Could Traffic Growth Stall The Personal Jet?

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According to a study released by DRI-WEFA — a subsidiary of Massachusetts-based Global Insight Inc. — things may not look good for some aircraft manufacturers. The study, entitled “The National Economic Impact of Civil Aviation,” found that civil aviation contributes more than $900 billion to the economic nuts and bolts of the nation and gives 11 million people a reason to wake up and go to work every morning. General aviation represents a hefty slice of that pie, accounting for more than $100 billion and 1.3 million jobs. If the recent report is correct — specifically about traffic growth and lagging infrastructure — it’s not good news for the emerging personal-jet market. Those mini-jets — the Eclipse 500 and Cessna Mustang, for instance — will be buzzing into reliever airports near major terminals, and if the hubs get jammed with traffic, the relievers may offer no respite. Or worse, ATC might hold the little jets down in the fuel-guzzling low altitudes. Eclipse CEO Vern Raburn told AVweb that he doubts the airlines will resume historical growth, given the hit they’ve taken in the personal-travel market segment. He thinks the airspace and facilities crunch, if there is one, is a decade out, at least. He agrees, however, that air traffic control is major worry. “It’s a cultural issue. We have the technology … ADS-B, satellite communication, pick one.” In Raburn’s view, the showstopper is the FAA and the unions. If the two can’t sing the same song, capacity will remain stunted. In that case, the travelers Raburn and others envision flocking to the fractionals and future air taxis, as they seek refuge from the bottlenecks of commercial air travel, will ultimately create a new set of bottlenecks all their own. With this in mind, the personal jet may lose some of its appeal.