GA's Future: The European Perspective

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Wherever I travel these days—and lately, that's a lot—the subject of GA's future comes up. Or more accurately, does it even have one? This was raised consistently in my swing through Europe last week. I was asked several times what my opinion of the LSA market was, of the certified segment, of engine and avionics technology. I usually turn this around and toss the ball back to the questioner. I'm not running from one corner of the world to another to spout my opinions—that's what this blog is for—but to seek the views of others.

The short answer is that I see plenty of evidence that there's a future for light aircraft general aviation, just not one that involves a large influx of new pilots or high-volume manufacturing of airframes. If that ever comes back, it won't be for years. There's robust growth in Asia, India and South America, but nothing like the golden age of light airplanes in the mid- to late- 1970s or perhaps even what we saw in the mid-2000s. We're in the midst of a global economic sea change whose dimensions are impossible to gauge at this distance—it's like looking at a football game through a telescope. You can read the numbers on the jerseys, but the big picture eludes.

Still, the innovation goes on. At Diamond, CEO Christian Dries admitted that on one hand, even he has lost the passion for fun flying. He doesn't see strong demand ahead and is as likely to play golf as to go flying. But on the other hand, the guy is a mile-a-minute idea factory and he's showing no signs of letting up. If he's bearish on the future, he's not acting that way. There were all sorts of projects going on at Diamond and I don't get the sense that these are going to let up.

LSA is a constant topic of query and throughout my travels, no one even remotely suggested that as a market segment, it has been successful. Nor did anyone seem to think the next big thing—say Rotax's 912 iS engine intro—is going to change that much. Diamond's Michael Feinig says the company didn't get into LSA for several reasons, not the least of which is lack of volume. He thinks the airframes could be sold profitably for under $100,000, but only in volumes approaching 500 a year. No one is doing that in LSA. No one is going to for quite some time, if ever. Dries fumes about regulatory authorities establishing arbitrary weight limits for LSAs that he thinks makes them so unsafe he's not interested in entering the market. Laudably, he thinks a manufacturer has a responsibility to build safety into an airframe and the Diamond aircraft have the safety record to prove it.

Yet still there are success stories. Tiny little Pipistrel in Slovenia, for example, isn't necessarily that tiny. It's doing multiple dozens of airplanes in three distinct model lines and expanding into the certified world, chancy though that may be. The company has gained a foothold in what might best be called the hyper-efficiency niche. As gasoline prices continue to rise, this idea will resonate strongly with certain buyers. Although it may never yield large numbers, it will make a tidy growth business. Some pilots may continue to complain about fuel prices—mostly in the U.S. where cheap gasoline is thought to be a birthright—while others will just buy these efficient little airplanes and get on with business.

Everyone I spoke to about LSA agrees that there are too many players and too few buyers and that a shakeout is inevitable. I don't see signs of the latter. What I do see is companies doing some things right while, seemingly, doing what they can to not sell airplanes. For instance, my story on the Rotax 912 iS mentioned (mistakenly) that Pipistrel was the launch customer. In fact, it was one of a dozen test-bed companies. A Pipistrel competitor demanded that we remove the reference from the story when what they should have done was to simply invite us to come see their airplanes rather than convince us not to mention the other guy's. This sort of cheap sniping is a standard feature of the LSA landscape. In some ways, it needs to grow up.

This can be a challenge for us in covering many of the LSA companies and even some of the bigger firms. It took some doing to get Rotax to agree to the video interviews and photography we needed to shape our coverage. Some companies either don't return phone calls and e-mails or they work so hard at resisting having their story told that it's almost as if they want to remain obscure. With 100 or more companies plying the LSA segment, none with big promotional budgets, all of them need all the help they can get in getting exposure for their products. We reach out to them in mutual interest, but often don't get responses. To those companies, I'd say this: Taja Boscarol at Pipistrel will eat your lunch. The company bent over backwards to accommodate us and, don't ya know, their story shines. (So did Diamond, by the way. Christian Dries nearly killed us insisting we see everything. We finally collapsed from information overload.)

So where to from here? Overall, based on what I saw on our European tour, I am optimistic. I see innovation. I see forward thinking that presumes a future market. Having said this, I think the little LSA companies are likely to stay little. I don't see the growth mechanism. The Rotax 912 iS may or may not stimulate sales. It's going to be more expensive and even a 20-percent fuel savings may not offset that in buyers' minds. We'll see. Still, I'm glad they built the engine.

You'll be reading a lot about China, India and South America. Based on what I've heard, these will be steady players, but won't ignite explosive growth in light aircraft. China's domestic market, served by its own domestic industries, may be the next big thing.

On the certified side, the demographic bubble is deflating. Pilots 55 and older are reaching the end of their careers and they're not going to be replaced in kind by younger buyers because airplanes are not going to get cheaper, the potential being limited because that demographic lacks buying power. They also have other interests. That means you'll see innovation alright, but it will be more expensive and rarefied. There will be fewer middle-class owners and more wealthy owners at the top of the price pyramid. At the bottom, expect to see more group ownership and club flying arrangements, with not much in between as the U.S. legacy fleet declines.

Europe is already there, really, largely as a result of regulation. In the U.S., the driver will be demographics and income distribution. What's left of the middle class has more important things to worry about than owning an airplane. It's sad that it's going that way, but things evolve and nothing is forever. As a pilot, I wish it weren't so, but as a journalist, I refuse to engage in self-delusion.

So, there's a future all right. It just won't touch as many people as the past has.

Comments (81)

Nice article. I've never understood the negatives of LSA's. I do a lot of flying in my 1947 Aeronca - over 100 hours each year and I see some larger aircraft out there sharing the sky with me but when I see them at the airport it's a rare site to see more than the pilot and one pax. I live near my airport so I see planes coming and going and there really aren't many out there flying on days that would keep me grounded so it can't really be the "lightness" of the airframe argument. Is it the Rotax or is it the price? I guess I can understand both issues there though I don't share them.

I know I can purchase an older Mooney, Barron or Bonanza or even a 182 for the price of a Vans RV12 but I already own an old airframe and engine so I know what it takes to baby them. You can't get much more basic than an Aeronca but they still need constant attention due to age. A new airframe/engine and modern avionics combined with fuel sipping technology is appealing to me and worth the money. Frankly, I'm not sure I could fly the hours I do if I was burning nine gallons or more per hour. The price of the aircraft is a one time sunk cost the ongoing operational costs are what would cut into my fun money. Now, if money was no object, a 195 would be sitting in my hanger.

Posted by: Jay Manor | March 17, 2012 1:46 PM    Report this comment

An yet, Europeans come to the USA to fly. We really, really don't want what to sink to their level of general aviation.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | March 17, 2012 4:27 PM    Report this comment

Mark, I'm fine with the European level of aviation, at least the newer airframe portion of it. Nothing else. They come here to learn due to the cost of training which is driven by many needless regulations imposed on the industry. They don't come here with an intense desire to fly the old crap we have on the flight line.

Posted by: Jay Manor | March 17, 2012 6:21 PM    Report this comment

"They don't come here with an intense desire to fly the old crap we have on the flight line."

Of course not, they fly the SR-22's and R-44's instead. I see it every day.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | March 17, 2012 8:14 PM    Report this comment

Smart. Have to love the strength of the Euro, well, at least from their perspective. :)

Posted by: Jay Manor | March 17, 2012 8:26 PM    Report this comment

The world is "digitizing", and the price of petrofuels is skyrocketing. The convergence of these two data can only mean that the business of physically transporting humans is approaching the end of its useful life. This is the unstoppable paragigm shift. Add to this the fact that aviation is classically a tool used by individuals pursuing wealth in expanding economies, and one can reasonably conclude the death of personal aviation in the U.S. (AKA: "GA") is upon us.

Posted by: Phil Derosier | March 18, 2012 12:30 PM    Report this comment

...ughhh "paradigm" ... darn this iPad typing ... :-)

Posted by: Phil Derosier | March 18, 2012 12:34 PM    Report this comment

Seer Paul has in my view accurately expanded the aperature of his GA telescope through his European tour and encouraging stories of innovation and committment to aviation from the highlighted companies he visited. I accept both his and Phil Derosier's oracles pointing to the paradigm shift occuring worldwide on so many levels, including digitizing, demographics and income. But I lean toward hoping GA has some form of limited future rather than "the death of personal aviation in the US" - still, I really feel we are facing unprecedented changes globally that no one can prophet accurately.

Paul's trip shows me that here in the States we could use, not just in aviation, but in many challenges a little less "we're No. 1" exceptional hubris and a little more focus on great ideas - whichever country they come from and attempt to work more cooperatively with each other. Some who only turn right may hate this, but the unfortunate irony to boasting our 'exceptionalism' is that the resultant air of self-satisfaction typically leads to complacency in innovation and creativity, which we in GA can ill-afford.

Here's hoping looking to Europe or anywhere for that matter for any solutions and problem-solving in our own GA struggle in the US will be viable and ongoing. Thanks for a wonderful blog, Paul.

Posted by: David Miller | March 18, 2012 4:56 PM    Report this comment

2 megatrends will rule: surface gridlock is ruining aviation's speed advantage. The only remedy is ultra-quiet electric aircraft that are ESTOL and use close-in pocket airports. These, in turn, cannot operate on mass scale unless autonomous--multi-tasking pilots will be replaced with computers that let everybody fly. Timescale? 10 years out, at least.

Posted by: Brien Seeley | March 18, 2012 11:27 PM    Report this comment

Have flown in Europe, in Germany, Sweden and Norway and Denmark. The scandinavian places are the best in the lot, but even there its not great anymore! Fuel Prices and landing fees, Medical fees (yes right!) etc etc. Normal GA is really destroyed and the numbers of AIrplanes are very small counting population, AND THE NUMBERS OF FLIGHTS ARE EVEN MUCH LESS! Its all out-outright awful! and Too expensive even for rich guys. Europe is the worst example! We dont want any part of it. ASK the Europeans that come here to fly! ASK them!, there is nothing good over there! Look at Italy= Airports are Boneyards everywhere! Nobody flies anymore...Who Could afford those new planes that make it cheaper to fly? What does a family father care for a two seater? Who cares for single seaters? I want my folks along in my old Cessna, just as all the others out there that have no use for expensive, small "Innovations" we cant afford to buy. The fleet of old planes is what keeps GA alive, if we loose them due to fuel-problems or Government-BS, we are DONE FOR.
The New planes are too expensive to keep this scale of GA alive.

Posted by: Lars Gleitsmann | March 19, 2012 2:04 AM    Report this comment

In Europe, there is an ideologically motivated campaign against personal transport. The private airplane is the easiest target, the SUV is next, the normal car follows. Except for the politically connected nomenklatura, obviously, because the business jet population is not decreasing. Regulation is the weapon of choice of these campaigners. The European Parlament is the pefect battleground for them, where you have nations like Finland with some

Posted by: ROBERT ZIEGLER | March 19, 2012 3:32 AM    Report this comment

In my opinion and I repeat my opinion, flying and mass transport is about to become history. The only reason it has grown to it present day numbers is due to cheap flights affordable to the masses. Fuel costs will continue to rise as this is the political tools of the oil producing countries and at the moment they seem to hold the balance of what little is left. South Africa held about 30 years oil reserves until Mr Mandala became president and then he was forced by those same countries to sell off the reserves.

I know many have put their faith in electrical aircraft but methinks that will not take off there is no where the same amount of power in such small container as petroleum. I do know that oil companies have over the last sixty years bought up every water device to run engines ever designed and have locked them in very deep safes to ensure they do not see the light of day.

Sorry I'm not very optimistic today even though we have a great sunny day a good day to fly but the aircraft I use is out of action. There are two reasons why GA flying in UK is dying and they are: bad weather and lack of airports. Airports are being bought up by developers and turned into high density housing and those that are not the owners are turning them into commercial airports where GA is not welcome.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | March 19, 2012 5:47 AM    Report this comment

Great article, Paul. You covered it all. We can all opine, commiserate and bitch but reality is reality and you did a good job of covering it. Demographics and economics and over-regulation will continue to be the forces which define where GA -- in all of its flavors -- goes from here.

Worth noting is Diamonds unwillingness to get into light sport machines due to its weight/safety limmitations. If only we could somehow convince the meatheads at the FAA to increase the MGTOW for LSA's AND allow no-medical recreational flying of SE airplanes for higher rated existing pilots, we might buy some time. That said, it's starting to be clear ... aviation as "we" knew it is headed the way of the DoDo bird. Sad. Oh well ... maybe there'll be one FAA person for every pilot ... THAT'll make sense.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | March 19, 2012 5:50 AM    Report this comment

Paul, great article! I think you are 'right on' with your comments related to LSA - especially in the USA. I have heard the same thing at airshows and meetings: To many LSA OEMs and not enough sales. I also wonder when we will starting seeing the real 'market shakeout' with LSA OEMS getting out of the market. It will also be also be interesting to see how all of these 'orphaned' LSAs are going to be supported out in the field.

Posted by: Richard Norris | March 19, 2012 6:04 AM    Report this comment

There can be little question that the goal of those in power is to use administrative law (regulation) as a means of eliminating the ability of individuals to engage in flight. If they attempted to eliminate pilots directly by curtaling flight priveleges, a that would awaken the sleeping giant. They need a more subtle way that assures the victim sleeps through the process. Cost is how the frog gets boiled slowly.

User fees are the nose of the camel. Once you get a single fee inserted into the process of flight, you now have the ability to cripple the whole system with a thousand cuts, eventually, and over time. Once the list of charges becomes more complex than an IFR clearance, pilots will be forced into finding other means of achieving their ends. By inflating cost you gradually reduce the numbers of pilots and their political influence, eventually crippling their ability to get votes. The rest is easily done.

One may want to ask who has anything against the use of aviation by individuals? Look no farther than those who would also restrict your access to a firearm, or any other tool that preserves the ability of an individual to protect freedom. Aviation is a tremendous threat to the ability of government to control its subjects. It allows for the gathering of data and an experience of the world that they would rather reserve only for law enforcement, the military, and of course the one percent, for whom such fees are negligible and handily paid by their exchecquer.

Posted by: FILL CEE | March 19, 2012 6:29 AM    Report this comment

The future is turbine equipment in the hands of the truly wealthy and drones run by agencies for purposes of surveillence and control. The rest of the world will be duped into believing that a simulator is better than reality. To a great extent the current genereation has already bought into the virtual truth and forgotten that meat comes from cattle, not Farmville.

Toothless, hairless, brainless, flightless and believing in ghosts along with an unwavering faith in the need for government control and fees, the next generation will have been neutered before being born and now become ideal subjects for exploitation and control.

This goes way beyond LSA, aviation, aging fleets, the cost of avgas, and user fees. Those are merely symptoms of the underlying malignancy. It has nothing to do with truth, justice, and the American way. We can only hope that the sleeping giant hears the jarring gong of danger before it's too late.


Posted by: FILL CEE | March 19, 2012 6:30 AM    Report this comment

I agree with a lot said here. But for Robert, the Finns hold some 1500 GPLs, 2000 PPLs, 1000 CPLs, 1000 ATPLs and 2000 other licenses, primarily UPLs. We're a population of 5 million, with 100LL costing upwards of 3 euros per liter.

Posted by: TONI KORPPI | March 19, 2012 6:41 AM    Report this comment

Between the TSA building fences, new FAR's making it more difficult for PMA parts suppliers, AvGas under assault, TFR's, and continued pressure to enact "user fees", what would attract the general public to aircraft ownership? What attraction is there when every governing agency has decided not to promote(and in may cases attack) private aviation?

We CAN make airplanes affordable, light airplanes are actually easy. The only thing standing in the way are the alphabets and lawyers (so I guess we're doomed).

Posted by: Mark Fraser | March 19, 2012 8:22 AM    Report this comment

In my opinion, the LSA market is being held back by the limitation of two seats. Yes, most people you see flying are solo or 1-passenger flights, but that doesn't mean that occasionally they will have more passengers. Also, my understanding is that some LSAs are indeed capable of IFR-certified flying, but the general impression if you ask the average pilot is that they are VFR-only aircraft. Like most pilots, I spent a lot of time and money earning the instrument rating in order to use it, and if one equates LSA with VFR-only, it's viewed as a waste of money.

Of course, while many LSAs will cruise at equal-or-faster speeds at a low fuel burn compared to most light singles, there are plenty of singles that easily fly much faster than LSAs. In the case where speed matters, it doesn't matter if you're flying solo or with one passenger if an LSA simply can't make the speed/range required for the flight.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | March 19, 2012 8:31 AM    Report this comment

In regards to government regulations scaring the general public away from aviation, I'm not sure if that's really a valid argument. When you talk to the average non-pilot, he/she assumes we're required to always be talking to people while flying and have no concept of TFRs or FAR regulations.

The problem with TFRs, SFRAs, the DC FRZ, etc isn't necessarily that they exist, but that too many of us scare others with them. Yes, violating them can involve an intercept and potentially losing our certificates, but so can plain reckless flying. I've now flow into the Washington DC FRZ several times (all IFR), and it really isn't as scary a thing as others may claim it to be. Like many things in aviation, it may seem complex and scary at first, until you do it a few times and realize it's not as big a deal as it once seemed.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | March 19, 2012 8:39 AM    Report this comment

We all gave in... It started long ago when the "outlaw" (for federal law) Oregon pilots accepted federal licensing... And now we even have to file an online report when LEAVING the country, no tourist on a commercial airliner has to do that! Compliance is perfect, violations are zero, and the noose closes further. In Soviet Russia you had to have a state "navigator" on board, it is only a question of time until we have to carry some similar federal Gubment goon..

Posted by: ROBERT ZIEGLER | March 19, 2012 8:57 AM    Report this comment

Meeting some of the top brass of the LAA, CAA and EASA I formed the opinion that here were some old men trying to keep their jobs and uphold the old boys club. Most come from the military and seem to think that GA is not something to be encouraged as this could be their undoing as Fill Cee eluded to.

Why does GA not attract more youngsters? Because there is no future or money in it. Why do people go to the golf course? Because of the network connections which will result in money in your pocket. This is the same for car racing horse racing or many of the other sports one can partake.

Lets look at the status quo shall we, we see that most sports are social events many with spectators except flying where in most cases is a very singular event. History was that you had a licence to fly you made money. Present day states if you are not connected to a good network then you don't make money and its money that greases the wheels of commerces. The youngster of today is taught that you cannot indulge in anything that does not make money. So they are no longer interested in flying. The poor cannot afford to fly anyway.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | March 19, 2012 8:59 AM    Report this comment

Bruce S.,
"Present day states if you are not connected to a good network then you don't make money and its money that greases the wheels of commerces."

I think that's true regardless of where you choose to make a living.

You mention auto racing... There are young people trying to make a living from auto racing, and yet the average ROI is no better than making a living from aviation. It's not a cheap hobby, it's time consuming, and it takes a lot of work and sacrifice to make any sort of livable wage from. Sure, you can get your chance and break into the "majors", but that's the minority. So the decline in aviation doesn't seem to be related to cost alone or demographics.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | March 19, 2012 9:07 AM    Report this comment

What the European aviation community has to put up with regarding EU regulatory socialism is staggering, yet they find a way to make flying work. By comparison America is unrestrained. Shame on all of you Americans who sit and bemoan what 'was.' Optimists run this world. Therapy works!

Posted by: Peter Kuhns | March 19, 2012 9:24 AM    Report this comment

The Europeans have no need for personal air travel. With a decent highway system and a truly useful rail system, they can get anywhere they want to go relatively cheaply and efficiently. Flying there, even with USA-level gas prices and regulations, would be far less convienient and still more expensive.
What you do see there (at least my experience in Germany) are mutliple glider fields and microlight fields supporting clubs and youth. One small strip I went to had a very active glider club, with mostly people in their teens and twenties running the days' activities. These clubs frequently have at least some good modern equipment and well-maintained older ships for use by the club. The same place also had microlights and motorgliders operating out of it. I'd love to has a field like that in my area.
General aviation used for transportation rarely (for most people, not all) makes financial or practical sense. Flying for fun and challenge (gliders, microlights, etc.) remain the only viable motivation for participating in aviation for middle-class under 55 people, especially those with families. There are exceptions to this, but they generally prove the rule that aviation is for the wealthy or childless. I myself am selling my C-152 share and changing over to gliders.

Posted by: Scott Thomason | March 19, 2012 9:30 AM    Report this comment

Hi Gary. Yes I agree. What I'm trying to say is “It's not what you know Its who you know” The aviation industry has gone down a one way street, lead by the minority, which is a dead end and no way back.

Every country is ruled by the minority and were put in power by the minority. The majority haven't seen this yet and believe that they are lead by the majority. Ha

Gee I am getting old and crabby. Come on give me my plane back so I can go and get my sanity back :-)

Posted by: Bruce Savage | March 19, 2012 9:42 AM    Report this comment

For the metric-challenged: Finland offers 100LL at 3 euros per liter or about $15 per US gallon. Welcome to the world of the $500 hamburger....coming soon to an airport near you.

Posted by: David MacRae | March 19, 2012 9:44 AM    Report this comment

I only started flying in Belgium three years ago and although I lack lots of background compared to older pilots, I can already notice that the situation is worse than when I started flying !
Real estate companies like to build on those cheap terrains around the smallest airfields and before they paint the inside walls of their houses and plant grass in their garden, the nimby's start yelling about this noisy environment nearby their gardens... C-152's, DA-20, PA-28 ... you know, huge and awfuly noisy machines ;-)
The slightly bigger controlled airports with jet traffic are desperately trying to attract LCC's and progressively trying to disgust light planes from getting there (landing fees, no more slots for training flights). You cannot even stay current for night VFR from mid of spring to mid of fall as the airports are already closed to VFR traffic at 22:00 before the actual sunset.
When I started flying, the fleets in the aeroclubs were not very encouraging as well, I was lucky to learn on my club's unique Diamond DA-20 but besides that, all I saw everywhere else was 20 to 30 years old C-152's, PA-28, skippers, tomahawks.
When I say that I fly just for fun, everyone believes I'm crazy (not just the average joe but pilots as well). I don't regret that I learned flying, but I know that some day, if they invent other taxes, increase the fuel a little bit, require new certifications, ... I'll eventually have to quit flying!

Posted by: Sébastien Desmedt | March 19, 2012 11:11 AM    Report this comment

Unfortunately, I agree both with Paul and the unanimously pessimistic comments posted here. One more twist, though, is that a lot of potential aviation business now is being curtailed because of uncertainty and pessimism about the future of personal aviation. I would normally be overhauling the engines in my twin about now, but the cost of that vs. current prices of fuel, and the sharpening focus on the future is making that move extremely problematic. Nurse them along and read Mike Busch. Underlying this argument is the effect on the supporting industries. As business falls off, those of us left will have fewer resources to keep them flying, and those left will raise their prices, right? Rather depressing.

Posted by: BILL MCCLURE | March 19, 2012 11:22 AM    Report this comment


Thanks for your series of excellent blogs. And welcome home!

Two common threads among critics of recent designs are: 1. the high cost of new articles, and 2. innovation – or the lack of same. I can’t resist pointing out that – at least in the short run – innovation is a cause of higher costs. Any new design will have development costs. Any that’s put into production will have tooling costs. One way or another, all will have certification costs. Unless the manufacturer is Santa Claus, all of those costs have to be recovered. Unless the buyer is Bill Gates, the costs will be amortized over the production of “x” copies. Here’s where the ridiculous meets the sublime. In an environment of widespread innovation, more projects will seek cost-recovery within a largely inelastic marketplace. This means that in order to achieve low costs, you almost certainly need a reduction of the number of innovative projects, and/or a reduction of the frequency of innovation. Both of these approaches are anathema to the marketplace as it exists.

The irony in all of this is that while we can’t afford not to innovate, we – literally – can’t “afford” the cost of innovation. Maybe the emergence of autonomous light aircraft will create enough of a “mass market” for a small handful of designs, such that their creators will be able to amortize their costs and offer real value at an affordable price – whatever that is.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | March 19, 2012 11:39 AM    Report this comment

"I can’t resist pointing out that – at least in the short run – innovation is a cause of higher costs."

That's always been true and more so now that volumes are down. But the manufacturers are driven to innovate as a means of stimulating new sales.

In the meantime, prices creep up. For many years, Cirrus tried to hold the price on its SR22s to around $550K. They are now priced at more than $700K. A big number by anyone's standards.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 19, 2012 12:54 PM    Report this comment

I think Paul's assessment of the situation is correct. The future however, is hard to predict. As usual, many will cry in their beer about the change and the smart guys will figure out how to adapt to the change and profit from it. The aviation landscape in the future will look different for sure, but it may not necessarily be worse; assuming we can keep the government out of it

Posted by: Stephen Phoenix | March 19, 2012 2:37 PM    Report this comment


$700k indeed is a big number for most private wannabe-owners. It comprises an entirely different class of owner-wannabees, from the classic airport-bums of yesteryear. In my opinion, it has created a new group of pilots whose access to high-performance GA machines is based entirely upon wallet (versus logbook) capability.

Sales in the entire GA segment are so slow, that this "Flying 2.0" crowd now arguably comprises half of the light-airplane market; Cirrus' market share is astonishing – for a 10-year-old firm to supplant Cessna et al is shocking. They may not have created or discovered this segment, but they certainly have exploited it (in a positive sense).

We’ve seen two revolutions already: avionics and composite construction. For light GA to experience a renaissance, we need two more: autonomous vehicle technology and significant improvement in powerplant efficiency and cost. I have every expectation that we’ll get low-cost AAV tech – and soon. I’m not so sure about better/cheaper powerplants, but if it happens, it probably won’t come from TCM or Lycoming.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | March 19, 2012 2:49 PM    Report this comment

"Paranoia strikes deep in the heartland….." Paul Simon I think.

In my opinion, Cirrus demonstrated that a certain demographic embraced the idea of personal transportation when the economy was good. Such conditions will return in the future. What is this demographic? There are about 3.7 million households who filed tax returns in 2009 with Adjusted Gross Incomes of $200,000 to $1,000,000. The number will only go up as the economy improves.

I think Cirrus sells more planes per year than the whole LSA market.

These are busy business people. Attend a conference in Idaho or Phoenix. Tour a machine shop in Portland or Redding. Visit a potential distributor in Utah. You get the idea.

But they also enjoy leisure. Take the family skiing at Crested Butte or Cedar City on a 3-day weekend. Take the wife to a weekend in Monterey, Sedona or Napa Valley. Go to your cabin in Big Bear on Friday afternoon and watch the snarled traffic below. Get back for a 9:00 meeting on Monday morning.

I know this doesn't work for a lot of people on this blog, but it does exist. And it is the truly viable part of GA. FBOs don't make much money selling 9 gallons of fuel, but they will with 50 gallons or more.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | March 19, 2012 3:27 PM    Report this comment

Why are so many concerned about the number of OEM's? I don't believe a smaller number will translate into lower prices on aircraft. You may believe that but I won't bet on it. Regarding prices, are aircraft really any more expensive today when compared to household income than they were at anytime in history? I'm not an economist so I would like to know if anyone can opine on this point and back it up with some stats. I suppose I can check the Bureau of Labor statistics to find out on my own but all this talk of flying is causing me to head for the airport to take the Aeronca up.

Posted by: Jay Manor | March 19, 2012 5:59 PM    Report this comment

"Regarding prices, are aircraft really any more expensive today when compared to household income than they were at anytime in history? "

Yes. By quite a large margin.

In 1960, the U.S. median income was $5600 and a new Cessna 172 cost $12,206--little more than twice the income.

In 2010, the median income was $46,366 and a new Cessna 172 cost $301,500 or 6.5 times the income.

Those are pretty big changes.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 19, 2012 6:11 PM    Report this comment

Thanks, Paul and thank God I'm not in the market for a new 172! My next steed looks to be an RV12 which will take both my wife and I from Detroit to Denver with relative speed, comfort and great visibility along with, what will no doubt become my next best friend, a two axis autopilot. All of this, of course, when compared to an Aeronca. Now, when you look at the equation you provided above, many of you will note that a RV12 fits into that price to income ratio of forty plus years ago. Yes, I know it's missing two seats but what a sweet plane.

Posted by: Jay Manor | March 19, 2012 6:46 PM    Report this comment

Paul – do you ever to get to see manufacturer market research on, for example, why people fly, not just why they buy, and what the hurdles are? I realize this can be commercially sensitive information but if some of it could be published, I think it would make fascinating reading. I suspect money is the obvious hurdle, but I bet time and overall commitment required also weigh heavily on the hurdles, not to mention what stage of life the person is in...

A really good case study would have to be Icon Aircraft. LSA rules have allowed them to create a more efficient, quieter and visually appealing airplane, cleverly designed no doubt to appeal to another group with expensive habits…boat owners. I wonder how many of the 500+ order positions they’ve placed are going to existing certified pilots? I suspect that it’s quite a large percentage, but if not, there is a message (read opportunity) in there.

Personally, I think the A5 has the greatest potential of any airplane in the current offering to draw in a new audience to GA, not just LSA. We all know that people typically want to move up…therefore, everyone should be encouraging participation in the LSA/SP world. I've owned a LSA and am happy to say that I had some of the greatest trips with that little airplane. I can imagine how much fun could be had exploring the US in the A5!

Finally, with respect to LSA pricing, I couldn’t afford an upfront purchase but I could support a loan…makes “ownership” a lot easier.

Posted by: Julian O'Dea | March 19, 2012 8:34 PM    Report this comment

'Toothless, hairless, brainless, flightless and believing in ghosts along with an unwavering faith in the need for government control and fees, the next generation will have been neutered before being born and now become ideal subjects for exploitation and control.'

Wow. Philip K. Dick just appeared out of my bookshelf and wants to use that quote for his next novel! I told him I'm only transcribing, contact the author for permission...

Usually I enjoy the doom and gloom of these blogs as they drift away from the subject and inevitably land upon the dirt of pessimism and futility, as they provide a necessary balance to my usually upbeat, cheerful personality. :0)

But substituting a conscious, deliberate conspiracy from the 'Others' against all things that Superman held dear, instead of acknowledging economic, social and individual changes happening rapidly and on a global scale, is just plain deluded, and makes me think even the man of steel himself would be helpless to assuage.

We are losing influence - politically, economically and socially as a group, as fliers and aviation enthusiasts. The natural order of things is that bigger, more powerful entities will mostly, unconsciously, push us out of the way, unless we can find better, newer and more effective ways to stay in the game. Think of them not as devils, but little people tumbling out of clown cars, colorful, maybe interesting, but meaningless to our goals.

Posted by: David Miller | March 20, 2012 12:14 AM    Report this comment

I'll tell you what is really dangerous, much more so than any conspiracy theory - spewing fear-mongering about conspiracies. Realizing that, America, will tell you if you are awake or not.

Posted by: David Miller | March 20, 2012 12:14 AM    Report this comment


I never would deny any entrepreneur his/her right to engage in innovation. The concern regarding the number of participants (manufacturers) in the marketplace is well-placed. If 100 really clever ideas are taken through development, certification, and tooling, the aggregate cost will be 100 times what it would be to take one such idea to the S/N 001 stage. Since it typically takes 10x the proffered budget to get it done, it’s no coincidence that 9/10 of the efforts never reach serial production.

This may sound blasphemous, but go with me for a minute… Create a fraction that puts the entire annual demand for light a/c in the numerator (top number), and puts the count of make/model offerings in the denominator (bottom number). Do the same thing for automobiles. Contrast the two fractions. There is WAY too much variety in the marketplace, to permit ANY of the players to achieve any meaningful economies of scale of the order that would be needed to make some “standard” offering “affordable” to enough potential buyers, that it would expand their pool.

In my opinion, the same is true at the higher end of the market (bizjets). But their higher margins enable that market to offer far more variety than it needs. And the barriers-to-entry at that level naturally limit the size of the herd (of manufacturers).

It will be interesting to see what happens after the Chinese come to market with everything from LSAs to airliners.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | March 20, 2012 6:27 AM    Report this comment

"There is WAY too much variety in the marketplace, to permit ANY of the players to achieve any meaningful economies of scale of the order that would be needed to make some “standard” offering “affordable” to enough potential buyers, that it would expand their pool."

Which is another way of saying there can be too much competition and that's a bad thing. The question I am most frequently asked is: Is this or that company for real? If I sign over a $130,000 check, will they be around to support the airplane?

This doubt and confusion doesn't stimulate sales and, in fact, encourages fence sitting. There may be latent demand out there, but with some many choices, a significant portion of buyers are just waiting for the market to clarify.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 20, 2012 7:39 AM    Report this comment

"Too much variety, too much competition" no, not really, as messy and inefficient as it may be, it is the normal cycle of an emerging industry. Pretty much the same thing happenned with autos, aircraft and computers. At one time there was a car manufacturer on every street corner, same with airplanes in the 1920s and any number of other new industries. In the end the companies and designs best suited to the market will prevail. It isn't an efficient process and some really good designs won't make it but the alternative would be "central planning" and we all know how that worked out for the USSR.

Another problem is the LSA industry is artificially constrained based on "no medical required" and the gov't mandated minimalist aircraft. Should the third class medical be dropped for private pilots, what would that do to the LSA industry? Could the industry survive if the gross weight were upped to include the thousands of Cessna 150/152s?

Posted by: Richard Montague | March 20, 2012 8:59 AM    Report this comment


Aircraft manufacturing is not an emerging industry - it's as old as automobile manufacturing. I'm not advocating central planning - heaven forbid. I am saying that, for the size of its marketplace, the GA manufacturing industry offers thousands of times as much variety as does the automobile industry. Everybody likes variety and "choice," but in the case of aircraft, the cost of all of the V/C is... high prices, high-percentage of failures, and - as Paul has pointed out - indecision bred of uncertainty.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | March 20, 2012 12:06 PM    Report this comment

From your reporting on aircraft manufacturing, do you have any insight into why production costs have so outpaced inflation? Is it mostly unit volume?

To put the 1960 medial income into perspective, the inflation adjusted equivalent 2010 income would be $41,254 (based on the BLS calculator). So median wages have slighlty outpaced inflation, while the cost of a simple C172 clearly exceeded inflation by a large margin.

Posted by: DON HUDDLER | March 20, 2012 12:20 PM    Report this comment

"Is it mostly unit volume?"

It seems to be, in my estimation. Someone at Cessna sent me--unofficially--his own data tracking the prices of Cessnas against the inflation curve. Both curves were a good match until about 1981. That's two years after the big nosedive of 1978 and 1979.

With sharply reduced volume, what Cessna appears to have done was to simply raise its prices pretty sharply to remain profitable. I know it reduced overhead, but you can only do so much of that.

And just about half-decade since, Cessna price increases have outpaced inflation. This is true of other manufacturers as well. For instance, a 1960 Mooney sold for $16,900, but a 2008 model--the last year--sold for $474,000. More capable airplane, but still only four places.

Products liability insurance may have a little to do with it, but I'm not sure how much.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 20, 2012 1:21 PM    Report this comment

I still don't believe that a shake up in the OEM's will reduce pricing. Perhaps it's the cynic in me but when kit manufacturers need to charge 60k to 75k for their products you can count on another 40k plus to have one delivered ready to fly.

Posted by: Jay Manor | March 20, 2012 7:22 PM    Report this comment

To me, it is really sad that my son will not be able put his kids in the Mooney and blast off for the beach for the day which I did with my children. About all he will be able to afford to fly is the Quicksilver GT500 I fly now. The demographics not withstanding, I can't help but think that the situation could have been different if it were not for government meddling in the market.

Posted by: DANA NICKERSON | March 20, 2012 9:15 PM    Report this comment

What, GA in Europe is not dead? Isn't that what our media has been claiming for years? Hardly, otherwise why are half of all LSAs in the US from Europe? "Low fuel costs a birthright?" Wait a minute - high fuel prices in Europe are largely the result of high taxes on a global commodity. The base price for crude and gasoline is the same in Europe and the US, blame their very generous (some would say ruinous) social welfare programs and the US having paid for most of their defense since WWII.
Compare also the price of AUTOGAS at European GA airports to gasoline paid at the pump and you'll see the differential is less than Avgas in the US to pump gas. Europeans are used to higher prices for all fuel and budget accordingly. Glad you learned that European GA is not dead. There will be plenty of evidence at the AERO show in April in Germany, my favorite of all GA shows for the breadth of new innovation shown. BTW - At Pipistrel, the CEO is IVO BOSCAROL, not "Taja Bocarol"

Posted by: Kent Misegades | March 21, 2012 8:32 AM    Report this comment

I fear that I can see our current position on the arc of general aviation very clearly. My grandfather flew GA, my dad still does. They used it for work and fun as do I. They both had a large community of people of similar ages involved with GA flying who owned at least part of an airplane.
I bought at an airplane at 25. Over 12 years of owning it I have come across few people close to my age that own. When I look around I am typically about half the age of the “typical” GA pilot/owner.
On the post about the 200k to 1 million demographic that wants to be here, there and everywhere in a day or weekend – I have used my airplane like that. I also still feel like it is pure magic to be able to just go out and fly. In addition to funding, many things need to intersect in to make it worth owning an aircraft. The probabilities of these coming together are less likely for all of the reasons discussed. Can’t fight all of them and fixing one or two won’t sustain the industry.
I now find it difficult to justify my continued aircraft ownership. If I am on the fence, I wonder what that means for the time that “mainstream” GA as we know it has left. We will still need small aircraft to train pilots to work as pilots, and there will always be some percentage that have the financial wherewithal to buy an airplane, but who is going to buy all of those legacy airplanes (being produced now) in the next 15 years when my father’s generation is no longer involved?

Posted by: MARK JENSEN | March 21, 2012 8:47 AM    Report this comment

I'm a pessimist, but you guys get me down!

Paul's point about manufacturer sniping is at the heart of the problem. We all see the lack of volume causing price issues The manufacturers have not figured out how to create their own customers so they claw for share.

We need more pilots to fight the political battles, and to buy more airplanes. We need better schools to market for more students of the GA type and to get them all the way through.

The rest is secondary except safety. Safety is like oxygen. We have to have it, but increasing it isnt something old people worry about. They worry about eating. We need to worry about eating. Worry about what you know you can affect. Recruitment.

The manufacturers need to get involved in schools. Those schools need to be partisan about shunning planes of manufacturers who don't play along. If your not helping get pilots into schools then you aren't a good aviation company and deserve it when no one will train or perform service for your pilots.

Posted by: Eric Warren | March 21, 2012 9:01 AM    Report this comment

Mark J.,
You pretty well sum up my current situation. My grandfather flew GA and owned two planes (not at the same time, though) back around the 60s (I think) on a modest middle-class income. I'm currently in a flying club where the average age of the 40-some-odd members is around 50 (nearly twice my age - I'm actually the youngest member in the club). Fortunately I have the income and finances that I'm in the process of entering a 4-way airplane partnership, but I'm by far the exception for my age group.

And that, I think, it part of the decline in aviation. Why would someone in their 20s or 30s want to join a group of mostly middle-to-late-aged people, when they could do hundreds of other things with their own age group. Is this the death spiral to GA?

Posted by: Gary Baluha | March 21, 2012 9:07 AM    Report this comment

Reality is that if you look at Europe, it proves conclusively that innovation does not cut costs nor increase flying hours. We need to look at that outcome and then decide a different (and better) path to promote and grow general aviation.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | March 21, 2012 9:47 AM    Report this comment

Actually, Kent, if you had bothered to read the blog series, you would note that I identified Ivo in the Pipistrel piece. This blog is about marcomm response or lack there of. Taya handles that for Pipistrel and that was the point of the comment.

Missing s noted and fixed.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 21, 2012 10:16 AM    Report this comment

I think Paul is right. GA will survive but in reduced #'s for the foreseeable future. Personally, I plan to keep flying my 30 year old twin and enjoy the less crowded skies and FBO's as long as I can. Richard Bach said, "people who truly love to fly, will find a way...."

Posted by: ROBERT THOMASON | March 21, 2012 10:16 AM    Report this comment

“manufacturer sniping is at the heart of the problem” – I wish that were true. Recruitment- I’ve lost track of how many rides I have given to anyone with even just a hint of interest – none have gone on to fly. My father’s odds (pilots produced/ride) were much better. My concern is producing pilot/owners – not just pilots. You can say it is all just a numbers game, but the odds are against it.
"people who truly love to fly, will find a way...." I’ll still fly, but I probably won’t be buying a new airplane.

Posted by: MARK JENSEN | March 21, 2012 11:09 AM    Report this comment

Robert, I appreciate your validating my view in multiples, but once is enough. So I cut those others. Sorry about this forum software doing that, but you can avoid by pushing "post" only once, then clicking "see my comment."

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 21, 2012 11:32 AM    Report this comment

I don't think it's enough any more to just give people interested in aviation a ride or two. I had always wanted to fly, but even then it took me a while to find a flight school to take lessons from. I think aspiring pilots today (who want to do it for fun, rather than as a career) need some hand-holding in the early stages to find a flight school and instructor they like, and to provide some encouragement and help for the studying of the vast array of ground school knowledge they must learn. Also, it doesn't help that most flight schools have 30, 40, even 50-year-old aircraft on the flight line.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | March 21, 2012 11:38 AM    Report this comment

Absolutely, giving a ride won't likely do it.

Did you ask any of the Diamond folks why they backed off of the idea of the Diamond Flight Centers?

Posted by: Eric Warren | March 21, 2012 12:28 PM    Report this comment

No, didn't ask about the Flight Centers. It didn't come up. I'll add it to the list.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 21, 2012 1:12 PM    Report this comment

I see parallels between the aviation industry and the industry I most recently studied, the space industry. Both suffer from a lack of innovation. You would be surprised at the old-school technology used in our most advanced spacecraft both here and in Europe. The industry reps cite the reliability of proven technology as the primary reason they continue to use it. (The costs involved in a single, unrecoverable asset are tremendous). The engineering, tooling and rigorous testing present a huge barrier to entry for both competitors and individual innovation. Nearly the only innovation in the US occurs with SpaceX, the Rutans and a few other inhabitantants of Mojave Space Port’s “hangar row.” GA at least can amortize costs across maybe “hundreds” of units, but the volumes are still low.

Posted by: Brian Kough | March 21, 2012 2:07 PM    Report this comment

Demographics are driving real changes for the US and Europe (aging populations with shrinking tax bases), but good marketing/market research should drive product changes to adapt to the new environment. Unfortunately, Paul’s anecdotal evidence of poor marketing efforts by LSA/GA organizations doesn’t bode well. Simply, if you don’t know who your customers are, or could be, and you don’t adjust to the needs of the customer, you won’t sell a lot of airplanes unless luck is on your side. Unfortunately, my limited experience also shows that there isn’t a lot of good business sense in the aviation industry – poor market research (price, product, promotion & place), poor customer service, poor identification of customer’s needs & poor relationship building. Unfortunately, our government policies/messaging doesn’t help much either in promotion nor general industry support, i.e. our leaders disparaging tax breaks for “fat cat jet-setters.”

Hopefully, I will be able to transition from a renter to an owner of an aircraft someday as did my father. The future environment and trade-offs for my family though are huge.

Posted by: Brian Kough | March 21, 2012 2:08 PM    Report this comment

Dear Mr. Ziegler, I'm writing just to confirm the figures Mr. Toni Korppi stated. At the end of 2011, the number of licensed civil pilots in Finland was 7900, the number of licensed instrument-rated pilots was 2100, the number of active general aviation/aerial work aircraft registered in Finland was 700, the number of microlight or ultralight aircraft was 330 A/C's and the number of very light aircraft or light sport aircraft was only 10 A/C's.

The major problems in Finland are the price of aviation fuels, 100LL costs 3,14 €/liter, as well as supply of aviation fuels due to lack of oil companies network coverage and the last but not least, EC/EASA directives and regulations implementation due to the national interpretation of those rules, e.g. requiring to state in Part M Maintenance Program the expiry dates of medical certification of all pilots authorized to complete pilot-owner maintenance tasks related to Part M Appendix VII. For instance, this means that the MP of certain A/C has to be updated and approved 7 times during the one same calendar year. As soon as you reach 50 years age, your medical certificate is valid only 12 months, so 7 out 8 co-owners of that A/C are over 50 years - it's 400 € per approval resulting 2800 € fixed cost for each year, equal as annual insurance premiums. This is just a result of EASA Part M, there are EASA OPS and EASA FCL coming. All European GA pilots should unite their forces against this kind of development under their national AOPA's.

Posted by: Esa Harju | March 21, 2012 5:11 PM    Report this comment

"Both suffer from a lack of innovation."

I am, frankly, baffled by this statement. Given that fixed wing aviation is largely a mature technology, what "innovations" do you imagine will move the market? What is the next big thing that you imagine the market wants that the industry is not delivering?

It is futile to wish for innovation is the service of cheaper aircraft and cheaper flying, although gains are being made in efficiency to at least slow the rise of costs.

Consider the commercial aircraft industry. The Boeing Dreamliner is reasonably innovative within the constraints of mature technology. New manufacturing methods, more and creative use of composites, lighter, faster and more efficient. More use of electric systems in place of hydraulics, less maintenance and so on. It will use less fuel per passenger mile.

But it's not cheaper to buy and it won't reduce the cost of tickets so much that you'd notice. It will, hope the airlines that will buy it, make them more competitive and more profitable. This is innovation by increment.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 21, 2012 6:22 PM    Report this comment

There are direct corollaries in light GA. Glass panels have made the airplanes incrementally more capable and given pilots better situational awareness. Icing systems have improved. Diamond's diesel projects, while not entirely new, have greatly improved efficiency. But none of these have driven costs down, nor are they ever likely to. They cost more.

Consider innovations in the automobile. The hybrid is, arguably, a major innovation. A Prius sells for around $28,000. Adjusted for 1960 dollars, that's $3800 or more than $1000 more than the average cost of a car in 1960.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 21, 2012 6:32 PM    Report this comment

But the Prius is more economical and safer, even if doesn't do the basic thing that cars do much better than a 1960 Impala did.

When I travel around, I see plenty of such innovation by increment wherever I go. What I do not expect to see, nor do I, is that revolutionary, jaw-dropping leap to the next level of technology.

That won't happen until the next major form of propulsion arrives. It's not diesel and it's definitely not storage-battery electric or a hybrid, in my view. But it will be something. Because it's always something. We may not always leap forward consistently or conspicuously, but we don't stand still, either.

So, in my estimation, the GA industry may suffer many ills, but I don't see lack of innovation as one of them. If someone can tell me what innovation I should be lusting for, I am all ears.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 21, 2012 6:42 PM    Report this comment

There is nothing new in the world. What we see in the automotive industry that we think is new is really a highly developed invention of the 1920's. The difference between automotive and aviation is that the car is being developed and refined. Aircraft have stagnated though there are many ideas, but there is really nothing being developed or refined to enhance aircraft's. The oil mongols have made sure that engine development does not take off. Internal combustion engines can run using very little petrol something in the order of half a litre per hour but how will that effect the oil production. How would that affect the government coffers. A lot so yes I do support the green movements because of that but unfortunately they believe that we the people must get out of our cars and into public transport which is where we part company.

Something to dwell on: auto engines have very high compression ratios in the order of 9 : 1 and up. Aircraft engine do not have such high compressions but the authorities still insist that the aircraft engines run on leaded fuel.

I could go on but I will just get more and more depressed and will drive everyone to insanity.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | March 21, 2012 7:06 PM    Report this comment

I would just like to correct a bit, Bruce, that no one wants you to get out of your car or airplane, we would just like to see better planning in mixed-use and high density development where it can be applied. Portland, OR is a fine example. Some people can become overzealous about the perceived benefits of their cause - it happens in the green movements as well as the no-government, personal freedom zealots. It's the polarization of ideas today and lack of seeing the bigger picture that, imho, is the only block to better ideas and innovation that this blog has offered.

When an aviation activist, and passionate supporters on this thread cannot resist confrontation with the blogs' author about intent but rather reflect the daily drone of argument about details over understanding, I think the insanity has already begun. And that has nothing to do with listening to others' ideas, but only of unnecessary, time-wasting distraction from the benefits of the exchange of ideas.

Posted by: David Miller | March 21, 2012 8:21 PM    Report this comment

"There is nothing new in the world."

If that's true, then this internet thing is just Gutenburg with buttons. Buck up, for Pete's sake. What is it about this tendency to fall into self-pitying bouts of depressed hand wringing?

The world is changing. It's advancing. Moving forward. Rather than pine for the past or dissolve into imaginings of "them" trying to take our airplanes and cars away from us, let's focus a clear eye on what really is being developed.

And as I've reported here, that's a lot.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 22, 2012 5:46 AM    Report this comment

Thank you Paul and Dave for your rebuke maybe I needed it. Internet is not new it has been around a lot longer than you think.

Future of GA well I suppose it depends on where you are in the world. In China it is really rosy and looks great. In Europe not so good. In Africa maybe in a hundred years from now. In USA I can only read what you are telling me.

In Bristol the authorities are trying to close roads so that automotive traffic cannot enter the centre. The number of airfields in the South West England is diminishing. Filton where I fly from is closing because of three things 1) the number of complaints from residence about the noise, 2) lack of use by GA, 3) housing developers see the area as a gold mine for low cost housing with max profits.

There is nothing more constant than change Yes the world is changing and in many cases not the way we want it to.

Sorry my crystal ball has just exploded.

At a LAA meeting a few years ago there was a call for people to help lobby EASA on behalf of GA/ LAA. Know how many responded? Zero. It has nothing to do with what the manufactures can or cannot do its what we are prepared to do to support that future and as the saying goes talk is cheap money buys the whisky.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | March 22, 2012 7:09 AM    Report this comment

I seem to remember the minivan making a big splash. Not totally new, but innovative for sure. Remember the cup holder revolution?

Diamond and Pipistrel are innovating for sure. Cessna is reactive at best. They have the best school support system, and therefore keep winning. There is no magic rule that Cessna is number one, nor have they built the ultimate planes. Cirrus did innovation and became number one with IMO, is an overall mediocre design.
There is innovation, but little of it is aimed at getting new people into flight schools.

Posted by: Eric Warren | March 22, 2012 8:24 AM    Report this comment

Well, aside from any hand-wringing, one thing every pilot of every stripe will need is a usable landing surface. Unless you're planning on landing in your driveway, we'd all better take another look at the bull-dozing and "mall-ifying" of our airfield infrastructure.

Posted by: Phil Derosier | March 22, 2012 9:08 AM    Report this comment

I've read most of the comments here; there's not a lot of discussion about the real problem--too few pilots. Why do almost all guys play golf? Because that's an activity he can get away with. Most households today have two incomes, often with the wife making more. How does a guy justify spending every Saturday pursuing an expensive hobby when his wife works all week long too? The prices of planes will come down and LSA manufacturing will work itself out if we get more young people flying--not just guys, but women too. Whenever ask someone, "Why don't you take flying lessons?" They look at me like I have two heads. The industry doesn't do enough to promote flying and until that changes, we will continue to see a decline. There are only 200,000 active private pilots now. With the average age around fifty, we need younger people. How long can we argue that a community really does need that small airport, when most of them look like ghost towns now?

Posted by: Thomas Reilly | March 22, 2012 2:20 PM    Report this comment

...if we get more young people flying--not just guys, but women too.'

For many reasons that have been alarmed here and in every place probably where more than two pilots gather, it isn't happening. There is a certain amount of acceptance we have to have about that, then re-tool our conditions for GA to be viable.

Maybe one viewpoint that I feel important is to consider quality over quantity. Sounds simplistic, I know, but today I learned that talks have resumed with my state's Land Management Office to re-open a backcountry airstrip on the northern edge of Grand Canyon, (Tuweep) after 6 years of closure. Backcountry pilots are excited and will work to keep it open I'm sure, but maybe a city, low-use small airport will eventually have to close, despite valiant efforts by flying enthusiasts. We just have to do more with less, but I know it can be done. It really could prove out to be advantageous to us to refine what we really want and need out of the GA infastructure for the future if we have the right attitude about it. At least I'm hoping it could be.

Posted by: David Miller | March 22, 2012 3:28 PM    Report this comment

I think comparing flying to race car driving is a better comparison, than to other sports. Golf, football, baseball, etc; all of those have relatively cheap entry costs, and don't require special training or large commitments of time to learn. Auto racing does require some time and cost of training, but since it's just an extension of a skill most people already have (driving a car), it requires less overall time to train for. You may not become a competitive driver after some relatively basic training, but it will be enough to keep you safe enough. However, there isn't "safe enough" in flying, since the consequences of failure are more dire.

It doesn't take super-human skill or intelligence to learn to fly (I'd argue if you can safely drive a sports car around a race track at speed, you can learn to be a safe pilot), but it does take a lot of studying. The problem I see is that many of the people who do start flight training but don't finish find out that it takes a lot more dedication to it than they thought. Additionally, the ground school portion is "dull and boring". What is really needed to increase the pilot population is to improve the pilot training experience.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | March 22, 2012 3:32 PM    Report this comment

To that end, I think some of the newer, exciting LSAs coming to market could really be used to improve pilot training. If I were to start a new school, I'd buy something like the Icon A5, CTLS, or other similar, cool-looking aircraft as the primary aircraft. Ideally, I'd have a newer (1990+) Cessna 172 and/or Piper Archer, along with a 182 and Piper Arrow to cover the retract and high-performance end, to be used for advanced ratings. Since the LSAs are cheaper to operate, the savings could be passed on to the students. Also, since they would be new (or at least no older than 20 years), students would feel like they're getting more for their money.

Do all of the primary training (whether for sport-pilot or private-pilot) in the LSAs, and then later transition them to the Cessna and/or Piper if they're going beyond the sport-pilot rating.

In other words, don't add LSAs to existing flight schools so they can have the sport-pilot as a "lesser" license option, but treat it as the *primary* license.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | March 22, 2012 3:42 PM    Report this comment

Maybe the LSA,s, like the Renegade Falcon, Teacam, Pipistreal, Chech Sport Cruiser, etc., should be marketing their planes to non-pilots with a mandatory 100 hours of training to earn a full private pilot's certificate. My partner and I bought a Mooney Bravo before we had our certificates. He simply took lessons in our own place with our Mooney certified instructor. I went way over 100 hours of instruction because I considered my instructor cheap insurance.
If someone owns a plane he is much more like to complete his training.

Posted by: Thomas Reilly | March 23, 2012 9:32 AM    Report this comment

Gary, I agree with your idea to improve the learning experience. However, in the mid-west the paradigm for local airports is to have someone buy the airplane then do a 'lease-back' for flight training and rental. The problem is an old 172 now costs about $130 an hour (with tax) plus $25-35 an hour for the flight instructor. S-LSAs may be cheaper to operate, but the hour rate is still about the same because of the higer 'buy-in' to pay for the aircraft. This puts the cost of a Sport Pilot licence at $5,000 plus and Private at $7,500 plus. I don't know how a young person not being supported by their parents could afford to take flying lessons under these conditions.

Posted by: Richard Norris | March 23, 2012 9:54 AM    Report this comment

It the cost of training was built into the purchase and financed that way, the pilot is unlikely to quit because he owns a plane and has paid for the training. If you insist on 100 hours, not 30 or 40, we'll be creating safe pilots.

Posted by: Thomas Reilly | March 23, 2012 10:16 AM    Report this comment

Mr. Reilly:

"If you insist on 100 hours, not 30 or 40, we'll be creating safe pilots." I've been instructing for more than three decades, and I politely disagree. Lack of dual instruction is not a factor in most accidents. Lack of judgment is, as is lack of basic airmanship skills. The former is caused by a lack of experience as pilot-in-command; the latter is a consequence of poor instruction – not inadequate amounts of it.

Look no further than the well-documented case of John F. Kennedy, Jr. He had lots and lots of dual instruction, and almost no PIC beyond what was required at the time to get a PPASEL certificate.

To make a safe pilot, instructors MUST get their charges to a level of competency that supports solo flight – and then insist that their students acquire the lessons that are gained almost exclusively when the pilot accepts complete responsibility for the conduct of and the outcome of each flight.

Including flight training in an aircraft’s purchase price is a hallowed tradition. But it is susceptible to two serious shortcomings:
1. It creates an incentive for the seller to create fast (inexpensive) pilots, rather than safe ones.
2. It creates a misconception in the mind of the purchaser, that pilot certificates are a commodity available for sale.

The need to craft the contract language with extreme care and caution can foster undeliverable expectations, and can create problems with consumer protection laws. In most cases, it’s a bad idea.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | March 23, 2012 11:35 AM    Report this comment

It also creates a liability issue.

I seem to recall a lawsuit against Cirrus by a woman who stated her husband was inadequately trained.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | March 23, 2012 12:01 PM    Report this comment

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