Paint a Brighter GA Picture

June 16, 2014
General aviation isn't dying, it's evolving, experts say

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, general aviation, they say, is evolving and changing to current market conditions.

In the current 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, from those who run the aircraft to mechanics and flight crews. They all usually start working on general aviation aircraft and move up.”

-- Non-aviation Revenue: General aviation airports need to boost their ability to generate non-aeronautical revenue. “This is getting more and more important,” says Rodriguez. “At general aviation airports, for the most part, 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: General aviation 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, noting general aviation professionals need to actively lobby for positive change.

While it’s true that the future looks a bit bleaker than it did during general aviation’s hay day 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 their eyes on the general aviation ball, continually looking for ways to perform better, lobby for what they need, and publicize the value that they bring.

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Congrats to Rosemarie Andolino

Rosemarie Andolino, who helped deliver two new runways and better food to O’Hare International Airport, recently announced plans to step down from her post as the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Aviation in October. While everyone is sad to see her go, Airport Business would like to give her a thumb’s up for her efforts in sustainability, concessions, airport construction and more. Andolino changed the face of commercial airports, and for the better, and must be commended for a job well done. Good luck to you, Rosemarie, as you move toward a new chapter in aviation. We’re excited to see your next chapter unfold!

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Air Traffic Controllers Still Working “Rattlers”

Air traffic controllers are still working schedules known as “rattlers” that make it likely that they’ll get little or no sleep before overnight shifts, more than three years after a series of incidents involving controllers sleeping on the job, according to a report by the National Research Council. The council also expressed concern about the effectiveness of the Federal Aviation Administration's program to prevent its 15,000 controllers from suffering fatigue on the job, a program that has been hit with budget cuts. The committee stressed its concern that controllers are still working schedules that cram five eight-hour work shifts into four 24-hour periods. The schedules are popular with controllers because at the end of last shift they have 80 hours off before returning to work the next week. But controllers also call the shifts "rattlers" because they "turn around and bite back." When factoring in commute times and the difficulty people have sleeping during the day when the human body's circadian rhythms are "promoting wakefulness," controllers are "unlikely to log a substantial amount of sleep, if any, before the final midnight shift," the report said. "From a fatigue and safety perspective, this scheduling is questionable and the committee was astonished to find that it is still allowed under current regulations," the report said.