Feds Share The View
At its annual Aviation Forecast Conference, held recently in Washington, D.C., the Federal Aviation Admin-istration (FAA) released its forecast for general aviation (GA) from fiscal years 2004 through 2015. The FAA defines “general aviation” as “a diverse range of aviation activities and includes all segments of the aviation industry, except commercial air carriers and the military.” The report gives us the FAA’s perspective on everything from single-engine piston aircraft to corporate jets, gliders and even homebuilt airplanes, both now and over the coming 12-year period.
At the end of 2003, there were 625,111 pilots in the United States, a decline of approximately 8,000 from the previous year. The report anticipates 777,730 by the year 2015, an annual increase of about 1.2%. Within the strictly GA categories (student, private and commercial) there were 452,331 pilots or about 72.4% of the total pilot population. The total number of people holding only a private pilot’s license was recorded at 241,045.
Other interesting numbers from 2003 include:
• Fifty-nine percent of the total pilot population was instrument-rated.
• The total number of ATPs declined by 0.8% in 2003, the first downward trend in 46 years.
• There were 310 people with a recreational pilot’s license.
Bright spots in the future include increases in both student pilots and the much anticipated light-sport aircraft categories:
• The total number of new student pilots increased 1.5% from 2002 to 2003. The trend has continued into 2004.
• Light-sport pilot ratings are projected to be 20,800 by 2015.
The FAA also looked at the general-aviation fleet of aircraft:
• The average GA airplane is 28 years old.
• Single-engine pistons represent 68% of the total GA fleet.
• Single-engine pistons fly an average of 113.8 hours a year.
• Utilization of newer aircraft (one to five years old) is higher—193.1 hours a year.
• Utilization drops substantially after the aircraft reaches 25 years of age.
The report also noted the effects of a slow U.S. economy ingeneral aviation:
• GA flight activity declined in 2003 by 5.3%.
• During the same period, the total number of single-engine piston aircraft declined 1.4%.
• Multi-engine aircraft declined 3.8%.
• Last year, the total number of experimental aircraft increased by approximately 8%.
As for the future, the FAA projects about 1,500 new aircraft joining the fleet each year through 2015, and about 350 of the new “personal jets” annually. The number of single-engine piston aircraft is expected to grow to a total of 148,450 in 2015. Excluding the new light-sport aircraft category, the GA fleet is expected to grow by a half a percent per year through 2015. For more information, contact the Federal Aviation Administration at www.faa.gov.
Another interesting part of the general-aviation outlook comes from a recent report from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. Revenues were up 21.1% in the first quarter of 2004, with strong gains posted across all three categories—piston engines, turboprops and business jets.
And for the first time ever, upstart Cirrus outsold Cessna. Comparing the Wichita, Kan., manufacturer’s Skyhawk and Skylane sales for the first quarter of 2004 to the Duluth, Minn., composite maker’s SR20 and SR22 transactions, Cirrus sold 105 total units, compared to Cessna’s 89. Equally interesting is a look at composite aircraft sales numbers compared to the more traditional metal models. Just a few years ago, composite construction was considered exotic, but it’s now more than mainstream. Looking at strictly single-engine sales, New Piper sold 49 total aircraft in the first quarter of this year, Cessna sold 109 (excluding pure jets), Pilatus sold six, Socata sold 12, Mooney sold eight, Tiger Aircraft sold five and Raytheon sold seven Bonanzas. That’s an aluminum aircraft sales total of 196 units during the first three months of this year. Sales from composite makers—Cirrus, Lancair, OMF and Diamond—totaled an impressive 180 units. For more info, contact the General Aviation Manufacturers Association at www.gama.aero.
And the numbers of composite sales will almost certainly increase in the coming months. Cirrus has begun efforts to increase production output to match the demand for its newest SR22 variant, the G2. Lancair received final FAA certification for its turbocharged Columbia 400 in April, and is ramping up to produce a new airplane every 48 hours before the year’s end. Both companies have added some new panache to general aviation. The new Columbia 400 is now the fastest certified piston-powered production aircraft in the world—single or twin—clocking in at 235 KTAS at 25,000 feet. Cirrus was the original champion of the glass panel and airframes with a rocket-powered parachute system.
In fact, the company reported two successful parachute pulls in the same week in April, the second and third real-life tests of its Ballistic Recovery System. One involved a family of four in Canada, the second, a lone pilot over Florida. When he advised ATC he was going to pull his chute, the controller said, “You’re going to do what?!” The first Cirrus parachute deployment occurred in Texas, north of Dallas-Fort Worth. In every case of BRS deployment to date, the occupants walked away from the airplane after it landed under canopy. While Cirrus originally suggested that customers shouldn’t expect the airframe to survive a BRS letdown, field results have been better than expected. In fact, Cirrus purchased and repaired the original SR22, N1223S, which crashed-landed in Texas, and put it back into service for company transportation to and from Duluth. For more, contact Cirrus at (218) 727-2737 or log on to www.cirrusdesign.com.
Although Diamond Aircraft, another big contender in composite construction, just received certification in Europe for its DA42 Twin Star, U.S. certification for the aircraft has been pushed back to the fall of 2004. Sky watchers have more than a little excitement waiting for the new airplane. The Twin Star comes equipped with a full Garmin G1000 glass panel and can cruise at better than 180 KTAS while its two 135-hp turbocharged engines sip—and we mean sip—Jet A or automobile diesel fuel. Diamond plans on showing off the DA42 at this year’s Oshkosh fly-in and expects to move production from its headquarters in Austria to its London, Ontario, Canada, facilities in 2005. For more information, call Diamond Aircraft at (519) 457-4000 or log on to www.diamondair.com.
Altitude records for composite aircraft, however, will almost surely go to Burt Rutan. The FAA has issued its first license for suborbital manned rocket flight to Scaled Composites of Mojave, Calif. Rutan plans a series of suborbital flights in his SpaceShipOne over the next year. To date, his spacecraft has already reached 212,000 feet at a speed of better than Mach 2. Rutan is currently the frontrunner for the X Prize, a $10 million award to the first person to launch a vehicle carrying three folks to a height of 62.5 miles, twice. And within two weeks! For more info, call Scaled Composites at (661) 824-4541 or log on to www.scaled.com.
The lowest and slowest carbon-fiber aircraft is in preliminary flight testing in Canada. If all goes well, the Flycycle, the first practical human-powered aircraft, should reach a 22-mph cruise speed. The craft is designed to weigh about 60 pounds and to be pedaled by mere mortals in average physical shape. The final version of Flycycle is expected to have a small battery and electric motor to continue the prop-turning, at least while you take a breather. The Flycycle is a university project designed to give students hands-on experience to think and create out of the box. The Canadian nonprofit group will put your logo or message on the Flycycle and fly it around your hometown. Find out more from the Flycycle Website at www.flycycleart.webcentre.ca.
Ryan Bridges The Gap
There’s a big difference between Traffic Information Systems (TIS) and Traffic Advisory Systems (TAS). TIS gets radar information datalinked into the cockpit from ATC (limited value in non-radar environments), and TAS interrogates aircraft transponders. Ryan International has effectively split the difference with the release of the 9900B TCAD. The $7,990 device is passive, which is to say it doesn’t actively interrogate other aircraft, but gathers transponder information from multiple sources, regardless of the proximity of ATC radar sites. 9900B TCAD users can later upgrade to Ryan’s 9900B TAS because the two systems share the same system components, including antennas. Learn more by contacting Ryan International at (800) 877-0048 or logging on to www.ryaninternational.com.
Put Your Boat InYour Plane
Most of the time, you have to choose to either take your boat or take your plane. The new Napali Kayak folds into a bundle the size of a backpack, weighs 26 pounds and fits in almost any plane you want to fly. Better yet, the kayak is transparent! A Kevlar frame is covered in soft, see-through plastic. See the whole picture when you kayak, or see the whole kayak by calling Clear Blue Hawaii at (808) 832-2438 or logging on to www.clearbluehawaii.com.
Changing Of The Guard
Veteran entertainment executive Ken Miller has taken the helm at Van Nuys Flight Center (VNFC) in Van Nuys, Calif. Miller is no stranger to aviation, and VNFC has been in the spotlight for almost two decades as the nation’s busiest general-aviation airport. Miller plans to continue the center’s successful Cessna dealership and maintenance operation, as well as the busy flight school. Students choose VNFC as a training destination because learning to fly in the high-density traffic environment gives them the confidence to fly anywhere. VNFC also rents a large fleet of late-model aircraft. Get more info from www.vnfc.com or call (818) 994-7300.
Now, That’s A Powered Glider
Sam Williams, eat your heart out. Bob Carlton of Albuquerque, N.M., successfully flew his new very light jet, a glider with two five-pound model airplane jet engines. Carlton’s sailplane doesn’t require a tow to get airborne. The 338-pound glider can take off under its own power and then stow the two tiny 45-pound thrust engines until further notice. Carlton plans on building a sleeker version of the concept, which could cruise at 250 knots, but until then, he plans on keeping his day job designing rocket control system software at Sandia National Labs. For more information, contact Silent Wings Airshows at (505) 275-5945 or log on to www.silentwingsairshows.com.