The U.S. active general aviation fleet is anticipated to remain stable over the next 20 years, growing less than 0.5 percent in total through 2038, according to the latest FAA forecast. This stability is anticipated to come on the strength of the turbine aircraft and helicopter markets, which are expected to offset declines in the piston aircraft fleet, the agency added. The most recent forecast, released last week, is more conservative than the FAA’s projection last year of more than 1.5 percent growth in total over the following 20 years.
According to the 2018 to 2038 forecast, the general aviation fleet will inch up from 213,050 in 2017 to 214,090 by 2038. Looking at the turbine fleet alone, the FAA is projecting an average growth rate of 2 percent a year, for a total of 15,255 additional aircraft over the forecast period. The number of fixed-wing piston aircraft, however, is expected to shrink by an annual rate of 0.8 percent, for a total loss of 22,350 aircraft over the forecast period.
The FAA cited stronger U.S. GDP and corporate profits as drivers of the turbine growth, but in turn believes “unfavorable pilot demographics, overall increasing cost of aircraft ownership, coupled with new aircraft deliveries not keeping pace with retirements of the aging fleet” will dampen the piston market.
The fleet size of light-sport aircraft, meanwhile, is forecast to grow by 3.6 percent a year, expanding by 2,850 aircraft by 2038, reaching double the number of 2016.
While the fleet overall is anticipated to remain stable, the FAA is forecasting that the number of general aviation hours flown will grow 0.8 percent each year, reaching 30.2 million in 2038. As with fleet size, turbine hours will be the driver of the growth, forecast to improve 2.4 percent per year over the forecast period. Business jet hours alone are anticipated to jump 2.7 percent annually. Rotorcraft hours also are expected to increase, at a rate of 2.2 percent annually. But, fixed-wing piston hours in turn are anticipated to slide by 1 percent.