The best of times, the worst of times…

WASHINGTON, D.C. — “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom; it was the age of foolishness.”

So said Charles Dickens in “The Tale of Two Cities.” Little did he know he was writing about general aviation in 2013 — and possibly the year 2014.

Henry Ogrodzinski, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of State Aviation Officials, could update the book by Mr. Dickens today using similar comparisons. Henry O — as he is known in the GA community — has his hand on the pulse of all aviation in the United States through his connections with people in all 50 states.

He is a bit more modern than Dickens: “It was a mixed bag in 2013,” he says, noting some things were positive, some negative.

One of the major negatives is the high cost of aviation fuel. This is leading to less flying by many pilots and aircraft owners. To some, it possibly affects safety by some pilots not maintaining proficiencies.

A major positive has been the work of the Alliance for Aviation Across America, which works tirelessly to spread the good news about general aviation so it is better known and better understood by some of the general public.

Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), says looking back on 2013 he sees many bright spots, but also a challenging year.

Some of the positives: For business aviation, easing of the southern border crossing was a welcome change. Flight hours stayed steady. The importance of general aviation business flights to local economies gained some better understanding. The number of members of both houses of Congress who belong to the General Aviation Caucuses increased, indicating a better understanding at the federal level of personal and business flying

A major challenge NBAA saw in 2013 was the 17-day shutdown of the government.

“Not selling aircraft in the United States for 17 days brought a significant impact,” he said.

As a heavily regulated industry, aviation had a particular challenge during these difficult days, he noted.

Still troubling is sequestration and its potential impact on GA. Government cuts resulting from sequestration may bring more proposals for increased revenue from aviation in the form of user fees.

Officials at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association also saw 2013 as the best and worst of times. They noted that, as the year began, general aviation faced sequestration budget cuts and the negative impact this could have on flying. The association and other aviation groups worked to lessen the impact budget cuts could have on aviation.

Aviation events suffered from the sequestration, with military participation curtailed. And events such as SUN ’n FUN and AirVenture found their budgets adversely impacted when they had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for required air traffic controllers.

AOPA officials note they see a negative in the FAA’s inaction on the AOPA and Experimental Aircraft Association’s petition to revise the third-class medical standards, which would allow more pilots to fly.

On the positive side, AOPA saw enactment of the Small Airplane Revitalization Act, which will update Part 23 of the FAA regulations, as potentially reducing the certification expenses of manufacturers, resulting in lower cost aircraft. Another bright spot, association officials say, are three fuel companies announcing development of unleaded formulations that could replace avgas for piston aircraft in a matter of just a few years.

So, what can be expected in the coming year?

Budget woes might arrive early. Whatever budget may be agreed on, money seems certain to be a concern for general aviation in 2014. Sequestration will increase the pressure to raise more revenue from general aviation. Airport development may see a period of throwing out those projects and services that are nice and focusing only on those that are considered absolutely necessary.

Congressional passage of legislation to update Part 23 of FAA regulations means work on the matter will continue through 2014 and another year after that to be completed by Dec. 31, 2015. Both years will see a variety of efforts aimed at simplifying aviation regulations.

It is a noble effort. But anyone familiar with government at any level knows what comes out is not always what goes in. It might be known by this time next year where the FAA rule changes are going.

But for now, may you have clear skies and a strong tailwind.

Comments

  1. James Roth says

    The fact that Cessna has thrown in the towel by not planning to create anymore 2-seat airplanes in the training category is a major blow to GA’s future. Their “Edsel of the Skies” Skycatcher was a flawed design to begin with, but the need is there for a properly-designed inexpensive trainer. So they want to exclusively pursue larger, more expensive aircraft – fewer unit sales at higher prices equals more gross income per sale. Got it. But where are the fledgling pilots going to come from BEFORE they’re ready for complex aircraft? What will they LEARN to fly in that teaches BASIC FLYING SKILLS?

    Years ago the logging industry only cut trees down before they wised up thanks to activists. Eventually, they started planting seeds for new trees on the barren lands they had created by only taking, and not giving back. Once they planted seeds for new trees, they helped nature to create an ongoing supply of trees for future cutting. Cessna, Piper, Beechcraft etc., if no one is building BASIC TRAINERS for new STUDENT pilots, how will the seeds ever get planted to assure that you will have a continuing supply of new customers of complex singles, turbines, multi-engines, and jets???

    Regarding the AOPA…. LOCAL CHAPTERS. There’s too much top-down management. GA needs to REALLY get back to its grass roots by implementing ideas from the ground up. The prevailing atmosphere is that the only good idea is the one that starts at the top. WRONG. The EAA has local chapters. And the AOPA supports and endorses local chapters of the IMC club. Local chapters in the AOPA are LONG overdue. ============

  2. Steve S says

    As a pilot of 40+years I watched with great interest the aircraft revitalization of the mid 90’s that was to put more new GA planes into the market. So encouraging was it that even Cessna started to ramp up for single engine production. All the major players were talking and offering new state of the art aircraft in the $150k range. So what happened?? In a matter of a few short years those figures doubled and today are now tripled.
    Today many of those aircraft are $500k +. No wonder the industry fell flat on its collective face! Yes fuel & 9-11 had quite an impact, but that promise in the 90’s of affordable aircraft turned to vapors & frankly aircraft ownership now days is only for the financially well heeled!
    Unless one is drawn to LSA I’m doubtful in my lifetime I’ll see the prospect of aircraft ownership. Simply put, my income would have to more than triple to even qualify. I’ve got a better chance of getting a ride on the space shuttle before that would ever happen.

  3. Doug Dwyer says

    The best things that could happen to General Aviation is removing the Third Class Medical restriction and raising the Light Sport Category to include more numbers of and less expensive aircraft.

  4. Chris says

    Just came back from vacation in Europe and after seeing the gas prices there (for cars) I have to say that I am not complaining about fuel prices here in the US anymore. In fact, my new year’s resolution is to fly more and complain less about fuel prices :)

    In my case, I sold my Mooney last year and got a LongEZ. I do miss the room and it is an aircraft for very different missions but the maintenance and fuel tag are much lower and it allows me to fly more.

    I am not one of those lucky ones that can justify flying through work so I do it solely for the love of it. If that is your goal, I think there are options available to fly inexpensively. In fact, at our local airport schools charge $105 wet for 172’s and I don’t find that bad at all. There is even a flying club that charges less than that and you can easily take the aircraft for trips without unreasonable minimum requirements.

    After having owned airplanes for 30 years (and not being rich), I have to say that fuel is not the largest expense I face. I find that the cost of newer aircraft, maintenance and storage to be more of a deterrent than fuel prices alone.

    Now I may draw some fire in my direction with this comment. Something that has been a little of a deterrent to me is the negative attitude of some FBOs and ATC toward small GA aviation. I guess this is location specific but at the airport I fly from it is particularly bad. So bad that after having lived in this city for 30+ years I am packing and moving to another place with a friendlier attitude toward small GA. But as you can see, there is always a solution if you really love to fly.

    Chris

  5. Kent Misegades says

    Glad you mentioned the high of Avgas and its dampening effect on flight hours – this is huge for everyone. How can the AOPA not mention the end of their annual convention, a clear sign of a sick industry? The alphabets remain mostly in denial and make optimistic predictions each year that most grassroots pilots find laughable. Typically American, instead of admitting we’re in deep trouble and taking bold action to do something about it, we hope or the best and focus on preserving our own little world while the rest crumbles around us.

    • David Vancina says

      Personally, I’m kind of excited about the regional events replacing the one, big AOPA convention. Flying a 172 from Chicago to Texas wasn’t feasible for me. To Indianapolis? No problem. Seems to me more people might actually be able to attend these things now. What’s the downside?

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