AOPA President Phil Boyer explains GA's
bright future to the Aero Club of Washington.
AOPA members are overwhelmingly
optimistic about GA's future.
AOPA President Phil Boyer told an audience of Washington, D.C., insiders that at least one sector of the aviation industry has a bright future. Borrowing a phrase from aviation meteorologists, Boyer said the future for general aviation is CAVU—ceiling and visibility unlimited.
In a presentation to the Aero Club of Washington, which boasts some of the biggest names in aviation, Boyer said that everything from single-engine piston sales to avionics installations to new student pilots indicate an industry that is still moving ahead in spite of a generally sour economy.
One of the best indications of where GA is headed is the general attitude of its pilots. AOPA asked its members in a survey this year, "Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of GA?"
"Even in these times of uncertainty and heightened security restrictions, a full two thirds of our members said they're optimistic," Boyer reported. He noted that while GA runs the gamut, from Piper Cub to 747, AOPA's typical member flies a piston-powered single-engine aircraft with fixed gear and four seats.
"In the business I'm in," Boyer told his audience, "an association's membership number is its business barometer. It also indicates the health of the marketplace you serve. At the end of April 2003, AOPA had 396,754 members. We're well on our way to 400,000." AOPA's membership has grown by 30,000 in the year and a half since the September 11 terrorist attacks. That growth alone speaks to the enthusiasm of GA pilots.
Another key indicator of the GA sector's overall health is the total number of pilot certificates held and, more importantly, the number of new student pilot certificate issuances. While not spectacular, both numbers showed healthy increases from 2001 to 2002. And a key to getting new pilots into the system has been the Be A Pilot program, which offers $49 introductory flights through flight schools throughout the country.
Boyer also noted that shipments of single-engine piston aircraft are up some 6 percent in the first quarter of 2003 compared to a year ago. That increase kept an overall decline, primarily among turbine-powered models, from being even steeper. In addition, the number of FAA aircraft registrations through April 2003 is running several hundred ahead of the same time period last year.
Airframe manufacturers are not the only ones benefiting from GA's bright future. Boyer said avionics manufacturers are helping drive the boom. With an aging GA fleet and the relatively high cost of new aircraft, pilots are opting instead to upgrade their panels with the latest advancements in avionics.
Boyer told the audience that one of the greatest challenges—and greatest opportunities—facing general aviation is the widespread misconceptions among government (and especially security) officials and the general public.
He highlighted three programs to combat the misunderstandings. AOPA's Airport Watch is designed not only to help keep GA airports secure, but to show security officials that GA is capable of policing itself.
To help the general public understand what GA is and how they benefit whether they're pilots or not, AOPA created the GA Serving America Web site and advertised it heavily in both major daily newspapers and on television.
Finally, to help protect GA airports and keep any disagreements between the community and an airport from being overblown, AOPA maintains the Airport Support Network. "This all-volunteer corps acts as the eyes and ears of AOPA at hundreds of public-use airports across the country," Boyer said. "Our goal is to have a volunteer at all 5,400 public-use airports. We already have over 1,400."
"We've got our problems," Boyer noted in conclusion, "but key indicators show that the main uses of a personal airplane—for work, for three-day weekends, for vacations—are alive and well. Ours is an industry showing signs of being a flight into CAVU."