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Why is General Aviation declining?

Cost comes up as reason #1. But what drives up cost?
1) The cost of certification?
2) The cost of defending against law suits?
3) The cost due to lack of economy of scale?
4) Product not appealing?

  1. holds true for other industries as well, so is not sufficient as an explanation.
  2. holds true for other industries as well, so is not sufficient as an explanation.
  3. mixes up cause and effect. There used to be economy of scale.
  4. holds true for other industries to a much larger extent, so is not sufficient as an explanation.
    So what is the real reason of GA’s decline?

My personal opinion is that the problems in GA are utterly self-inflicted, entirely due to incapably management without vision. Perhaps I am wrong. Actually, I hope I am right, because it means the problems are fixable.

I’d agree that general aviation is over-regulated, but I don’t know whether I’d call it ‘over-managed’. Management implies that there is – or should be – some master plan to oversee it whereas in fact all we need is a light touch to ensure that we don’t pose an unacceptable risk or nuisance to others, and that when we go to get our aircraft maintained, we can be reasonably confident in the abilities of those we are paying to ensure our safety.

The utility value has dropped, as other means of transport have improved. When my aircraft was built in the 1960s its 80 knot cruising speed would have been faster than most trains, and its cost much lower than scheduled air transport. Imagine being a yuppie in 1980 and flying from London to Versailles for a weekend in Paris. These days you’d just get on the Eurostar, and arrive there far sooner and in a lot more comfort. Or get on Easyjet to go even further afield. And even the slower trains can outpace me.

I suspect a large part of it is down to time and money. You need to invest a significant amount of time into study/currency in order to fly safely and those who have the money rarely have the time, at least amongst my peers. I think it’s fair to say life is becoming more competitive in every sphere. Certainly in medicine they used to say that the first few years were sheer hell, then it got easier. Now, the consultants seem at least as stressed as the junior staff. And having a solid middle class job isn’t enough to guarantee being able to buy a house let alone to support an interest in aviation.

Last Edited by kwlf at 16 Nov 04:42
EGCW

I think that presented with these options only

1) The cost of certification?
2) The cost of defending against law suits?
3) The cost due to lack of economy of scale?
4) Product not appealing?

and I had to pick one, it would have to be 4).

1) Is relevant only if you don’t have the volume, so it’s another circular argument.

2) Is largely false; nobody has found evidence in the published accounts of any of the major players of litigation or product liability insurance being a relevant item. But it’s a wonder excuse for Marketing Dept for explaining why Box 1 (cert) is 5k while Box 2 (same hardware same software but uncert) is 2k, when in reality it is mostly just product differentiation for different markets, a difference in market focus, etc.

3) Is circular again

4) This is the big one. We have had many threads here on this in the more or less distant past. People just have “better” things to do with their money. Younger people, who in GA (and other “technology / control” related pursuits) are mostly men, often do have the money (I don’t believe GA has become more expensive in real terms; a decent plane has always cost about the same as a house, and you can’t count the number of €100k cars on any big road you stand next to) but choose to spend their time and money strategically where there is a social scene. And since few women hang out in GA, the social scene these guys are looking for is mostly missing. IMHO, this is more of a factor these days than say 40 years ago because modern people keep more balls in the air and are much more focused in where their leisure time and money go.

And with not many coming in, the average age just keeps going up.

It has always been the case that nearly everybody who gets a PPL chucks it in almost right away, so even small negative factors which impact those who remain will have a big effect on activity. Then you get second order factors e.g. lack of modern PPL trainers means the training fleet is so decrepit it is a complete joke; turning up at the average school is like travelling back in time to the 1950s – and some of the attitudes are 1950s also. So only the most motivated (=obscessive ) remain. And yes the utility value has dropped due to cheap airlines but I don’t think GA ever had that unless you had an IR, which in Europe has always been a very small % (much more in the USA).

However, people are generally still very positive about GA. Whenever we (Justine and I) have visitors, they are keen to hear our stories and where we have been. Whether this would translate into any of them doing a PPL, I doubt, but the underlying interest remains.

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Peter wrote:

People just have “better” things to do with their money.

Same should could be said about boating, car racing, golfing.

Whenever we (Justine and I) have visitors, they are keen to hear our stories and where we have been.

Same hear. I have many co-workers that are fascinated to hear stories and would love to fly themselves. A lot of the fascination still exists. I am not sure if #4 is true.

@kwlf: With management, I meant to refer to the business management of GA companies, i.e. the CEOs, and senior leadership teams.

I’m sure it’s true that big names such as Cessna aren’t as focused on basic PPL stuff as once they were, but there are plenty of companies out there, some of which seem to be doing reasonably well within the constraints of the size of the market (if you include non-certified aircraft). How would you pin the failure of a sector on ‘management’, when it’s far from an oligopoly?

EGCW

There is some terrible management (e.g. the way Honeywell trashed Bendix/King) but that just serves a bigger lunch to the competition (Garmin in this case).

I think the basic issue is low volumes coupled with a large existing fleet which is “good enough” for an ageing customer base which doesn’t attach much value to stuff being brand new. Cirrus made a successful hole in this deadlock but their volumes are now way down too.

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

GA was killed by cheap airline tickets and the internet. Cheap airline tickets largely removed the transportation utility value of GA (GA used to be cheaper than CAT) and internet provided a new answer to the “what do I do in my free time” question.

People are only superficially fascinated by or interested in GA. In the old days people were queuing up to fly with a Cessna, it was often their first or only flight. Nowadays they pretend interest but then never have time. One would just drive to the GA field to hang out, maybe fly for a bit but really just because it was a relatively attractive way to spend the free time.

Same should could be said about boating, car racing, golfing.

I know nothing about car racing but the golf clubs here in The Netherlands are in decline and I understand from people in the boat trade that the number of people trying to sell their craft is at an all time high.

EHLE / Lelystad, Netherlands, Netherlands

Lucius wrote:

1) The cost of certification?
2) The cost of defending against law suits?
3) The cost due to lack of economy of scale?
4) Product not appealing?

1. What exactly is the cost of certification? And by breaking it down into it’s pieces, what is the cost of each.
2. What are these costs?
3. This certainly affects GA. Aircraft are hand made and always will be until the production is increased by several orders of magnitude
4. Depends what is meant by “product”.

I think the utility value of GA is close to zero, with one exception: Helicopters. When I got my PPL in 1992 it costed about one airline ticket to the states and back. Today a PPL costs at least 20 airline tickets to the states and back. A Cirrus cost close to 1M €, which is a ridiculous price, utility vise, compared with today’s effective airline and train systems.

The main reasons however, is the withering of the middle class in the USA, the kit industry, microlight in Europe and the light stuff like paragliders etc. This means that recreational aviation that was a large part of GA (in combination or by itself), is now several separate items that are incompatible with “old style” GA, and that fewer people can afford new Diamond/Cirrus class aircraft.

LeSving wrote:

A Cirrus cost close to 1M €, which is a ridiculous price, utility vise, compared with today’s effective airline and train systems.

I’m not sure about effectiveness of public transport.
If you travel from metropolitan areas to others it is fine. Hamburg to Munich or London to Frankfurt.
But try Northampton to Jena. This is a 18hr travel. Is this effective?

I spent my weekends mostly on travel. I’m so sick of public transport.

Last Edited by mdoerr at 16 Nov 07:59
EGBE - Coventry
494 Posts
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