Demand for business jets is beginning to recover, driven by higher corporate profits and the rise of worldwide GDP, according to the annual FAA Aerospace Forecast released last month.
“As the industry experts report a significant portion of piston aircraft hours are also used for business purposes, we predict business usage of general aviation aircraft will expand at a faster pace than that for personal and recreational use,” the agency’s analysts said, adding that the most recent shipment activity indicates “cautiously optimistic” results that the hard impact of the recession on the business jet market may have come to an end.
But the overall active GA fleet is projected to increase at an average annual rate of only 0.6 percent over the 21-year forecast period (2012-2032), growing from an estimated 222,520 aircraft in 2011 to 253,205 aircraft by 2032.
The more expensive and sophisticated turbine-powered fleet (including rotorcraft) is projected to grow at an average of 2.9 percent a year over the forecast period, with the jet portion increasing at 4 percent a year.
The FAA said in its annual prediction that while the signs of a slow economic recovery have been observed, the general aviation sector continued to face difficulties last year. Based on figures released by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, U.S. builders delivered an estimated 1,215 aircraft last year, 8.9 percent fewer than they delivered the previous year. This translates into a fourth consecutive year of decline in shipments, although at a slower rate.
Overall piston deliveries declined 10.5 percent, with single-engine deliveries down 9.1 percent and the much smaller multi-engine category down 23.9 percent. In the turbine categories, jet deliveries were only slightly lower than in the previous year, by 2.7 percent, while turboprops were down an estimated 13.8 percent. U.S. billings in 2011 are estimated to have totaled $8.4 billion, up 6.7 percent compared with 2010.
General aviation activity at FAA air traffic facilities posted mixed results last year. Operations at combined FAA and contract towers declined 2.3 percent last year, continuing a decade-long trend. General aviation activity at consolidated traffic facilities (Tracons) fell 2.6 percent, while the number of general aviation aircraft handled at en route centers was essentially flat, up 0.1 percent.
The FAA uses estimates of fleet size, hours flown and use from the General Aviation and Part 135 Activity Survey as baseline figures upon which assumed growth rates are applied. The survey has been conducted annually since 1977. Beginning with the Calendar Year 2004 survey, there were significant improvements to the survey methodology. These improvements included conducting 100-percent samples for turboprops and jets, all rotorcraft, all aircraft in Alaska and all aircraft operating under Part 135.
The results of the 2010 survey, the latest one available, are consistent with the results of past surveys since 2004, the FAA reported. “This reinforces our belief that methodological improvements have resulted in superior estimates relative to those in the past and these are used as the basis for our forecast,” the agency said.
Student pilot numbers, which have been in decline for many years, continued the downward trend. By the end of last year, the number of student pilots had decreased by 0.4 percent from the 2010 level to 118,657. Meanwhile, the average age of a U.S. pilot in 2011 was 44.4 years old.