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Fri, Mar 12, 2010

FAA Projects Modest 20-Year Growth For GA

"Active" Fleet Will Increase 0.9 Percent By 2030

The FAA's 20 year Aerospace Forecast predicts that the GA active fleet will grow, but only modestly, over the next 20 years, and the fleet of piston singles and twins will likely shrink in the near term before expanding again in the out years of the period. The category includes forecasts for the fleet and hours flown for single-engine piston aircraft, multi-engine piston, turboprops, turbojets, piston and turbine powered rotorcraft, light sport, experimental and other, such as gliders and lighter than air vehicles. An "active" aircraft is defined by the FAA as one that flies at least once per year.

The report indicates that the active general aviation fleet (chart, below) is projected to increase at an average annual rate of 0.9 percent over the 21-year forecast period, growing from an estimated 229,149 in 2009 to 278,723 aircraft by 2030. The more expensive and sophisticated turbine-powered fleet (including rotorcraft) is projected to grow at an average of 3.0 percent a year over the forecast period, with the turbine jet portion increasing at 4.2 percent a year.

FAA Chart

The number of active piston-powered aircraft (including rotorcraft) is projected to decrease from the 2008 total of 166,514 through 2017, with declines in both single and multi-engine fixed wing aircraft, but with the smaller category of piston-powered rotorcraft growing. Beyond 2017 active piston-powered aircraft are forecast to increase to 172,613 by 2030. Over the forecast period, the average annual increase in piston powered aircraft is 0.2 percent. Although piston rotorcraft are projected to increase rapidly at 3.4 percent a year, they are a relatively small part of this segment of general aviation aircraft. Single-engine fixed-wing piston aircraft, which are much more numerous, are projected to grow at a much slower rate (0.2 percent respectively) while multi-engine fixed wing piston aircraft are projected to decline 0.8 percent a year. In addition, it is assumed that VLJs and new light sport aircraft could erode the replacement market for traditional piston aircraft at the high and low ends of the market respectively.

Starting in 2005, a new category of aircraft (previously not included in the FAA’s aircraft registry counts) was created: “light sport” aircraft. At the end of 2008 a total of 6,811 active aircraft were estimated to be in this category while the forecast assumes the fleet will increase  approximately 825 aircraft per year until 2013. Thereafter the rate of increase in the fleet tapers considerably to about 335 per year. By 2030 a total of 16,311 light sport aircraft are projected to be in the fleet.

The FAA says the advent of a relatively inexpensive twin-engine very light jet (VLJ) raised a lot of questions regarding the future impact they may have. The lower acquisition and operating costs of VLJs were believed to have the potential to revolutionize the business jet market, particularly by being able to sustain a true on-demand air-taxi service. While initial forecasts called for over 400 aircraft to be delivered a year, events such as the recession along with the bankruptcy of Eclipse and DayJet have led the FAA to temper more recent forecasts.

FAA Chart

The report indicates that the number of general aviation hours flown (chart, above) is projected to increase by 2.5 percent yearly over the forecast period. A large portion of this growth will occur in the short term post recession period, where record low utilization rates experienced in 2009 will return to normal trends,  particularly in the turbine jet category. As with previous forecasts, much of the long term increase in hours flown reflects strong growth in the rotorcraft and turbine jet category. Hours flown by turbine aircraft (including rotorcraft) are forecast to increase 4.1 percent yearly over the forecast period, compared with 1.1 percent for piston-powered aircraft. Jet aircraft are forecast to account for most of the increase, with hours flown increasing at an average annual rate of 6.1 percent over the forecast period. The large increases in jet hours result mainly from the increasing size of the business jet fleet, along with measured recovery in utilization rates from recession induced record lows. Rotorcraft hours, relatively immune to the economic downturn when compared to other categories, are projected to grow by 3.0 percent yearly. The light sport aircraft category is expected to see increases in hours flown on average of 5.9 percent a year, which is primarily driven by growth in the fleet.

FMI: www.faa.gov

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