Why I Don’t Talk About “General Aviation” Anymore

January 23rd, 2014 by Rod Rakic

Back in the 1950′s, Cessna Aircraft produced this gem… “Wings for Doubting Thomas

This little documentary clearly spelled out the value proposition for Private Aviation 2 generations ago.

I rarely talk about “General Aviation.”

Like most people who read this blog, I’m much more interested in, “Private Aviation.”

You might think quickly that it’s the same, thing, but it’s not. General aviation is broadly defined as as all aviation except for military and airlines. That’s great, but I’m not a, “General Aviation enthusiast.” Frankly I don’t care much about, “General Aviation.” I don’t fly biz jets, cargo, fly much for hire, (Though I have the certificate for, it’s just not a big part of my life these days.) spray crops, perform in air shows, whatever…

While I may aspire to sit in the back of a something with turbines, drinking Cristal… It does not inspire me. I’d rather be up front flying the jet.

Private aviation is the part of civil aviation that does not include flying for hire.”

“In most countries, private flights are always general aviation flights, but the opposite is not true: many general aviation flights (such as banner towing, charter, crop dusting, and others) are commercial in that the pilot is hired and paid. Many private pilots fly for their own enjoyment, or to share the joys and convenience of general aviation with friends and family.”

– Wikipedia

You see “General Aviation,” is doing just fine. Ask anyone running a jet charter business these days. Business is up, folks who choose to afford it are buying jet cards and getting to where they want to go in style, and plenty of people are making a good living helping them get there. I’m fine with all that. “General Aviation,” is not dying. It’s growing.

But “Private Aviation” is the community that inspires me. It’s Private Aviation that’s what we’re really talking about when we fry bacon at Camp Scholler, or eat pancakes at the fly in. The ability to climb into a plane and fly myself and my friends or family someplace is like a magic power.

It’s Private Aviation that we built OpenAirplane to serve.

So you see, I don’t talk much about General Aviation. When I speak to the press about OpenAirplane. I explain that it is a marketplace for Private Aviation. I get asked all the time if OpenAirplane will let them hail a jet like they can hail a cab, or if we can help them charter a flight. My answer is always, “Not yet.” It’s just not the business we’re in right now. There are plenty of smart people working to offer charter for businesses and pleasure. That part of General Aviation is well served. I explain that we are focused on Private Aviation, because that’s where the opportunity lies today to unlock more value than anywhere else right now. General Aviation is a competitive, well served market with a healthy ecosystem. But Private Aviation hasn’t seen much innovation since Cessna commissioned that film. This is strange to me, because GPS, iPads, and composites sure have made it a lot easier. Private Aviation can create entirely new use cases for the over 5,000 airports, thousands of aircraft, and hundreds of thousands of certificates in the wallets of  pilots across the country.

Private Aviation has been in decline since the airlines we’re deregulated in 1978. The value proposition of Private Aviation has been evolving ever since. The industry and the community need to both step up to communicate the value proposition for Private Aviation to a new generation of “doubting Thomases,” updating what you see in the old documentary film above to speak to the value proposition we can offer today.

For most of us, the conversation isn’t about General Aviation, it’s about Private Aviation. Let’s call it what it is. I have no time sit back and complain. I believe we can make it better than ever.

Rod Rakic

Rod Rakic is committed to making aviation work better. He’s the co-founder at OpenAirplane, which is dedicated to making flying safer and more useful. He’s a pioneer in creating interactive experiences for almost 20 years. Rod is a digital strategist, professional pilot, and a user-experience nerd with a mission.

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The opinions expressed by the bloggers do not reflect AOPA’s position on any topic.

  • Jim

    Well put.
    I might change the term to “Personal Aviation”, but I get where you’re coming from.

    • http://www.OpenAirplane.com Rod Rakic

      Thanks JIm. I’m just sticking to what the encyclopedia definition says. ;D As a marketing guy at heart, I consciously fight the urge to put my own naming convention / spin on industry terminology. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      • Jim Hausch

        I admit there is a twinge of PC in my preference for “Personal” over “Private” when it comes to my preference for “Personal” when marketing aviation.

        My gut associates Private with exclusivity, a la “Private Club”. Private Clubs are great, but those who grow their membership do so through known connections. Exclusivity is great and has its place in marketing, but involves the root Exclude.

        Whereas “Personal” provides a nice balance to the alternative “Public”. Personal transportation is more attractive to more people (outside of a few major urban spaces) than Public transportation. We’d find little argument these days that airline transportation is now just another form of Public Transit.

        Also, I took a look at the Wiki entry for “Personal Aviation” – judging by the references, it seems to be a recent construct using private piloting as a foundation for the term. I’d hardly claim it to be standard usage with common acceptance at this point.

        If we are going to market to a broader audience – those w/o connections to the flying community now – and we had to pick a term, my vote still goes for “Personal”.

    • Louis Leet

      Good statement. I tried a couple years ago to get AOPA to make a distinction between “Business Aviation” and “Personal Aviation”, and they balked. I hope your suggestion gains some traction in the vernacular.

  • http://www.rapp.org/ Ron Rapp

    I have cropdusted, I fly biz jets, I fly turboprops, I fly competitive aerobatics, I instruct, and do many other things. Where do I fit in? I think “general aviation” is still the proper term for several reasons:

    First, I know you’re using a formal definition of “private aviation”, but I would note that private aviation includes many business jets, turboprops, rotorcraft, and other high-dollar kerosene burning aircraft. They’re privately owned as well.

    Second, we’re all in this together. The rules and regulations, costs, airport losses, user fees, etc affect us all. We have more political clout when we stick together. AOPA, GAMA, and other organizations that work on our behalf have more power to do so when they’re representing the whole rather than just individual piston-powered private aircraft operators and owners.

    Last, our industry is a very small one and once you start drawing lines it creates a sense of division. Us vs. them. Warbirds vs homebuilts vs jets vs whoever. General aviation is so powerful and so wonderful specifically because it DOES include cropdusting, blimps, air shows, and everything else under the sun.

    • Chris

      Despite being someone who flies only for fun/personal reasons, I tend to agree that it is counterproductive to divide up the GA community too much. Do I feel like AOPA sometimes focuses too much on the needs of bizjet owners over concerns of private pilots flying small pistons? Sure. But at the same time, we all benefit from the clout that AOPA has with Congress and the FAA precisely because it is the business/wealthy community that will make the biggest problems for them if they close airports/towers, tighten regulation, raise user fees, etc. It’s good to see some people in positions of influence and power actually support things I’m interested in for a change, even if it is borne out of their own self-interest.

      That said, it is the private/personal aviation arena that really needs a shot in the arm, and I hope efforts like OpenAirplane are successful in providing that. We can’t do it alone though, and if we don’t join together when practical to fight for our mutual interests, we’ll continue to lose ground.

    • http://www.OpenAirplane.com Rod Rakic

      Ron, you’re what strategists called an “edge case.” (…and all sorts of awesome.) But you’re not typical.

      I’m happy to include helps and turbine powered aircraft in my definition… if their being flown by the person who’s purpose it is to get places, more the merrier! I’m not exclusive of any of those. I’m simply talking about how the use case influences the business model. Nothing above is anti-turbine. I know (lucky) guys who fly themselves around in all sorts of turbine equipment.

      You bring up political clout. That is a topic beyond the scope about what I’m talking about. You also couldn’t find a guy less interested in politics. I’m not trying to be decisive. I’m calling for focus. The business model of private aviation needs the same attention and innovation we see across the other sectors of this huge umbrella of General Aviation. Private aviation is always General Aviation, but General Aviation is not always Private Aviation.

      When you serve everyone, you serve no one.

  • http://www.aviationaccessproject.com Len Assante

    Well said Rod!

    Part of GA/PA/PA’s problem is the language. No one we should be marketing to knows what things like “General Aviation,” “CFI,” “FBO,” or “A&P/IA” mean. Even some of us INSIDE GA/PA/PA don’t know! Private (or Personal – I can see both sides of that argument) has a clearer meaning to the non-flying public.

    Aviation Access Project, formed in part out of the same motivations that drive OpenAirplane, is trying a new model with new terms, new ideas, and therefore a new audience.

    And you are right -no time to complain or reminisce about the good old days. Time to change the equation to let hundreds of thousands of new people in the door. The value proposition of PA is clear, we just need to show people the cost of entry is not as high as they think it is, that the language is (or should be) the same, that modern technologies (and not the “best tech the 1940′s had to offer”) are part of it, and that the community of aviators is welcoming and growing.

    Buckle up, it’s going to be a heck of a ride!

    -Len

  • Sam

    Great post Rod! Never thought about the different segments of GA like that before. It makes total sense! Still waiting for OpenAirplane to launch near me and I really hope the idea works. As you know only ideas grounded in good business sense succeed and I hope this is one of them!

    • http://www.OpenAirplane.com Rod Rakic

      Thank you Sam. We’re pedaling as fast as we can to grow the network. Stay tuned!

  • TedK

    IM<HO, part of the benefit of Private Aviation has been slowly and steadily chipped away by interpretations from the FAA that really now has two types of Aviators, Commercial and Recreational. If you carry a sales sample to a sales meeting the FAA wants you to have a Commercial license. Reimbursement for business travel too is a potential quagmire.

    These interpretations need to be rolled back to more closely mirror what you can do in your car. I don't need a CDL to carry sales samples and get mileage reimbursement from my company, even if I have a colleague with me in my car. Why should it be different because I choose to fly?

    • http://www.OpenAirplane.com Rod Rakic

      Agreed Ted!

      General Aviation needs it’s own version of de-regulation.

      • TedK

        Rod – Thank you! You have done what I was unable to do and distill the argument to its essence!

        Deregulate GA!

  • MikeC

    Nice video, but misleading in several ways. Flying a small plane is much more expensive, both per hour and per mile, than driving a car. And more expensive than flying commercial airlines. And less reliable, as weather you can’t even fly IFR won’t stop you in a car. And while small airports are indeed all over the country, after you land there you’ll need ground transportation and arranging that is not always easy or even possible. Also, the video de-emphasizes the commitment in time, effort and cost to stay current. On top of all that, being a pilot requires common sense and good judgement – not everyone is cut out to be a pilot.
    All that said, I am a private pilot, fly a lot and love flying. But I don’t kid myself or others that it is cheap or practical. Some of this is due to being over-regulated, but regulations are not the root cause; most of it is just the nature of this activity.

    • http://www.aviationsafetyvideos.com/ Bob Reed

      I disagree about the cost equation – within a reasonable distance.
      A few years back I worked for a company as a Regional Manager, in part because I was a pilot and could cover a large territory. My territory stretched from Maine to Michigan to Georgia.

      I attended a trade show with a colleague. Because of scheduling I flew and he drove. We were both reimbursed for travel expense – me for flight time and him for mileage at the prevailing rate. My travel expense was LESS THAN his – traveling from the same location to the same trade show 5 hours distant by car.

      Most people equate the “cost of driving” with putting gas in the tank. Whereas, personal aviation considers the cost of operation as a whole.

      • John S

        Mike’s response is right on…. Bob’s example is of a very limited set of experiences which most “private” pilots do not experience. In fact most companies won’t allow employees to fly on business in non-commercial aircraft just due to the liability. So if one wants to participate in general aviation they must foot the bill on their own and it is apparent that a much smaller percentage of the population is participating but extreme reduction in pilot training centers and models of new aircraft and delivery rates of new aircraft. It is not likely that the enthusiasm is less, but the affordability is much less due to rising aviation costs and other economic pressures caused by the world economy. Todays version of the plane I fly lists at 398K some 10 times what it did in 1975 when ours was built. Whereas the US government inflation calculator says the same 40K in ’75 is now worth only 173K. That is a BIG cost increase. The $0.75 fuel we bought in ’75 now should cost $3.25 based on the same calculator. Fuel at our airport (same one by the way) is now $6.00. It is hard to argue against the cost parameter as a major deterrent to “private” aviation.

        You might have guessed that the only way I can justify continuation of my flying enjoyment is to own (as a co-owner) a great middle aged plane (6000 hours) and keep it well maintained. Direct costs are less than half of what a rental plane would cost (if you could find one nearby) and fixed costs are reasonable based on co-ownership. Us private guys invented what they now call ‘fractional ownership’ It has served me well for 36 years.

  • http://www.OpenAirplane.com Rod Rakic

    You make some good points MIke.

    Flying yourself was much more competitive compared to commercial services prior to de-regulation of the airlines. Remember when this film was shot, flying on the airlines was much MORE EXPENSIVE, and LESS CONVENIENT than it is today. Many of the arguments made for flying yourself in the film are no longer valid in an age of $300 cross-country airfare.

  • http://mtelia1b9.wordpress.com Matt Elia

    I like to read various viewpoints and sources, very rarely am I excited to respond directly. However, for some reason this blog post got me going… To understand my view point, you may need to know that I work as an active flight instructor/flight school ops manager/assistant airport manager, additionally I teach aviation management courses at Daniel Webster College and Bridgewater State University…

    What really got to me about this post is that, it is somehow as if, it is us against them. In what way is it good for us as aviation enthusiasts to divide ourselves? The last time I checked almost every private pilot would love to hop in a Gulfstream for a day, and based on many heavy-iron pilots (airlines and corporate) I’ve spoken too, they would love to get into a Cessna 172 and fly low and slow exploring the skies in a different manner occasionally too. We are ONE group and we need to work together.

    General aviation is what we are, it’s everything. Within GA there are many smaller divisions- corporate, flight training, private individuals flying, etc… The main issue I have is where does flight instruction fall in the General vs. Private discussion? Flight instruction isn’t private (based on the being paid attribute raised in the post), but is it general even though I’m being paid to teach and not fly?

    I’m much less interested in semantics over what things are called, and more interested in coming together as ONE general aviation community. This is why I believe we all need to work together. We need more people in the General Aviation community, that is what we need. You can call it whatever you want to call it, but plain and simple- we need more people getting actively involved in aviation. In any event, this was an excellent post to develop conversation. My question is what can do together to help all of us in the aviation community, private through the airlines?

  • Sam

    Good point Matt. I don’t think Rod’s intention was to put “us” against them. I find it interesting to analyze General Aviation when broken down into the different segments; corporate, ag, private, etc. It helps us to know what segments are having trouble, in this case private aviation, so that we can lend resources and a helping hand from the other segments of GA.

    I found this video posted on the General Aviation News website interesting:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGtvfw6BJFw

    It shows that Corporate/Business aviation is doing just fine, not without their bumps in the road, but certainly not in the dire straight the recreational pilot finds themselves in.

    P.S. Why isn’t there a way to subscribe to comments?!

  • David Kiraly

    The biggest hurdle to expanding GA, or PA as some have referenced, is cost. It’s the same reason there may not be a light at the end of the tunnel of the so-called pilot shortage for the airlines.

    Charters and business jets are available to a small fraction of those who would like to participate in any form of aviation.

    Private Pilot training costs anywhere from $10K-20K depending on location, plus another $2-$10K for IFR certification.

    Then after that, as you mentioned, the $300 hamburger moves a little further down the line as new pilots are still trying to pay for their training.

    Same goes for the commercial folks, who wants to spend $50-70K on training for a job that might pay $28K a year?

    When 40 and 50 year old Cessna 150′s are costing $140 per hour or more for lessons, plus $50-70/hr for an instructor, how many people can afford that?

    For all the tech advances in planes, instruction and the like, if someone wants to grow personal aviation, the best innovation would be to figure out how to make it monetarily accessible to more people.

    • Dan Maupin

      I agree with the cost issue here. I with the reduction in supply of small planes, they naturally have escalated in price. I would love to own a plane, and intend to someday, but overall cost of owning an airplane, even an old plane that seats 4 adults is certainly far more than a car. Getting a newer plane is more comparable to getting a second house.

  • Ron

    Rod, i have had thoughts along the same lines and counter thoughts of not wanting to divide GA in to chunks, us vs them. My company has a policy against “personal” flying due to liability. I have friends who work for the same company in Alaska and Hawaii who must fly commercial or charter a plane, often a Cessna 172,180 or Cirrus. Many times they do some of the flying but cannot log, oops the secret is out. Business use aside the cost of renting with fuel for recreation, and to keep current is tough to budget with a family.

    • http://www.OpenAirplane.com Rod Rakic

      Ron,

      The dismal accident rate in this segment is what I’m sure drives policies like, “Thou shalt not do any “personal,” flying.” Which sounds ridiculous to me. Do employers also discourage employees from SCUBA diving? Riding motorcycles? Downhill skiing looks freaking dangerous to me too… but some people seem to enjoy it.

      If we continue to make risk management a priority, we can see significant decreases in accident rates. OpenAirplane aims to reduce the accident rate by 60%. We didn’t make that number up. That gain in safety is a verifiable result of the application of a robust standardization / evaluation program and a reputation system. It’s what we designed the OpenAirplane experience around.

      Maybe is we can demonstrate that the risks can be managed better, we can drive down the liability and make flying viable for you again.

  • http://www.true-lock.com Leslie Weinstein

    On May 17, 2004 in a meeting with the Alaska congressional delegation the question of separating general aviation was discussed. everyone agreed it would be in the best interests of ga however that was the end of that conversation and unfortunately key people to promote have since passed. And 10 years later the issues have increased.

  • Bob McKillip

    Yes, liability insurance. That has “clipped” my wings w.r.t. business travel. Several years back I was in the habit of flying myself on business trips, eating the expense as I only have a Private certificate. My boss decided to check on our (small) company’s travel insurance, and, you guessed it, no coverage for employees flying themselves on travel. My boss even stated that, if I could make a business case as to how I could save money by flying myself (versus commercial), and the savings covered the additional insurance, he’d approve of the optional liability insurance for self-flying travel. The sticker is he wanted to match current coverage, which is $1M plus an “umbrella” of $2M, for a total of $3M coverage. You can’t buy that – anywhere. I started asking folks that I knew flew themselves on business what their policy was, and it seems they didn’t want to say, for fear that they might get the same reaction from their superiors as well. Unless the insurers are willing to admit that the risk associated with someone riding their motorcycle on an interstate at night is greater than a licensed pilot that must pass a physical and bi-annual review, I’m out of luck.

  • Dan Whelchel

    Hopefully we will all get the chance to support HR3708 the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act GAPPA as it works it’s way through Congress. Please support and encourage any of the alphabet groups you may belong to in this endeavor . I have earned my living as a pilot for the last 42 years( military,135,& corporate ) , but as I reach the end of my paid flying years, I realize that something like GAPPA will make it possible for me to stay in the game and hopefully bring others back to flying. Please pass the word amongst your fellow aviators. We need less regulation in this segment of our industry!

  • http://eb-misfit.blogspot.com Comrade Misfit

    The deregulation of the airline industry was not it. The tax code was changed. People with lots of money used to buy small airplanes and then lease them back to the flight schools. Through the 1970s, it was rare to find a flight school airplane that was more than four years old. The tax-shelterers took the depreciation for three years and then the airplanes were sold into the used market.

    That changed in `79, one of the big reasons why the the big three went from making 15,000 airplanes a year to almost none. Back then, good luck finding an open tiedown to rent at most airports near cities. Bedford, MA had a waiting list that was several years long. The big concrete ramp area, which you can see on Gogle Earth, once was jammed with airplanes. Now, maybe two dozen and the last row has nobody. KBDR closed 14/32 in the early `70s and turned the ends into tiedowns, which were full of airplanes back then.

    No longer.

    You want to bring those days back, the tax code’ll need to be revised to make ownership attractive to those needing to shelter income.

  • Tom

    They do a good job laying out the value proposition in that video.

  • http://www.lstenergy.com Erik

    Great Post!!!! Thanks! Loved the old Cessna video too.

  • cntrlrdave

    This is a proposal I have been fighting for for a number of years. I am a 24 year Air traffic controller in an en-route Center, a private pilot and an aircraft owner. I have seen an enormous increase in turbine powered aircraft, both jet and turbo-prop. I would estimate that on a daily basis 25-33 percent of my high altitude, above FL240, traffic is turbine powered private. corporate or fractional ownership aircraft. These aircraft utilize all the same air traffic services as the airlines but don’t pay any of the associated ticket taxes or excise fees the airlines pay. General Aviation should be small single and twin engine aircraft.

  • B. M. DeVandry

    It would seem as circumstances (fate?) would have it, most of my previous response-posts, and those of another (concerned enthusiast?) in other aviation-related publications, may be (much) more appropriately suited for this ‘article’ by Mr. Rakic

    So please accept my apologies (and I’ll no doubt sure be doing a lot of apologizing here … sorry!) for the redundancy and ‘re-posting’ here. (as well as its length!) But this issue is I feel far too important a subject, although I fear already futile cause, to address. I’ve also included a couple of (applicable) previous response-posts in another Aviation related forum by a “garnaut” ,with permission, who I believe enlightens us all to the REALITY of what has actually happened to General Aviation, and makes the point with much more succinctness and poignancy than I’d ever be capable of.

    First …the relevant posts by “garnaut”;

    “First of all GA is doing just fine …never better in fact. That is if when you say ‘General Aviation’ …you mean the 98 percent of GA which is executive aircraft. Ninety eight (98) percent of the GA industry’s annual revenue is coming from bizjets and turbine aircraft …according to industry group GAMA.

    So …Business Aviation IS ‘General Aviation’. I just want to stress that for those who still have the mistaken idea that the acronym GA means little guys flying around in their (private) piston airplanes. Sorry, but that is not what ‘General Aviation’ is anymore.

    And the little guy (privately) flying around in piston airplanes is all but extinct already. That is why we hear the message all the time that what is good for ‘Business Aviation’ is good for the little guy … this has been a mantra at Flying (magazine) for quite some time …even as the little guy aviator continues to wither away, while bizav continues to grow and prosper. And lately, even the EAA has gotten into promoting this meme.

    And as for all those ‘outside’ industries … well … there is a huge right-wing conspiracy to stop ordinary people from flying their own planes I suppose?

    In Reality…all those industries are a factor in every other facet of our lives…one that you did not mention is the financial industry…every product we buy has over 30 percent of its price built in for finance overhead that it took to bring that product to market…on average…in some cases it is much higher…interest charges… brokerage fees …etc. Yet even with all that financial overhead…a lot of consumer products still deliver more for your inflation adjusted buck than they did 10 or 20 years ago…that is a fact…the car you buy today is better value for the dollar…same with the lawn tractor…the big screen TV…the washing machine…etc…
    The only thing that costs five times as much as it did 30 years ago is a new airplane. Now you can talk all you want about the cost of gas…insurance etc… and those things are a fact of life everywhere…but it is new products that drive an industry…and unfortunately the personal airplane industry is finished because the average price of a new airplane is half a million dollars…which no one can afford.

    That is strictly an industry issue…full stop…if the car industry wanted to build an airplane for $50,000 do you think they couldn’t…?…sure they could…and they would sell who knows how many thousand at that price…

    The aircraft industry looks at things differently…the GA industry makes $20 billion a year in revenue by selling 2,000 executive aircraft at an average price of $10 million each…in order to make $20 billion in sales selling airplanes even at $100,000 apiece…they would have to sell 200,000 small airplanes a year…

    That is never going to happen…there simply are not 200,000 people who are interested in buying their own airplane each and every year…or have the $100,000 to do so. So the numbers are against us…that is the reality…if you do not want to see that…and you want to invent some kind of bogeyman from the “outside” then that is your prerogative…

    The aircraft industry sure knows this…and that is why they made the rational choice that it is not worth it…how can it be…?…
    Well…so that is the problem …and guess what? …now at least we know what the problem is and so maybe we can start looking for solutions…but the solution is not to just “root” for business aviation…and bankroll their lobbying fights in rotten DC. And yes WDCorruption is true…unfortunately it is exactly the kind of lobbying of special interest groups that is the problem…

    One such special interest group is ‘Business Aviation’ …which is supported by AOPA, Flying Magazine (since that’s where their ad bucks come from) and even EAA. But let’s just clear through the fog folks …’Business Aviation’ has nothing to do with the family guy who flies his own plane on family ‘business.’

    The real ‘Business Aviation’ is going to do just fine …they have $20 billion a year in selling bizjets They can throw a lot of money around for lobbying and advertising …and they would even like to hit you up for some of your dough too Hey it’s all for the cause right? …we’re all in this together right? …except I don’t see anyone doing anything for us.

    So yeah …we can continue to cheer and support bizav …as this magazine and Craig Fuller would encourage us to do And in a generation’s time our kids and grandkids will be able to participate in GA by booking a charter seat on a bizjet or turboprop…

    AND

    …”B.M. DeVandry” said:

    “And while I’m not so naive (or young and foolish) or unappreciative to not understand that is was (is?) the engine of capitalism that made “GENERAL” Aviation attainable to most of the masses in the first place, and “Business Aviation” was indeed a (if not “The”) very large and essential part of “General Aviation” which fueled that engine …unfortunately, it has been becoming ( painfully) obvious to me (and I suspect more than just a “vocal minority” of our “community”) that AOPA, Flying (magazine) and dare I postulate, EAA, all who’ve been a welcomed part of my life during my almost 40 year love affair with Aviation, have morphed into what indeed it seems “Corporate America” has equally mutated into …”Business” entities whose SOLE purpose appears to be the pursuit of profit …SOLELY for its own sake, and the unlimited enrichment of its upper echelons.” …“But I digress…”

    Actually you are not digressing at all …in fact you hit the nail right on the head.

    For those interested in seeing the real numbers just go to the GAMA website and download their 2012 statistical book…inside you will find statistics of aircraft produced…their total value and type…going all the way back to 1978…

    Well in 1978 there were over 14,000 piston singles produced and just over 2,600 twins…for a total dollar value of just over $1 billion in 1979 dollars…which is about $3.5 billion in today’s dollars.

    Total turbine GA aircraft produced were 779 with a total value of $772 million in 1978 dollars…which is about $2.7 billion in today’s money…

    So the little guy was THE major source of revenue for the GA industry as late as 1978…not the business bigwigs…that says a lot about where we where and where we have come to…of course back then the head of the company made maybe 10 times as much as the Joe on the shop floor…what is it today…?

    Let’s look at those numbers a little more closely…the average cost of that executive airplane (the turbine variety) was just under $1 million…about 3 million in today’s dollars…today the average sticker price is $10 million…

    The average cost of a piston plane was $58,000 in 1978 (including twins and all the high end singles) which is about $180,000 in today’s money …If we could separate the twins from the singles we would find the average single price would be closer to $100,000 …in today’s dollars.

    Now what really bears notice is the fact that those 30 some years ago…there were far less than 1,000 big spenders who could spend the equivalent of $3 million in today’s money for a bizjet or turboprop… but there were 17,000 little guys who could afford to buy a piston single or even a twin… over 2,600 twins.

    Now let’s just ask a very simple question …who has gained and who has lost?

    Well the GA industry has done nicely…it has increased sales from $3 billion a year in today’s dollars to over $20 billion…
    The big spenders also don’t seem to be doing too bad …there are now 2,000 of them buying a new executive airplane every year (almost three times as many)…and paying more than three times as much on average for the airplane…so a nearly tenfold increase in spending power by the big spenders…

    Let me just repeat that …A NEARLY TENFOLD INCREASE IN SPENDING POWER.

    At the same time piston airplanes…which made up more than 60 percent of GA even as late as 1978…today make up just TWO lousy percent of sales by dollar. You want to buy a new airplane Joe? …Can you write a check for $500,000?

    What it all adds up to is that the rich have gotten much richer …while the middle class dream of airplane ownership is toast. It is not surprising that this magazine which is funded almost entirely by the big spending business aviation…wants to confuse things by lumping us little aviators on life support in with the rest of “GA”.

    Please…it is time for some honesty.”

    …Now for my feeble attempt;

    Again, here we go …more of the same (and tired) ongoing “discussions” within our “Industry” on “what to do?” …about the graveyard spiral General Aviation finds herself in. And again, for whatever reason, the overwhelming impression continues to be that “they” …the “Industry” …our “Associations”, groups, clubs, memberships etc. …the “Feds”, you, me, us …”we” …just don’t seem to get it !

    I’ve rarely commented once, let alone twice in (any) forums so please forgive the following ‘re-cap’ and redundancy of a couple previous rants, in previous “comment sections” …but I (still) just can’t seem to put this in any other way;

    The original purpose …the “concept” of if you will, for the birth and growth of the Experimental Aircraft community for instance, over the last several decades, which later evolved into the “Light Sport” genera and “Industry” of the present, was to allow for the ‘average Joe’ with a wife and kids to be able to, over a period of about a year or so, build himself a nice, simple (with at least 2 seats as flight is a thing that’s got to be shared!) airplane at a reasonably (read: sane!) monetary expense that would allow said ‘Joe’ and family & friends to both proliferate (breathe new life into GA) and enjoy the wonderful world of Flight!

    But! …let’s take a hard look at what “we” (US General Aviation) have allowed to happen…

    Let’s see …the ‘new & improved’ C-172-SP, recently reviewed in Flying magazine: a basic, single engine, 4 place, fixed gear, fixed prop, simple low HP ‘Light Airplane’. One whose basic airframe has been around for over half a century and whose R & D, tooling and most all other initial development costs have long since been paid for many times over, decades ago.

    Essentially a (very) old airframe design with a few tweaks, and upgraded to some modern avionics (which also SHOULD cost substantially less than their steam gauge, analog counterparts) …all this for ONLY $300,000+ ?!?!?

    Oh, but you can get the venerable old “new & improved” Piper Archer for about the same price! …But wait! …you can get the shiny new Cub Crafters Carbon Cub; …an even simpler TWO place, basic, fixed gear, fixed prop, low HP “LIGHT SPORT” airplane” with a basic avionics package for the bargain price of just under 200K!!

    Of course, Cessna has finally (sort of) thrown a bone to the fledgling new “Mom & Pop” Flight School in the form of a 21st. Century “Trainer”; the C-162 Skycatcher! …available for the much more REASONABLE? “base price” (just recently increased!) of 150K! …which means they should be able to afford at least 3 or 4 of em!

    The C-172 was available, in 1980, IFR equipped, for the low 30′s (aprox. 90K in today’s dollars) In 1979 the C-152 went for just under 20K (55K today).

    …As for the all of those available “Kits” out there today …Realistically, even a modest, two place, fixed gear/prop with a basic IFR panel (that by reg, one can’t actually utilize for it’s designed purposes) 140+ kt airplane most often sports (pun intended) a finished price of close to 100K …many others almost twice that! But don’t forget …ya still have to build (and maintain) it yourself!

    Now, throw in the over inflated (and ever increasing) costs of hanger, fuel, insurance, maintenance and all those other ‘miscellaneous’ operating expenses and ask yourself; How can even an “Upper” Middle Class, ‘above average’ Joe afford/justify such a purchase (especially after tacking on all of those actual operating expenses)

    How can such a sums for such airplanes ever be (reasonably) justified?? And we (and APOPA & EAA ) wonder why new pilot certification is half what it was just two decades ago?? Why (aircraft) rental rates have gotten beyond the reach of most would be Sunday Flyers?

    What could possibly be causing this decline in our beloved activity?!? (“Private Aviation’)

    Please forgive me, as I really don’t wish to sound sarcastic, but it’s just mind-boggling to a (simple minded?) guy like myself how casually, and with such cavalier so many ‘representatives’ of the Aviation Industry quote prices for an average Light Sport, or any other 2-4 place ‘Light Airplane’. What a perfectly reasonable price ($150-200K) to pay for a (new) ‘Light Sport’ airplane …or the $300+K for a “moderately tricked out Cessna 172″ …or the 1.2 mil!! for a SENECA, version 5 recently reviewed in AOPA Pilot, (another 45+ year old, basically unchanged design) …I mean, what’s wrong with that …isn’t that just about right …why ain’t everybody buyin’ em?!?

    A previous quote from a previous (publications) article; “is not that flying costs too much but that flying the kind of airplane that they really want to be flying costs too much” ??

    Most of Europe and all of present day Asia have no such thing as “General Aviation” …solely because of the PROHIBITABLY EXPENSIVE costs. Their citizens have long been coming here to pursue that dream we’ve all taken for granted! (but even that may change …read: practically grind to a halt, now that the new draconian EASA Flight Crew licensing regs have kicked in) Active participation in our wonderful world of ‘Flight’ here in the USA has always been on the (relatively) expensive side, and up until now remained the best (and only) place on the planet to do so.

    But take another really honest look at the math. Even if we allowed for an additional 50% (a very conservative/generous estimate) to account for the uncontrolled explosion of all the greed laden ‘Product Liability’ lawsuits many (airplane manufacturers) have had to endure these last couple of decades (the ONLY thing Cessna, Piper etc. can legitimately claim to have been “victimized” by) …we should, at most, be looking at somewhere around $130 – 140,000 for our present day fully equipped C-172. (a SIMPLE, 4 place 120+ kt. BRAND NEW airplane) AND approximately half that (at best) for an LSA .

    …hmm.

    Are we REALLY reaching for …”wishing” for too much here?!? In the late 70′s, I struggled to put myself through school (let’s not even get started on the costs of a college degree these days!) and pay for my flight training (mostly through loans) to pursue a dream of being a Professional Pilot. Now 37 years later, after having been fortunate to have flown everything from parachutes to 747′s, this subject has been a particular heartbreak for me …as I seriously doubt I could succeed in that endeavor today …and wonder how any of today’s young folks, or even us ‘older guys’ (of even ‘above average’ means) ever could as well.

    I’m afraid these greedy times we’re a livin’ and the EXPONENTIAL rate at which that expense is accelerating, will only serve to hasten the time when the final nails are driven. We’re rapidly destroying “General Aviation” in this country …making it solely a ‘Rich Mans Sport’.

    “Why” …the rapidly decreasing pilot population? …the rapidly downward spiral of total logged hours? …a Pilot shortage?? …sluggish sales factors?? …very, very sad indeed.

    ‘General Aviation’ (as we’ve known her until now) is all but dead in this country, just as it’s been in the rest of the world, where it never really existed to begin with …having been replaced with “Business Aviation” …Long Live the King!

    Please …PLEASE …Let’s ALL get real!

    …And finally, to the above commentators (with exception of the couple who do seem to “get it”) and to the many previous ‘commentators’ and authors writing in this publication and ‘forum’;

    Although I certainly can’t know most of your social-economic backgrounds, one can gleen a little insite from your articles and responses. But it would seem many of you and I are of roughly the same generation. So you’ve been around long enough to have witnessed the monumental shift in what is (used to be) ‘General Aviation’ in this country.

    As to the reasons for its demise? Surely, if you’re (intellectually) honest with yourselves, you understand the point of (these) comment/responses. If not, then …and no offense …uplifting, hopeful enthusiasm notwithstanding, but with none of the cold, clear and logical pragmatism so necessary for one to be a successful ‘PIC’ …you either appear to be, (as, unfortunately, so many others who’ve commented here) ‘rowing down that famous long river in Egypt’ …or are of that myopic “mindset” of those who have caused and /or are still actively involved in the death of General Aviation …as those of us who numbered among what was generally perceived to make up its largest segment during the 60′s, 70′s and into the early 90′s have been so fortunate to have been a part of …and are in fact one of the many active and willing participants in it …and, unfortunately, part of the problem …certainly NOT the solution.

    We (as in ALL of us) have just witnessed the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind in this country (and no …this IS NOT “Class Warfare” talk here …just an honest, objective observation, assesment of the data & facts)

    …and our beloved ‘General Aviation’ has just simply been one of its many and most obvious casualties.

    But there I go “digressing” again…

    Thanks all for ‘puttn’ up with me. And I promise I’ll stay out of this (shooting ones mouth off) comment/blog/response stuff for a little while hensforth!

    Respectfully…

  • joe

    Rod,
    Great video!
    Private Aviation is a major issue. Redbird is trying to tackle it, and i hope the rewrite of FAR 23 helps too.
    The video hits at one of my biggest arguments – no one is marketing to the general public to bring in new pilots.
    But, I also think that direct interaction is the best seller. I was sure that my friends and family wouldn’t want to fly with me, but i was wrong. at least 80-90% of the folks i’ve taken flying with me are not only excited to go, but afterwards, they are more interested than ever in the utility, and the fun of flying a private airplane.
    We need better marketing. We need new ways to connect to the community. Most of all, we need to improve the planes and the system so that its easier AND SAFER than ever to operate them.
    Convert just 5% of the folks that fly airlines in the US to private flight and you will add close to a thousand new pilots to the system.
    Convert 5% of the folks driving each year and you could add over 6000 new pilots to the system! (assumptions: avg R/T – 800 miles, avg speed – 180 MPH, avg flight hours a year – 120, average total occupants – 2, using data from DOT http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/publications/national_transportation_statistics/index.html
    All that to say, i think we all wish more every day folks would join us in the fun, adventure and utility of flying private aircraft. It would add vitality and strength to that which we value so much, and I personally believe that they’d be happy we found them!

  • Rich

    This is the same thing I gave Ed Bolen of the NBAA hell when there was the slightest hint that there was any dumb idea about dividing business aviation from private aviation.

    We do not need to be splintered into smaller groups.
    General Aviation is everything that flies that is not a government of scheduled airline.
    That is a huge number of aircraft and pilots.

    We need those numbers all on the same page singing the same song.
    Not tiny little splinter groups with no clout.

    Cut it out!!!
    Rich

    • http://www.OpenAirplane.com Rod Rakic

      Thanks for the comment Rich.

      I would have loved to have seen that. So did Ed put his arm around you and pledge to dismantle the NBAA and spearhead the merger of NBAA, AOPA, EAA, GAMA, NAA, AIA, and NATA to align with the definition of General Aviation you point out here?

      I’m sure there’s an argument to be made that all 6 of those organizations are all part of “everything that flies that is not a government of scheduled airline” and could better serve the community if they were to all get, “all on the same page singing the same song.”

      I’m count myself a member of most of the groups above. I’m not advocating for the balkanization of the aviation community. I’m just look for more support for the community which I most identify with, which is the community that I see suffering the most from a benign neglect.

  • http://www.aviationaccessproject.com Rick Matthews

    Rod, Very well done, Sir! So nice to hear other sentiments with like minded people.

    We abandoned “General Aviation” long time ago in favor of “Private Aviation”.

    And guess what? We’ve abandoned other archaic, self-sabotage terms, too, such as FBO, CFI, A&P. THE PUBLIC DOES NOT KNOW WHAT THESE TERMS MEAN SO WHY DO WE PERPETUATE BARRIERS TO SUCCESS?

    We have now redefined those terms into something more public-friendly since we NEED THAT PUBLIC TO FULFILL NUMBERS LOST.

    “Executive Terminal”. “Flight Pro”. “Flight Tech”. Think Golf Pro, Tennis Pro. Get it? Your next door neighbors will.

    Way to go Rod. Some day our paths will converge with managing mass ownership,m as we believe in the end that will bring stability. We consider you a friend of the family!

    Rick Matthews
    Aviation Access Project

  • Ariel

    Segmenting the term “general aviation” to more clearly articulate what your business is about makes perfect sense. Still, it is the business side of aviation that keeps the private side running. If you pull the two completely apart, you would end up with costs to high for private aviation to bear alone. “GA” as a broad term that is still quite useful, if imperfect, from the standpoint of those who set regulatory policy.

    • http://www.OpenAirplane.com Rod Rakic

      Heck Ariel, I hear you.

      The folks in Washington have been trying to balkanize the community by proposing to selectively apply user fees to only “Business Aviation,” (and pinky swearing that they would never apply fees to “private aviation,”) but regulating them differently isn’t in anyone’s best interest. Like I pointed out above, in some contexts, the broader, more inclusive term of “General Aviation,” is appropriate.

      The only stance I have about regulatory policy is that it should exist, but that we have too much of it. We need the “General Aviation Deregulation Act of 2015.”

      Who’s with me?

      • Sam

        You can count on my vote for the “General Aviation Deregulation Act of 2015″! Being part of gen Y, or the Millennial generation, I am always shocked at how much those before me have tolerated the overreach of the FAA and in some cases even think it is a good thing!

        For example the Open Airplane checkout is not required by the FAA. We are capable of safely regulating ourselves. Or another example is the medical certificate. Every time I fly I am determining if I am fit to fly. I don’t take an FAA Medical Examiner with me!

        Change needs to happen and it starts with the regulations changing. We need to force the change as it will not take place without pressure.