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Do Costs Limit Flying?

by John White |  | 4 comments

The <a href=Cost Of Flying Your Own Airplane Keeps Going Up" width="370" height="220" /> A recent study examined the question "Do Costs Limit Flying?" when it comes to general aviation aircraft and pilots. Those of us who are general aviation pilots have noticed a decline in the amount of general aviation activity, and have seen the declining interest in learning to fly. A graduate student at the Massachusets Institute of Technology has written a thesis titled "Current And Historical Trends In General Aviation In The United States" which provides an insight into the decline of general aviation activity in the United States in recent years. I would recommend that you take the time to read this report by Kamala I. Shetty which covers the following items:
  • General Aviation Forecasts;
  • Trends;
  • Survey;
  • Survey Results.

General Aviation Forecasts

The study used data from towered airports only and at the conclusion looks at the FAA's Aerospace Forecast released in the years 2001 to 2011. It shows that airports with general aviation activity during the period 2006 through 2010 showed a decrease of 21.4% over historical operations in excess of 40,000,000. In fact the drop from the FAA's forecast activity to the actual activity showed a decline of 50.5%! This probably explains why small general aviation airports are dying. But as is typical of a governmental agency, the general aviation forecasting by the FAA has remained positive while there has been a consistent decline in general aviation activity!

General Aviation Trends

General Aviation Operations Trends From 1969 to 2010 What I find interesting about this chart is the precipitous drop that occurred in 1982 (Jimmy Carter years) and the drop since the peak in 1999 to below the 1982 levels. To add to this trend the number of pilots fell from a peak of 827,071 in 1980 to 594,285 in 2009. An increase in total pilot certificates increased in 2010 and could be the result of the Student Pilot Certificate being extended from 24 months to 60 months. The cost of fuel was then evaluated and the data shows that during a period of significant fuel prices there is a corresponding decline in general aviation aircraft operations.

A Survey Of General Aviation Costs

The survey found that the change in fuel costs was the most significant driver in the decline of flying activity by General Aviation pilots, 41% of which stated it had a significantly negative impact on their flying activities. I would encourage everyone interested in general aviation to download this pdf and take some time to read through it. If general aviation is to survive this report at least gives us some ideas of what could be done to increase general aviation activity: "Current And Historical Trends In General Aviation In The United States" In the meantime keep your wings straight and level Hersch! Please share "Do Costs Limit Flying?" with your friends using the buttons below. Thanks!             Follow Me on Pinterest Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7+ ps: Don't forget to sign up for updates via email for "All Things Aviation" here!

Comments (4)

  • JetAviator7 on June 24, 2019


    I owned my own aviation insurance agency for 30 years and sold it in 2004, so I am well aware of the product liability costs for manufacturing aircraft.

    There is no question but what unlimited liability is a serious issue for not only the manufacture of aircraft but just about anything else as well.

    This has been a continuing battle in Congress to get some relief for manufacturers with little progress to date.

    As you say, there are way too many lawyers in Congress and they cost our economy way too much money.


  • Matt P on June 24, 2019

    1982 was not a “Jimmy Carter year”. Ronald Reagan took office in early 1981. What happened in 1982 was that the Federal Reserve sent interest rates sky high in an effort to reduce the rate of inflation. It worked, at the cost of a severe recession. As you can see, things rebounded pretty nicely shortly after rates came back down.

    Also. legal spending as a percent of GDP has declined a bit over the last 30 years. Blaming the lawyers for GA’s troubles is overblown.

    GA’s biggest issue is that it is a product in search of a use. For most of the US, the transportation value of a GA airplane is limited. Less that 250 miles, it’s usually faster to drive. More than 500, better to fly commercially. To get reasonable dispatch reliability in most of the country you’ll need an instrument rating, and even then, expect to cancel flights when thunderstorms or icing conditions exist. Most people won’t take enough trips to maintain proficiency and are better off not trying to fly at all.

    There was a time when flying one’s own airplane had a certain amount of cachet. That hasn’t been the case in a couple of decades. Add to that the tendency to do business on the internet or over the phone, and you see why GA is on the decline.

  • JetAviator7 on June 24, 2019

    Actually the interest rates were high during the last 2 years of Jimmy Carter’s presidency and remained high until Ronald Regan was able to put in place changes which resulted in a great financial boom and a rise in the middle class.

    Your comments about the use of ga aircraft are quite interesting and probably right on the mark.

    A lot of the interest in flying ga airplanes came right after WWII with the boom in the production of consumer goods and the general rise in income across the country.

    Today flying on the airlines is not a great experience or time saver unless you live near a major hub and want to go to another major hub. If you have to make a transfer of flights you can kiss a work day goodbye.

    It seems the romance has gone out of ga flying and with the cost today it is difficult for most to afford to fly just for the fun of it.

    Thanks for the great comment.


  • David Wells - Fresno, Calif. 93710 on June 24, 2019

    I’m told that Cessna estimates that a full 1/3 of their final sale price of their airplanes is due to insurance cost for product liability, and that this is insurance against any errors and omissions and/or any other innsurance claim that is laid upon them for product liability. THUS, like so many other things that concern private enterprise for profit in this country, the vast amount of attornies that are essentially unemployed, and chasing after ambulances, just so they can find or file a law suit, HIGHLY affects the cost of flying in general aviation, and does it dramatically!!! In most states and the especially the federal government over 50% of the members of both houses are lawyers!!! It’s about time, we as a nation put a curb on the amount of money that is gained via product liability law suits. Over 93% of all law suits are settled out of court, and the amount may even be higher in some areas, and lawyers know this; thus, they know that if they even file a suit, that someone is going to get some money, no matter if they win or not. The lawyers have no vested interest in making such things stop, becuase no matter what side they are on, they win, – by them getting fee money from the consumers and manufacturers being compelled to pay their fees! If the common people and the aviation industry don’t unite, and FORCE financial dollar limits on law suits, just like they are starting to do with medicine, the sky will still be the limit for legal fees, just like it is the limit for flying! We are choking our economy and way of life in the ENTIRE world, if we keep letting attornies run the show, both politically and in the private enterprise sector. “I rest my case!”

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