When the FAA released its 2014 to 2034 forecast, it painted a fairly encouraging picture for aviation overall. The picture for general aviation, however, was a little less rosy. The report points out that the number of active general aviation aircraft fell by 6.4 percent between 2010 and 2012, and that the increase over the next 20 years is expected to be just 0.5 percent.
But to comments that general aviation is dying, experts say it just isn’t so. Rather, they say, it is evolving and changing to current market conditions.
In this issue of Airport Business, we took a closer look at general aviation and general aviation airports. To get a first-person perspective on what general aviation’s future holds, writer Jen Bradley talked with Mario Rodriguez, the former head of Long Beach Airport, which is considered one of the busiest general aviation airports in the country.
Rodriguez, who takes the helm of the Indianapolis Aviation Authority this month, brings up a number of general aviation concerns in his interview. These include:
• Economics: The economics of general aviation have simply priced many people out of it. Says Rodriguez, “It just costs too much to own and operate an aircraft.”
• Pilot Shortages: If fewer people enter general aviation and learn to fly, the industry will suffer. Rodriguez explains, “In the future we’re going to have a lot of pilots retiring and if we don’t keep up with the replacement cycle, it will dissolve. That will affect everyone … They all usually start on general aviation aircraft and move up.”
• Non-aviation Revenue: General aviation airports need to boost their ability to generate non-aeronautical revenue. “At general aviation airports, for the most part,” says Rodriguez, “it’s a struggle to make ends meet. The more non-aviation revenue that comes in, the better.”
• Publicity: One of the most important things general aviation airports can do is publicize their economic value to the community. “… communities for the most part don’t understand the value [of their general aviation airports],” says Rodriguez. “They just don’t.”
• Lobbying: GA airports must speak loudly and clearly and with a single voice in Washington. “Anything policy-wise which is negative toward general aviation airports has a huge economic impact nationwide on all air traffic,” says Rodriguez.
While it’s true that the future looks a bit bleaker than it did during its heyday in the 1970s and early 1980s, it’s not dead and neither are its airports. But to maintain an upward trend, these airports need to keep looking for ways to perform better, lobby for what they need, and publicize the value that they bring.