FAA forecasts start of GA recovery in 2010

April 2, 2009

General aviation in the United States will begin to recover next year after taking a hit along with the overall U.S. economy, the FAA said this week in its annual forecast.

In spite of an expected contraction of the economy over the next year, the FAA projects steady, long-term growth for American aviation, including average yearly increases of 1.8 percent in general aviation hours flown. The active GA fleet is expected to increase an average of 1 percent per year over the 17-year forecast period, growing from an estimated 234,015 in 2008 to 275,230 aircraft by 2025.

The FAA presented its projections for the aviation industry at its thirty-fourth annual Aviation Forecast Conference March 31 through April 1 in Washington, D.C. A number of AOPA representatives, including AOPA President Craig Fuller, participated in the conference.

FAA officials stressed that GA is an important part of the transportation system, and the agency forecast modest growth in air carrier enplanement and air traffic control operations from 2010 through 2025, along with increases in fleet size, active pilots, and number of hours flown for GA.

“The FAA’s recognition of the vital role of GA in the transportation system is key as we look toward the future,” Fuller said. “We cannot afford to lose sight of the importance of GA to our local communities and nation, and AOPA is committed to preserving this critical part of our economy through the GA Serves America campaign.”

GA Serves America is an AOPA-sponsored educational initiative whose goal is to educate policymakers, opinion leaders, and the public about the economic value of GA to all Americans, whether they fly or not.

During the conference, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the Obama administration recognizes the civil aviation industry as a critical component of the economy and is committing to making significant investments in airports, air traffic control, and other infrastructure improvements. Many grants have already been awarded from the $1.1 billion committed to airport improvements from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 designed to stimulate the economy.

Some of the airport grants that have already been awarded from the economic stimulus package include $2.5 million to rehabilitate an apron at Merrill Field in Anchorage, Alaska; $3.5 million to rehabilitate a runway at Dannelly Field in Montgomery, Ala.; $6.8 million to improve a terminal building at Pitt-Greenville in Greenville, N.C.; and $4 million to construct a taxiway at Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, Wis. The projects set the stage for long-term growth in GA operations.

Compared to the overall growth trajectory for GA, turbine-powered and light sport aircraft are expected to fare particularly well. According to the forecast, the turbine-powered fleet is projected to grow at an average annual rate of 3.2 percent through 2025. The number of light sport aircraft, which stood at an estimated 6,066 at the end of 2007, is expected to grow to 15,895 by the end of the forecast period.

The FAA anticipates a more rapid expansion of business use of GA aircraft than that for personal or sport use, noting in the forecast that “corporate safety/security concerns for corporate staff, combined with increasing flight delays at some U.S. airports have made fractional, corporate, and on-demand charter flights practical alternatives to travel on commercial flights.”

The recent demise of Eclipse and DayJet dampened expectations for very light jets (VLJs), however, and the FAA downgraded its projections for VLJ growth from last year’s numbers. Among the other projections was a yearly increase of 0.5 percent in the number of GA pilots.