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Ugly Trends Threaten Aviation Industry 473

An anonymous reader writes "The Washington Post reports, 'In the past several decades, the number of private and recreational pilots across the country has plummeted, as has the number of small aircraft being manufactured — trends that some say have been accelerated by increasingly strict federal regulations. If the decline continues, it will spell trouble for entrepreneurs ... Since 1980, the number of pilots in the country has nosedived from about 827,000 in 1980 to 617,000, according to the Frederick, Md.-based Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. During about the same period, data from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association in Washington show that production of single-engine planes plunged from 14,000 per year to fewer than 700.'"
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Ugly Trends Threaten Aviation Industry

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  • Re:COST (Score:5, Informative)

    by Guspaz ( 556486 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:44PM (#46214393)

    Luxury car? As far as I can tell, the cheapest Cessna (the 172) costs $275,000 USD... that's as much as a house. And yet, the price of the aircraft when it was introduced, adjusted for inflation, is only about $72,000.

    So the cost of the aircraft has increased nearly 4x faster than inflation. That can't help!

  • Liability (Score:4, Informative)

    by tricorn ( 199664 ) <> on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:52PM (#46214425) Journal

    I'm an airplane pilot and glider instructor, I donated my time to the local glider club. I stopped instructing in part because I was concerned about the liability if a student should be in an accident and someone was hurt. Paying for hefty liability insurance wasn't really practical for me, especially as I wasn't getting any income from it. I pretty much gave the whole thing up shortly after 9/11 when the security regulations started to become too intrusive. It was also becoming too expensive, even for gliders, especially as insurance and gas costs increased.

    I've trained many students who went on to become pilots, some became airplane pilots from their exposure to aviation in gliders, some became instructors (a few of whom I trained to be instructors). Without instructors, you don't get student pilots. Without student pilots, you don't get new pilots, or new instructors.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:52PM (#46214427)

    And how have they changed in the past 60 years? You know, since Congress pass a law (1958) explicitly protecting manufacturers from liability:

  • Re:COST (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:55PM (#46214441)

    Forget the cost of the plane, because if you can afford the 100LL fuel, you can afford the plane. Even a relatively cheap little Cessna 172 costs more than $100/hr just for fuel. Once you add in maintenance, insurance, and fees for things like parking and landing, you're going to be paying at least $2000 per month!


  • Re:Cost (Score:5, Informative)

    by DexterIsADog ( 2954149 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @10:05PM (#46214487)

    Last time I checked, one of the most significant events to impact our society was perpetrated by nineteen individuals, among whom several were amateur pilots. Yes, I'm well aware that this is a very, very small number of people. On the other hand, everyone that has anything to do with flying has been thoroughly impacted. There is no surprise that pilots have been impacted, and if they want some semblance of sanity, then I suggest they start pushing for sanity for all of us, not just complaints about their own small part of the greater problem.

    I have no idea what you mean by this. I started taking lessons in 2003 in the Philadelphia area, and the only "impact" that pilots, instructors, and flight school owners ever referred to was the no fly zones around locations where the president might be, and jokes about how screwed you'd be if you violated that airspace. And this had nothing to do with 9/11, it was established many decades earlier.

    Please list the "impact" that you say that private pilots have experienced. That was what the article was about, by the way. Not you having to take off your shoes at security.

    This downturn in private pilot activity is most likely economic.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 10, 2014 @10:09PM (#46214509)

    The protection from the General Aviation Revitalization Act is only for aircraft older than 18 years old.

  • Re:Cost (Score:5, Informative)

    by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @10:26PM (#46214593)
    Perhaps you fail to realize that government regulations have played a significant role in incomes remaining stagnant.
  • Re:Cost (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 10, 2014 @10:51PM (#46214685)

    That you're blaming Obama for the state of the economy when said economy faltered under a certain President Bush, speaks volumes.

    Then again, there's plenty of reasons why it would be completely lost on you if anybody said Obama hadn't been pursuing a liberal economic policy, but was actually following conservative mantras, even to his signature healthcare reform law.

    But that might interfere with your fragile and naive political sensibilities.

  • Re: Cost (Score:4, Informative)

    by pivot_enabled ( 188987 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @11:17PM (#46214823)

    I don't buy into mindless conservative drivel either, but as a pilot with a plane I can tell you that it is not drivel in this case. From new medical requirements to odious maintenance regulations to new border crossing requirements the list of inane federal requirements keeps going up. For all of this the USA is still the best and cheapest place to fly but that isn't saying much considering how absurd it can be to fly in other parts of the world. One bright spot is the sport pilots license. I think many people are not aware of how inexpensive it is to obtain a sport pilots license, and how good some of those aircraft are.

  • Pilot here. (Score:5, Informative)

    by KiranWolf ( 635591 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @11:41PM (#46214949) Homepage
    I'm also going to chime in with the "it's too expensive" issue. Flying is amazingly expensive. It's always been expensive, but the costs of aviation have risen along with everything else (and in some cases, much, much faster) while real wages ... haven't.

    At my local FBO, airplanes rent for between $110 and $170 an hour wet (with fuel) depending on the type and equipment. If you're a student, expect to pay between $25 and $50 an hour for instruction, and the average student (so I'm told) requires between 50 and 60 hours of instruction before they're ready to sit for exams. Add in about $200 for your medical and another $500 or so for leaning materials, another few hundred in miscellaneous costs, and the cost just get licensed is, at the low end, around $8,000 and can easily go in excess of $13,000+.

    And then you've got your license. Then what? Have you looked at the cost of airplanes recently? There's a reason pretty much nobody buys airplanes anymore. Only clubs and flight schools own airplanes. You want something newer than 40 years old and seats 4 people, it will run you in excess of $50,000. And forget anything new. A new Cessna 172 currently goes for in excess of $300,000.

    So yes. It's so expensive even to just learn to fly that it is effectively priced out of all the but (what's left of) the upper middle class and the wealthy.

    But there's another issue, too, that I think warrants some attention: health.

    So many things that are considered "common" diagnoses now and are easily treatable, such as high blood pressure, ADHD, depression, etc. are considered disqualifying conditions by the FAA. Even though many of these conditions are easily treatable by modern medicine, they're disqualifying for even a third-class (private pilot) medical certificate.

    While the costs are what is primarily keeping people away from flying right now, the archaic medical certifying process used by the FAA is not helping.
  • Not Cost! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 10, 2014 @11:52PM (#46215021)

    The cost of an airplane is not the issue. If you look back to at least the 1960s, an airplane cost about as much as a middle class house. That has not changed. The cost of OPERATING an airplane HAS changed. It is more expensive. It is more complicated and arcane. I say this as a licensed pilot for the last 25 years. Some things are much easier and safer. TIS and ADS-B have improved traffic awareness. GPS has improved navigation. Moving maps and weather overlays have improved situational awareness tremendously. Some minor improvements in aerodynamics have trickled down to the GA market and that has helped as well.

    But the airspace systems is hideously more complex than it was in decades past. Controlled airspace has grown enormously over cities. The day when you could cross the country in a Piper Cub without even so much as a radio are vanishing fast.

    All that said, I don't think the complexity or cost is the issue. I think the primary change is social. People returned from military training wanting to do some of the things they did in the service. So amateur radio grew, aviation grew, recreational shooting sports grew, sport diving grew... but if you look at the statistics today, there aren't as many who make the transition from military to civilian life. It ended when the draft ended --and those baby boomers are retiring and dying off.

    Most kids approach these endeavors with Grandpa gently hoping a spark will light in their grandchildren. And it doesn't happen. These activities are all perceived as legal liabilities, frightening, and pointless.

    The thrill of doing really cool things in aviation/radio/mechanics/shooting sports/etc.. is vanishing fast. These activities remain as expensive as they ever were, but the romance of doing it is just not there. We have killed the adventure and excitement with safety, policies, regulations, and so on. I'm not saying the latter are a bad thing; but people want to feel alive by doing something unique and exciting. Aviation is just another form of transportation and it isn't even particularly glamorous any more. Radio is your cell phone. You can call your buddy overseas for next to nothing any time you like. Who needs a shortwave radio? Guns owners are regarded as social pariahs by much of the population, with politicians and the news media ranting non stop nonsense against them at every opportunity. Backyard mechanics are considered an environmental nuisance by most home-owner associations. There was even a time when kids used to have chemistry labs in their back yard sheds. No longer. If you have a chemistry lab, you are usually regarded as some sort of subversive bomb maker.

    We are killing this generation with mediocre education, discouraging technical endeavors at every step, polluting minds with nonsense endeavors from the Internet, and then we sit and wonder why so few kids take any sort of STEM interest.

    Aviation isn't the only thing that is dying. It is the curious, entrepreneurial spirit and playfulness of the average teen-age kid that is dying. They're being coddled and protected by every helicopter parent and school administrator around. Then they go to college in record numbers, only to come home and live in the basement for lack of any interest in the world around them.

    Societal mediocrity has won. We need to light an afterburner under the maker movement to undo this nonsense. It is killing us as a society.

  • Re:Cost (Score:4, Informative)

    by CohibaVancouver ( 864662 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @11:58PM (#46215053)

    Last time I checked, one of the most significant events to impact our society was perpetrated by nineteen individuals

    In 2012 alone, there were 34,000 motor vehicle deaths in the USA. Nearly 32,000 in 2011.

    What has changed in terms of driver licensing, training and laws to address this?

  • Re:Cost (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @12:34AM (#46215223)

    We are working on Obama's 6th year as president. This is Obama's economy, now.

    Yes, it is. Have you noticed how it's getting better? The economy was in dire straits before he took office, now it's recovering.

    We're much better off than the fall-off under Bush.

    Did you want it to improve faster? Who's been obstructing Obama's policies again??

    I know it's hard for liberals to come to terms with facts they disagree with.

    Not as hard as it is for Conservatives to stick to reality, as the reason flap with the CBO numbers shows. Or any other complaints they have, like how the Right-wing wouldn't get upset over a multicultural commercial(Poor Coca-Cola!), how the government is growing (its shrinking), how Obama isn't deporting illegal immigrants (He's deported more than Bush had), and so forth.

    Some of you continue to blame Reagan on this very thread, despite 8 years of Clinton and another 5 years of Obama.

    Because many policies of Reagan and his kindred are still in effect, and are influencing things to this day. Besides, have you seen the posts complaining about the Great Society and the New Deal? Have you complained about them being out of date?

    No? Why ever not?

    I'm not at all surprised you still blame Bush. He's good for you to scape-goat for at least another 20 years.

    Don't worry, you'll be blaming Obama till the next millennium.

    At least Bush and Republicans tried to warn of the unsustainable Freddy and Fannie, while Democrats fought any possibility of reform tooth and nail, under the guise of protecting the middle class. Democrats protected the middle class real good, didn't they?

    Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae weren't the problem in themselves, it was the investment bankers and other financial manipulators who caused the problems, you're blaming the victims for what happened.

    Which much like Bush's fixes, is the wrong direction to go.

    But you're right, Democrats didn't do enough to protect the middle class, if they had, we'd have had some financial crooks taken to court and put in jail.

    Bush does share some blame, though, due to his over-encouragement of home ownership and his failure to recognize the impending catastrophe, as did nearly every other politician. However, the roots of the meltdown can clearly be traced back to the Democrat policies of the 90s, where the CRA and related bank regulations were strengthened, lending standards were weakened, and Government Sponsored Entities (GSEs), Freddie and Fannie, were required to purchase increasingly more of the mortgage market, primarily riskier lower-income loans, through Clinton's National Homeownership Strategy (NHS).

    Try again, CRA didn't cause the problems. Try Gramm–Leach–Bliley instead of the CRA.

    Why do you look to the ones who are suffering from the misconduct of others, rather than blaming the people gaining advantage out of it?

    There's nothing conservative about Obama, his policies, or Obamacare. Just because he fooled you gullible liberals with his hope-and-change schtick, doesn't mean he's a conservative. I'd love to hear your justification for such a claim.

    What, you've not heard about how the Stimulus was full of tax cuts, how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was straight out of the Heritage Foundation's playbook? If you're only hearing about it now, I'm surprised.

    A liberal healthcare reform would have been built around actual socialized medicine, not insurance company handouts, and an economic stimulus from the left-wing would have had a WPA equivalent, not more tax cuts for millionaires.

  • Re:Cost (Score:5, Informative)

    by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <> on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @02:24AM (#46215571)

    Amazingly, pretty much nothing about people's income has kept pace with the cost of living during the last 30 years. And they are wondering why less people are flying airplanes?

    Well, the cost of flying lessons is mostly dependent on the per-hour airplane costs.

    Ground school is so cheap, most flying schools (Flight Training Units) ask for $200 and it's a lifetime membership - take it as many times as you want. Or you can take online courses for a little more.

    But the plane rental is fairly expensive. Though there are several innovations in the area. Like Light Sport, which has far lower rental costs, far lower training requirements (half the time), and while it's a bit restrictive, it is a cheap stepping stone to a full private pilot's license. Plus, no medical - if you hold a valid driver's license, you can self-certify.

    The other innovation is flight simulation - many schools are getting new RedBird full motion simulators (cheap - something like $30K fully equipped). Some schools even offer free use of the simulators to practice as much as you want, minimizing the amount of propeller spinning time because you can practice maneuvers over and over again at a much lower cost.

    And it's not news - AOPA in 2011 did an extensive survey of why aviation has an 80+% dropout rate. Barring financial difficulties, they discovered there's a lot of systemic problems - imagine you're spending $20,000 on flight training - you'd like to be treated with respect, courtesy, and everything else due a customer, right? Surprisingly, they found a good portion of horror stories.

    Of course, the other big reason is, well, pilots aren't paid very much. If you intend to make it a career, you're looking at $40-80K+ in education (comparable to many degrees). However, the starting pay for a right seater (copilot) on a regional is barely $20k. And that's the shit routes with shit times and shit layovers. Give it a good 15 years, and maybe you can get into big iron like a 737 and start making $100K+. Provided your airline hasn't folded, merged, or anything else (one of the biggest things during airline mergers is seniority - the longer you have been with the airline, the more you're paid, and it takes years).

    Yes, the early career of a pilot is poverty. Most people have done the math and realized they could just get an engineering degree (even in aerospace!) and make twice that as a new grad. Or more.

    Of course, the final thing is that people think flying is "for the rich" - but all you need is a decent middle-class income. It greatly extends the reach of the "weekend getaway" from a state away to several states away. Or you can go from coastal California (say, San Diego) to Vegas for a weekend and still have a lot of time to gamble, see a show, and partake lunch, while arriving home in time for dinner.

  • Re:Cost (Score:5, Informative)

    by luckymutt ( 996573 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @03:18AM (#46215715)
    So, you're quoting from, and linking to, The Heritage Foundation and Fox News... spin there at all. I'm sure the math is dead-on.
    Please don't pretend that Reagan's spending was not out of control.

"Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb