FAA forecast: Spot on or improbable?

As the Light-Sport Aircraft industry ramps up for a summer of flying and the season’s biggest celebration of flight, AirVenture Oshkosh, I am still analyzing the FAA’s recently issued 20-year forecast for aviation, which shows growth prospects for LSAs, while predicting a decline in the total number of piston-powered aircraft. Viewed from a distance, this might seem beneficial to LSA producers and sellers.

Regretfully, I find FAA’s forecast improbable. Not that the agency’s number crunchers are wrong — in fact, I hope they might be right. I simply find a 20-year forecast for an industry only seven years old to be a form of spreadsheet-based palm reading.

That said, here are a few tidbits gleaned from a study of FAA’s spreadsheets: Certified single engine piston airplanes (other than LSA) are forecast to decline from 148,101 when LSA arrived on the scene in 2005 to 135,340 by 2032. This 12,761 drop amounts to about 500 aircraft per year being retired from the fleet.

Experimentals are expected to grow by 32% over this 26-year period (which includes a few years already confirmed: 2005 to 2010) to 31,140 aircraft. This calculates to adding about 289 Experimentals per year throughout that period.

“Sport Aircraft,” a category I presume includes LSA, is expected to expand from 6,528 in 2010 to 10,195 in 2032. Of the 6,528 in the most recent count, some 4,000 are evidently ultralights converted to ELSA. Those won’t be repeating, so it seems FAA is forecasting growth of new SLSA at 3,667 aircraft over a 20-year window, or about 183 aircraft per year.

Since the LSA industry has produced more than 183 aircraft every year — some years twice that or more — the FAA’s forecast is questionable to me.

Interestingly, when you add the growth in Experimentals to the projected growth in LSAs, you get almost exactly a 1:1 replacement for those departing FAA-certified single engine aircraft. Thus, in FAA’s crystal ball, the overall fleet of single engine flying machines will flat line over the next two decades.

Looking at the total fleet size, that means LSA will go from 1.8% of all single engine piston aircraft in America to 5.6%, an increase of nearly 300%. What group would not like to grow three times in 20 years? We’ll see how it turns out, of course…about 20 years from now.

Meanwhile no one can deny the LSA sector is effectively the new entry point for all of aviation, with the lowest prices, the easiest-to-obtain pilot certificate, and the best fuel consumption.

For more information: ByDanJohnson.com


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