FAA Forecasts Delayed But Steady GA Growth
The FAA today released its 2008 aerospace forecast, which is less optimistic of the near-term growth potential for general aviation than the previous forecast. The report is the focus of the 33rd annual FAA Aviation Forecast Conference scheduled for Monday and Tuesday in Washington, D.C. Industry panelists cited rising fuel prices, airspace and airport congestion, and a slowing economy as the primary risk factors affecting growth in both GA and the airlines. Nan Shellabarger, FAA director of aviation policy and plans, said that total GA flight hours are expected to remain relatively flat over the next year, with annual growth increasing from 2.1 percent to 3 percent beginning in 2009. The forecast anticipates 5 percent fewer annual GA flight hours in 2025 than last year’s forecast, Shellabarger said, though very light jets are expected to eventually account for one-sixth of total GA hours. VLJ deliveries in 2007 (143 aircraft) fell far short of the FAA’s 2006 forecast of 350 aircraft, the report states, though the FAA still expects 400-500 VLJs to enter service each year for a total of 8,145 aircraft by 2025. VLJs are also expected to contribute to a 2.1 percent per year growth in IFR operations. On the other end of the GA spectrum, the forecast anticipates 14,700 light sport aircraft will be in service by 2025, with 20,600 new sport pilots certificated during the forecast period. The number of active GA pilots (excluding air transport pilots) is projected to increase by 61,000 per year to reach 507,930 pilots by the end of the forecast period. “There’s still a big tailwind for corporate aviation,” said acting FAA administrator Robert Sturgell in his opening remarks. But airline concerns dominated the day’s discussions on ATC congestion, environmental and financing issues.
Eclipse Aviation CEO Vern Raburn echoed a comment made by fellow panelist Steve Brown, senior vice president of operations for the National Business Aviation Association, who noted that “there is massive capacity available” at the nation’s more than 5,000 GA airports. “When I landed at Manassas last night, there were zero aircraft in the pattern,” Raburn said, referring to the Manassas Regional Airport in Virginia, which serves as a reliever for Washington Dulles International. “But I could hear airplanes trying to get into Dulles.” Jens Hennig, vice president of operations for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, noted that the FAA’s projected growth in VLJs depends heavily on the success of the air taxi market. “There are a lot of question marks,” he said.