There’s no doubt that the top story of 2005 was the devastating aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, which battered the Gulf Coast, Texas and Florida. The heroes were the thousands of GA pilots who flew countless missions of rescue, relief and reunion. Angel Flight and other such organizations across the South coordinated those missions. The Civil Air Patrol, with headquarters at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, was a first responder, providing rescue, reconnaissance and relief to thousands of people stranded by the storms.
Even today, airports continue repairs and rebuilding, including some that were damaged by hurricanes in 2004.
Katrina forced the National Business Aviation Association convention, one of GA’s largest, to move from New Orleans to Orlando, while Wilma led to the postponement of the Sport Pilot Expo in Sebring, Fla., until Jan. 12-15.
The second annual Expo highlights the other big newsmakers of 2005: The many companies that are importing or manufacturing Light Sport Aircraft (LSAs) for the new Sport Pilots. Many of those companies are based in the South, including Fantasy Air (Allegro 2000), Hansen Group (Tecnam) and Legend Aircraft Co. (Legend Cub).
Other Southern pilots who made a difference in 2005:
– The group of Commander owners who joined together to buy the assets of the bankrupt company, creating the Commander Premiere Aircraft Corp.;
– Pilots who lobbied to save Horace Williams Airport in Chapel Hill., N.C.;
– Organizers who held the first air races in Tunica, Miss. in June;
– The Tuskegee Airmen, who held their final reunion this year. As the group’s numbers dwindle, they say they will continue meeting at other industry events;
– The new leadership at Mooney Aircraft Co., which has revitalized the company as it prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary; and
– The many Southern pilots who joined in sending comments against an FAA proposal to make the Washington, D.C., ADIZ permanent. The huge response led to the scheduling of public meetings on the proposal, as well an extension until Feb. 6 of the comment period.
The activism seen in 2005 in saving airports and fighting the ADIZ will be needed this year as GA gears up for a major fight against user fees. FAA officials began lobbying last year for a new way to fund the agency. Expect to see intense lobbying by the airlines, as well as federal officials, for GA user fees in the next year.
What else will 2006 bring? Sport Pilot and LSAs will continue to make news, while the first Very Light Jets (VLJs) will be certified.
Look for GA to play a vital role, once again, when hurricane season begins in June, as well as throughout the year whenever disaster strikes or people are in need.
Many are optimistic that this year will bring a big expansion for GA businesses, as “hundreds of millions of dollars” in new construction by FBOs is expected, according to officials with the National Air Transportation Association (NATA). Charter business is expanding at double-digit rates to its highest level ever. Barring unforeseen circumstances — and with a stabilization of fuel prices — NATA expects 2006 to be “a very positive year for general aviation businesses.”