...Predicting The Short-Term Future...

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At its annual forecast conference last week, the FAA unveiled its outlook for the next decade of general aviation and compiled its statistics for 2002-2003. Overall, the FAA expects a strong recovery to continue through 2005, with moderate sustained growth thereafter. The GA fleet will expand at a rate of 1.3 percent a year, adding more than 35,000 airplanes by 2015, the FAA said. The aging of the GA fleet is one factor preventing the growth of utilization rates for single-engine piston aircraft. Usage declines in aircraft more than 25 years old, the FAA says, and with each passing year a greater percentage of the single-engine fleet falls into that category. All categories of pilots continue to grow, the FAA says. About 58.7 percent of pilots today are instrument-rated, and that should grow to 61.6 percent by 2016. The turboprop/turbojet fleet, the fastest-growing segment, will increase 3.7 percent annually. GA hours flown are forecast to increase from 26.7 million today to 32.7 million in 2015, an average annual growth rate of 1.7 percent, with turbos sprinting ahead at a growth rate of 4.6 percent. Activity in the new Light-Sport Aircraft category is expected to total 315,000 hours by 2015, with some 20,800 new sport pilots in the air. The FAA also forecast a revival of the suborbital space market, spurred by an emerging public space-travel market and the competition for the X PRIZE.