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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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  • Cost (Score:5, Insightful)

    by asmkm22 ( 1902712 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:16PM (#46214225)

    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?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:17PM (#46214239)

    Except for those that got wrecked, most of those planes from 1980 are still flying. So if there are fewer pilots, it's no surprise that few new planes are being built.

  • COST (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Garybaldy ( 1233166 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:19PM (#46214259)

    Well perhaps if planes did not cost as much as high end luxury cars (i'm sure federal regulations are some of that cost). More people would be into flying. Just learning to fly is expensive. It is a hobby only the well to do can afford anymore.

    I spent pretty much my whole childhood hanging out at the local general avaition field. Gone were the days when pilots felt secure taking some local kid up for a flight. And that was 30 years ago.

  • Blame the lawyers. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jcr ( 53032 ) <> on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:20PM (#46214267) Journal

    The cost of manufacturers liability awards is what's killing the light aircraft industry in the USA.


  • Re:COST (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:39PM (#46214371) Homepage Journal

    Yes. A new Cessna 172 Skyhawk probably cost $310,000 or more.

    Even renting an older (though nice and very well-maintained) airplane is $90/hr, which at least includes fuel.

    Some people kit-build planes, but that's a lot of work and it all has to be done and maintained right.

    Insurance is expensive. Renting a hangar stall is expensive. Continuing education is expensive.

    Regulations don't help, though there are low-regulation categories. Those are a considerably higher risk category because some of the people that take advantage of the lower barrier to entry are a bit more lax in doing things properly.

    Learning to fly often isn't a good career move because pilots are now generally paid poorly.

    One really has to want to fly badly, especially to give up several other hobbies to afford flying.

  • by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:40PM (#46214379)

    The motorcycle community is facing the exact same problem of declining numbers.
    Libraries are facing the same problem.
    Classical music is facing the same problem.
    Newspaper readers are dwindling.

      The source of the problem is the same:

    There are less and less younger pilots, riders, readers, etc. interested.

    As the Baby Boomers slowly are forced to give up their passion / hobbies due to age, sickness, etc the rate of exit is significantly >>> the rate of entering. :-/ Liability (getting sued) and Risks (crashing) are seen as "not worth it" by the younger crowd. Like any community, you need enough "new blood" to sustain it and that isn't happening. Is that a bad thing? I don't know, but we can see trends and it looks like our world is changing. I guess that is the million dollar question: Is it changing for the better ?

    I also wonder if /. mirrors this change to some degree? You have new "hip" / "emo" sites like Reddit, Dig, 4chan, etc., yet sites like /. have been around "forever" in internet time but for the most part people don't want "deep intellectual stimulation" anymore. They want "sound bites." the "10-second news."

    The same trend is also happening in gaming; I call it "Fast Food Gaming" -- dumbed down button mashing of which Diablo 3, COD, etc. are the perfect examples. Now there is a time and a place for less cerebral challenges but I wonder if we're losing something along the way ...

    Developing the heart & soul of personal relationships, and we no longer care about experiencing and exploring our passions physically. Why, when we can do it "all" virtually?

    Piracy === Disrespect.
    Piracy =/= Theft.

  • Re:Cost (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:51PM (#46214421)

    Indeed. It's the same story with recreational sailboat registrations.

  • Re:Cost (Score:1, Insightful)

    by capaslash ( 941889 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @10:10PM (#46214513) Homepage
    I don't consider excessive regulation to be a problem so much as the general state of the U.S. economy. Basically since Reagan took office everything's been downhill. Globalization ... decline of unions ... technology's influence in the labor market ... concentration of wealth among the elite while the masses get poorer and poorer.
  • by NoImNotNineVolt ( 832851 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @10:11PM (#46214521) Homepage
    I can't help but suggest that maybe the younger crowd isn't buying into these things because of the development of new technologies.

    Motorcycles and aviation catered to a certain demographic of people looking to get out there and do something interesting, something crazy. Perhaps they were the adrenaline junkies of their time. Today, if you're an adrenaline junkie, there are plenty of more accessible alternatives. You can go skydiving with little more than a couple bucks in your wallet. Hell, you can play Grand Theft Auto at your buddy's house for free. I'm not suggesting that playing a video game is the same thing as riding a motorcycle, but merely that it can be a substitute [albeit a poor one].

    Libraries and newspapers are dying, well, for the same reason the buggy whip industry died. There's really no good reason for someone to print stuff out and distribute it physically when it's so much easier to distribute information digitally. Sure, some people prefer real paper [myself included], but some people prefer horses over cars. That didn't stop the automobile from taking over, leaving equestrianism as a hobby for those with a peculiar interest.

    Classical music fascinates me. Its claimed death aside, I find the 'timeless' sense of classical music truly interesting. When we think of music from 200, 300, 500 years ago, we think of classical music. Of course, there must have surely been "folk" music around at the time as well, but we don't really think of that. "Folk" music seems to be largely forgotten by history. Today, we see all this pop music permeating contemporary culture. However, 200, 300, 500 years from now, will all our rock & roll, rap, and dubstep be largely forgotten along the mass of other "folk" music? Will people be talking of our "contemporary classical" composers (I can't even name one) as the benchmark for our generation while being ignorant of Elvis, Rakim, and Bassnectar?

    To contradict what I just said about classical music: complaining about the death of classical music is like complaining about the death of women's shoulder pads. Culture changes, but it doesn't disappear. It's not like people have stopped listening to music, or stopped making music.
  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @10:13PM (#46214533) Homepage

    Because those high performance 400 mph prop planes were piloted by 20 year olds with great eyesight and reflexes (and a depressingly large fatality rate). Your average 50 year old dentist should be in a Cessna, not a P51.

  • Re:COST (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rich0 ( 548339 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @10:52PM (#46214697) Homepage

    Think about what you just said. A crash killed somebody, therefore pilots should have a medical exam every few years (and it is worth noting that a fairly large number of conditions and medications disqualify you from flying).

    Car crashes routinely kill several people at a time, and yet I don't believe that any state requires periodic physicals, disqualifying anybody from driving who takes some of the common blood pressure medications. If they did half the population wouldn't be able to drive.

    I think there is a balance, and it probably involves more strict regulations on driving and less strict regulation on flying.

  • Re:Cost (Score:3, Insightful)

    by riverat1 ( 1048260 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @10:54PM (#46214709)

    Yeah, it all started when Reagan reduced the top marginal tax rate below 50%. Before that there was more incentive to put the money back into the business rather than hoard it for yourself.

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Monday February 10, 2014 @11:02PM (#46214739) Homepage

    Pardon me, but you sound like a grumpy old fart who picked the randomest things to suggest the next generation is going to shit.

    We frigging didn't have much choice, if we wanted to hang out together we had to physically be together. Being at home was pretty damn boring, we had to get out. Today I've got a ton of entertainment and access to everyone I know in my pocket, of course that changes things. YMMV but I'd say overall for the better. And no, I used to play "fast food gaming" a lot when I was younger, it's called getting old and not so easily dazzled by a cheap adrenaline thrill anymore. They're no worse today than I was back then, do you really remember yourself ten or twenty years ago? Honestly we weren't much into "deep intellectual stimulation".

    I used to tinker with my machines a lot and felt it was great fun, swapping parts and building machines from scratch and it was somehow fun. Then it became routine. Then it became a chore and now I just want to get the damn thing working out of the box and to never break. Same way about running around in an FPS deathmatch, it used to be fun for years. Then I hang in there to play with friends. Today I find the idea of everybody running around shooting each other and respawning just for the sake of shooting each other incredibly dull and pointless. But I'm the one that's changed, not the world.

  • Re:Cost (Score:4, Insightful)

    by aurizon ( 122550 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <noskcaj.llib>> on Monday February 10, 2014 @11:13PM (#46214797)

    Tort reform lacking, plane builders are driven out by fake litigation costs.
    What do you expect when you elect lawyers to run things they feed their brethren...

  • Re:Cost (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @12:02AM (#46215075) Homepage

    Have you not woken up to reality yet. A countries economic growth does not count for shit if only the top 1% get the benefit whilst the rest get screwed. Want to see a country grow, that only happens when the middle class economic wealth growths, they are the real driver, the real circulator of wealth. The top 1% are just parasites and like parasites they starve out the rest of the system so they grow ever more bloated.

    The middle class got screwed and they generated the numbers when it came to private flying, hence the massive drop. The top 1% want 99% poor, no middle class because the middle class are the power and the greatest threat to the psychopathic dominance of the 1%, who are conspiring to starve the middle class out of existence and have done so for the last thirty years.

  • by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @12:18AM (#46215141)

    Add to the costs: fuel. Overhauls from hell, with designs that haven't improved much since the 1940s. Draconian IFR costs. Jepps that break the bank. Tie down fees from the depths of hell. NOTAMs only a mother could love or an engineer understand, and plentiful poundage of them. Insurance costs.

    Yeah, older planes still fly, fewer pilots, new plane costs far higher than the cost of an average new home.

    And people wonder why sales are in the crapper.

  • by tricorn ( 199664 ) <> on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @01:19AM (#46215371) Journal

    Man, I take issue with about 90% of what you say. Yes, there are people who are all rules, but I haven't found them more likely to be in an accident, mostly because they spend so much time worrying about the rules they hardly ever fly. What I did find was that people who didn't take flying seriously were the ones more likely to have problems, regardless of their attitude towards being a stickler for the rules. Now, I knew quite a few of the "old fart" pilots, they were great pilots. They also knew their limits, they knew the rules, and they didn't do stupid things. They weren't good because they ignored the rules, they were able to get away with ignoring SOME of the rules because they understood exactly what the rules were for and when you could bend them. You fly a haphazard traffic pattern with them, though, you'd get your ear chewed off.

    My experience with FAA regulations is that most of them are more about common sense than blind obedience to stupid rules. If you read between the lines, most of them say "you can kill yourself, just don't kill anyone else, please." Many of the rest are about protocols, how you and other pilots can co-exist in the same airspace. That's as of 9/11, I pretty much stopped around then when stupid security regulations started coming out, so maybe things have changed.

    The most dangerous people are yahoos who think the rules are dumb, they're better than the average pilot, they can get away with it, so why should they bother. People who say "flying is easy, any monkey can do it" tend to be like that. Yeah, the mechanics of flying are pretty straightforward, and most people can learn to do it, however I found that people who took longer to learn tended to be the ones that had the highest flying skills eventually.

    If your instructor wasn't constantly testing your situational awareness, asking you what you'd do if something unexpected happened, either you had a poor instructor or you weren't paying attention. That's at least half of what your training is about.

    If your plan of action if your elevator gets stuck is to ask your front seat passenger to climb into the back seat - well, I don't think you've really thought it through very well. You're either going to be in an uncontrollable spin well before he gets his seat belt unbuckled or the airplane is controllable and the last thing you want to do is push your CG backwards with limited elevator control. Fail.

  • Re:Cost (Score:1, Insightful)

    by lucien86 ( 917502 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @01:29AM (#46215411)

    It really all depends on whether America gets another George W Bush as president. (Why do I think of Slim Pickens riding the bomb down in Dr Strangelove) : )

  • Re:Cost (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Sentrion ( 964745 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @03:23AM (#46215729)

    It really depends more on if we get another vice president like Dick Cheney. (Why do I think of Niccolò Machiavelli writing "Men are so simple and so much inclined to obey immediate needs that a deceiver will never lack victims for his deceptions").

  • Re:Not Cost! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ShoulderOfOrion ( 646118 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @05:10AM (#46216029)

    I agree with most of what you wrote, except your title. Cost is indeed a large part of the problem, along with everything else you cite.

    I also think you unfairly pick on teen-age kids. I see ' the curious, entrepreneurial spirit and playfulness' of just about every age group diminishing in all the activities you cite, and more. I've been a pilot for two decades and an experimental aircraft builder, and I see fewer and fewer unique homebuilt planes every year. Most new homebuilt planes are now assembled from a handful of popular kits. Why? Building from plans or even designing your own plane takes an extraordinary amount of time and money, something only a few have anymore.

    Amateur radio? Only a hardcore few still build their own gear, with the rest buying do-everything transceivers from a few big firms. What happened to the rest of the electronics hobbyists? Those with the passion and money apparently moved on to computers and now robotics. The rest left the hobby along with Radio Shack and the newsstand electronic and computer magazines. To build anything other than basic LED-flashing circuits today takes a lot of time and fancy (expensive) equipment.

    Shooting? My grandfather was an avid shooter and reloader. It takes time, commitment and the right gear. Another niche, expensive activity now.

    Mechanics? In 1982 my brother and I hot-rodded an old '67 Camaro for around $2K in our driveway. New V8, new tranny, and a bunch of parts scrounged from junkyards. 32 years later, I can't even change the oil on my Honda for less than $20, plus another $10 to take the used oil to the hazardous waste facility. None of the kids I know have the money to buy the tools and parts needed to 'hop up' a modern car, even if they had the skill to deal with EFI, CAN buses, and the like.

    In my opinion, the '50s and '60s were an anomalous time in U.S. history. A post-war economic boom, a baby boom, a nascent technology boom and Cold War panic, along with 40% fewer people around to get in the way, made for a unique set of circumstances that invigorated all the activities noted above. Those times are gone forever. Even the Maker movement cannot rescue us from the reality of the lack of disposable time and income that exists today.

  • by lagomorpha2 ( 1376475 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @09:58AM (#46216971)

    Mr. Silverstein [...] with his husband

    Yeah, I was wondering why he was being targeted for harassment.
    Then that line made it all clear.

    Things are getting better, but damned if asshole bigots aren't going to be dragged out of the last century kicking and screaming.

    I thought that for a moment as well but this makes a lot more sense:

    "His flight home had included a fuel stop in Colorado before the stop in Iowa City. Mr. Silverstein said the Colorado stop seemed to be of particular interest to the agents because that state has recently liberalized its marijuana laws. "

    It's kind of bigoted to assume Iowa is full of people looking for an excuse to harass gay people. This was the first state to legalize gay marriage and Iowa city is a surprisingly progressive college town. I'd recommend seeing it if it wasn't in the middle of, you know, nowhere.

    This wasn't a case of redneck cops trying to harass a gay couple, it was a case of greedy cops trying to use forfeiture laws to steal a nice aircraft for themselves.

  • Re:Cost (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @12:13PM (#46218285)

    Many things have "conspired" to drive down private aviation.

    1. As you mention, insurance costs for small plane manufacturers. Somehow, when some idiot flies into IFR weather, despite warnings from the FFS and ATC, the plane manufacturer is liable. Several small manufacturers have been bankrupted by lawsuits resulting from just one accident caused by pilot error.

    2. Local communities are raising fees, placing restrictions on, and generally forcing small airports to close. Small strips in the middle of nowhere become surrounded by homes and malls and the next thing you know, they are shut down.

    3. The FAA, just like any federal agency, is often on a power trip. Individual pilots are harassed over less then perfect paperwork, manufacturers are subject to suffocating levels of paperwork and regulations. I read somewhere that the 787 could not physically carry all the paperwork that had to be provided to the feds during its design/construction/certification.

    4. Lastly, the proliferation of restricted airspace makes it almost impossible to fly long distances without costly course changes to avoid them. Throw crazy security measures...heaven help you if you file a flight plan and are in the air and THEN a TFR is declared due to Presidential travel. While seeing an F-16 flying in formation with you is fun, the aftermath is definitely not.

    So as is usually the case, the primary driver of costs is the government.

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead