FAA Forecast Shows Paradoxical Trends

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In its annual forecast, the FAA believes a 9.1-percent increase in piston-single shipments for 2006 is evidence that "sales in the low-end of the market" have been stimulated by a selection of new aircraft models (presumably light sport aircraft), though general aviation activity overall declined in 2006. "GA operations at combined FAA and contract towers dropped 3.0 percent in 2006, with declines in both itinerant and local operations." IFR GA flying also fell by 2.3 percent. Meanwhile, the active general aviation fleet is estimated to have increased 0.9 percent to 226,422, with associated flight hours up 2.1 percent even as the pool of student pilots decreased by 2.7 percent. Estimates for GA fuel consumption in 2006 show a rise for the first time since 2003. Changes were made to the FAA's information collection in 2005 and year-to-year changes may be affected by that, but the FAA believes methodological improvements make current estimates superior to past-year estimates. Changes aside, the numbers indicate a consecutive year decline in the student pilot population and the FAA believes attention is needed to address the drop.