In many ways 2016 was a challenging year for aviation. Sales were down, not catastrophically, but down nonetheless. The numbers of pilots and active pilots continue to decline, and the prices of new airplanes continue to climb, though the features and build quality continue to climb, as well. None of these circumstances is ideal, but these are things that are subject to long-term trends. They can’t be fixed with a single new-pilot program, a quick rule change by the FAA or a couple of big sales to flight schools. Those are good things, granted, but the big problems in aviation are generational, cultural and economic. They are, in short, the kinds of problems that defy emergency solutions.
But the good news is this: The solutions for all of those problems will come in due time. In fact, they’re already in the works. They are, as is almost always the case with big changes to established industries, the work of people trying to do the impossible, like develop a powerful computer that can fit on your desktop, make electric cars competitive with gas-burning models, or make airplanes that are cheaper to buy and operate, safer and more fun to fly. Those are the big ideas that will transform the industry, and they are, as I said, in the works. Disruptive technology hardly ever sounds plausible until it starts disrupting something. At that point, the changes seem, in retrospect, to have been inevitable. That will happen in aviation before too long.
That’s not to say there weren’t big things that happened in 2016. There were some great achievements, many of which deserve special note.
The EAA has continued its great work in helping people who build their own aircraft do so at a higher level of quality and, when it comes time to fly them, get the new planes into the air with a greatly reduced level of risk. Manufacturers of kit aircraft also deserve a lot of credit. Their kits are better built and more easily assembled than ever. And let’s not forget to give the FAA its due. The agency seems to have recognized what the goal is around GA: safer flying, so its enforcement has been smarter when it comes to homebuilding assistance, which we recognize is a complicated subject. No one wants pro shops to turn into de facto aircraft manufacturers, but we all know that pro shops can help builders turn out better constructed, safer airplanes. We think the FAA has found the enforcement sweet spot. Enough said about that.
Despite light planes being a difficult market, there were several noteworthy introductions, including the remarkable HondaJet (we flew it first), the very satisfying Piper M600 (you heard about that one first here, too), and the Cubcrafters XCub (yup, you saw it on our cover first, also), just in case there was any doubt about who’s on top of the big aviation stories. There were other noteworthy new plane stories, including the cool new Mooney Acclaim Ultra (P&P was first to fly and write about it, too). There were upgrades from Cessna on its M2 light jet, from Daher on its supercool TBM 930, from Embraer on its Phenom 100 light jet, and from Aviat, with a number of cool new features on its aggressive and sleekly styled Husky two-seater, among many others.
In terms of regulation, we finally got the third-class medical certification regs we’ve wanted, well, at least for the most part. We’re taking a wait-and-see attitude on how the FAA chooses to implement them. Regardless, many of us, myself included, hope we’ve taken our last FAA physical. Thanks to AOPA and the EAA for their years-long efforts to push that bill through Congress, because the FAA wasn’t listening. And thanks for nothing to ALPA, the airline pilots union that made the baffling decision to fight against third-class reform, as if there were some kind of real threat to safety associated with it. There will be no measurable safety impact whatsoever, except the stress levels of many pilots will be greatly reduced.
Plane & Pilot has undergone some major changes over the past year, and the feedback we’ve been getting from many of our readers has been great. We’d love to hear your views, too. Email me and let me know what you like about the magazine and what you don’t, what you’d like to see more of, or even less of. My email address is [email protected]. And if you have pictures of your airplane to share, that’s always a bonus.
Write For Us
Are you interested in contributing to Plane & Pilot? We’d love to read your stuff. We’re always looking for contributions to our Lessons Learned about Flying (and About Life). In these tales, the author tells about a close call or particularly meaningful flight, or both. Those stories we select to be in the magazine are illustrated by our award-winning artist Gabriel Campanario. Do you have other stories to tell, expertise to share, tales of your professional flying life? Drop us an email at [email protected] and tell us about it. We’d love to hear from you.
Plane & Pilot eNews
One change you might have noticed at Plane & Pilot is that we’re not publishing news in the print magazine. With aviation news delivered electronically on a regular basis through other media, we felt our readers might like to see those news pages devoted to other kinds of content. If you’re looking for news, check out Plane & Pilot’s weekly eNews. Every issue, you’ll read stories and opinions we guarantee you won’t see anywhere else. And while you won’t get many stories about the airlines or corporate goings on at Airbus, you will find stories about real flying, real independent opinion, great flying tips and tales from the best writers in aviation, from Bill Cox to Patty Wagstaff, just to name a couple of our stars.
So, when you get a moment, go to planeandpilotmag.com/newsletter to subscribe to our eNews. We don’t just think you’ll like it. We think you’ll get addicted to it.
I’d like to welcome our newest Plane & Pilot team member to the lineup. Kate O’Connor is a private pilot and a certificated dispatcher. Kate got enchanted with flying at an early age when she got an E-ticket discovery flight in a Decathlon, and, as they say, that was all it took. She went on to study at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, you know, the campus surround by big rocks in northern Arizona. There, she studied aeronautics and meteorology, earned her Private Pilot’s certificate, as well as one in dispatching, too. So look for Kate’s byline on a regular basis here at Plane & Pilot. We’re delighted to have her aboard.