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.