FAA GA Survey: Fleet Shrinking, but Long-term Growth Expected

 - May 5, 2014, 4:10 AM
Upgrading aircraft to meet new mandates and prepare for NextGen represents an expensive proposition for operators. The NextGen GA Fund was established to make the process easier, offering low-interest loans to operators–large and small–of U.S.-registered aircraft to facilitate equipage.

Between 2010 and 2012 the number of active GA aircraft declined by 6.4 percent, to 209,034 from 223,370, according to the 2012 General Aviation and Part 135 Activity Survey (GA Survey). But the FAA said that the 2012 GA Survey recorded the partial effect of the 2010 Rule for Re-Registration and Renewal of Aircraft Registration. According to the agency, the complete effect of this rule, which requires all aircraft registered in the U.S. to re-register within the three-year period from 2011 to 2013, will be noted after the 2013 survey.

“Assuming a similar decline in 2013 as a result of cleaning up from the registry inactive aircraft that previously were thought to be active,” the FAA said, “the GA active fleet is estimated to have decreased 3 percent in 2013 to 202,865.”

Using the strictly voluntary GA Survey–the only source of information on the GA fleet, the number of hours flown and the ways people use GA aircraft–the FAA said the rising use of all types of GA aircraft by businesses will expand at a faster pace than the use of GA for purely personal and recreational transportation. That will help propel modest growth in the overall general aviation market.

According to the FAA, continued concerns about safety, security and flight delays keep business aviation attractive relative to commercial air travel. Industry experts and prior years’ survey results confirm that a significant portion of piston aircraft hours are also used for business purposes, it said.

“While economic uncertainties still affect the business jet market, the rate of decline slowed and a recovery is expected in the near term,” the agency said in its latest forecast. The 20-year outlook for Fiscal Years 2014-2034 calls for “robust growth” in the long term, driven by higher corporate profits and the growth of worldwide GDP, although at rates slightly lower than those predicted last year.

The active GA fleet is projected to increase at an average annual rate of 0.5 percent over the 21-year forecast period, growing to 225,700 aircraft by 2034 from an estimated 202,865 in 2013.

The number of active general aviation pilots (excluding air transport pilots) is projected to be 484,425 in 2034, an increase of more than 35,000 (up 0.4 percent yearly) over the forecast period. Between 2011 and 2013, there was a decline of 12,659 in the number of commercial pilots, accompanied by an increase of 7,313 in the number of ATPs. A substantial part of the decline in commercial pilots is thought to be a result of these pilots obtaining the higher-level ATP certificates as required by the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010.

General aviation flight hours for 2013 are estimated based on the active fleet and other activity indicators at 24 million, a decline of 1.8 percent from the previous year.