.
Legacy aircraft prices continue to fall, and more aircraft are for sale than ever before, so now’s the time to buy if you can. LSA prices continue to be outrageous compared to the promises made, and the capability delivered. Sales have been steady but slow, and with the advent of the AOPA/EAA joint petition to the FAA to extend no-medical exam flying privileges to pilots of “selected” legacy certified aircraft, this might accelerate LSA sales to a snail’s pace. I’m sure the LSA community is thrilled.
The pilot community continues to shrink by about 5,000 a month due to aging, disabilities, medical problems, costs, and just plain deaths. Student pilot starts have not been able to compensate for these losses, and even AOPA acknowledges a 70% dropout rate for student pilots. They have identified several reasons for this, and now the remediation process needs to be implemented by the FBO schools and CFI communities.
But even the FAA does not have a solid process to delete certified pilots from their roles due to deaths; the actual number of annual medical certificates, or the number of pilots with non-paper pilot certificates, is a more accurate number to size the active pilot population (and add 10,000 for the LSA crowd). Ask for that number.
Finally, many airports appear to be capturing FAA AIP (Airport Improvement Program) funding because I see newly paved runways, taxiways, and ramps; I see freshly painted markings and new signage at many fields and better lighting and self-service fueling stations. Oshkosh this year should be a good indicator of how the aviation community is fairing; you might make plans to attend and judge for yourself.
Common Cause: Flying is a passion, not easily measured by economic or safety metrics. Many of us will find a way to keep flying no matter how hard it gets economically. We have already sold the first born child, and are currently burning our way through the college education funds for the second child. The flying community will just get a lot smaller, with lots of wannabes looking through the fences. If you see it different, let me know, soon.
Mike Sullivan CFI, CSMEL, KHEF