The new year will bring new opportunities — and challenges — to general aviation.
And many in the industry predict 2022 will be a good year for GA as it continues to prove its value to the nation.
“We are pretty bullish on GA,” says John Zimmerman, a vice president at Sporty’s Pilot Shop. “The pandemic was a shock, but I think it ended up showing the value of private aviation and the enduring appeal of personal connections.”
Officials at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) agree.
“The pandemic demonstrated the value of general aviation from both a business and leisure perspective. As travelers avoided airline airports — by mandate or choice — GA travel saw growth and became a beacon of convenience and opportunity. We anticipate seeing continued growth in 2022, as more travelers discover the advantages of GA flying.”
“It’s a good time to be a general aviation manufacturer,” adds Pete Bunce, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. “There is a very healthy order book across the spectrum from piston to rotorcraft.”
What’s even better: A lot of those orders are from first-time buyers.
“We’re delivering to people who want to have the capabilities of GA for the first time,” he says.
“People with the income and the means are able to buy their own planes and that produces that demand.”
The pandemic contributed to that as well, as business travelers found that they just couldn’t be sure of when they would get to their destinations flying on the airlines, he notes.
“Plus people don’t enjoy flights on commercial airliners wearing masks,” he adds.
The surge in general aviation airplane sales is accompanying a surge in hiring, from pilots to aircraft mechanics and more.
“People see the capability to make a good living, but first they need to learn to fly,” Bunce says.
At Sporty’s, the training business, whether it’s at the flight school at Clermont County/Sporty’s Airport (I69) just outside Cincinnati, Ohio, or through its online courses, is “as strong as it has ever been,” according to Zimmerman.
Seize The Moment
“General aviation has the opportunity to seize the moment and market itself as a high-tech in-demand industry focused on sustainability while offering high-paying jobs for the future,” says Aircraft Electronics Association President and CEO Mike Adamson. “Opportunities abound in avionics, maintenance, flight, manufacturing, sales, and all of the careers that support those functions in an organization. The growth and interest in private air travel is driving aircraft sales and utilization, all while introducing a whole new segment of clients to the benefits of general aviation. This will have a lasting positive effect on job creation in this industry for years to come. We have a tremendous opportunity to sell the value of this industry both as a tool for personal air travel and for high-caliber careers.”
Now is also the time for the industry to reach out to some groups that have not been well represented, says Allison McKay, CEO of Women in Aviation International (WAI).
“The GA industry now fully understands the importance of promoting the aviation industry to a more diverse next generation in order to fill our collective workforce needs,” she says. “Events like Girls in Aviation Day, as well as our Aviation for Girls app, allow the GA community to appeal directly to young women all over the world and excite them about the future of the aviation and aerospace industry.”
Other efforts, such as Tuskegee Next, reach out to minorities who have few role models in aviation.
At Continental Aerospace Technologies, officials note they are “having issues finding the ideal candidates to join our team. We are genuinely looking to have the right people in the right seats.”
AOPA officials point to studies that show the need for long-term solutions to address GA’s workforce issues.
One of those solutions is AOPA’s High School Aviation STEM Curriculum, which aims to introduce high schoolers to careers in aviation.
“AOPA’s curriculum has grown exponentially since its founding in 2015, and today, more than 320 schools are teaching the program to some 10,000 students in classrooms across the nation,” they say. “We believe this initiative is making strides in recruiting girls, minorities, and those who wouldn’t normally consider aviation as a career, while contributing to the aviation pipeline. We see tremendous growth potential for this initiative.”
While 2022 offers tremendous potential, there will also be significant challenges beyond finding the right employees.
Industry leaders point to a number of those challenges, including the continuing search for an unleaded fuel that works in the entire GA fleet, regulatory issues, supply chain problems, and inflation.
“It seems like 2022 might bring real progress on an unleaded fuel option, and maybe even some tangible progress on electric airplanes,” says Sporty’s Zimmerman. “Both would be welcome, but the path from our current system to either of these new ones will have some bumps along the way.”
One of those bumps are local governments that are working to ban 100LL at their airports.
“A high-octane unleaded fuel has been elusive for the past 20 years,” AOPA officials note. “In recent months we have seen progress, which is good because the push to remove lead from the environment has never been stronger. A few airports in California are working to ban leaded avgas, leaving only those with low-compression engines with a viable fuel, 94-octane unleaded fuel. Those with engines requiring higher octane will no longer be able to buy fuel at those airports.”
“AOPA has said from the beginning that the only solution is a fuel that meets the need of the entire fleet. We cannot afford to bifurcate general aviation — we’re just too small of an industry and the cost for FBOs to equip with multiple tanks is too high — and never mind the potential safety risk of high-compression engines mistakenly receiving low-octane fuel. The approval of and manufacturing and distribution of a viable unleaded fuel for all of GA has become our number-one priority.”
Getting the lead out of is one of the biggest advocacy issues for the Experimental Aircraft Association in 2022, notes Jack Pelton, chairman and CEO.
“This is going to be a spotlight issue,” he says, noting there are a “lot more aggressive environment actions taking place.”
“We’ll have a lot of challenges in how are we going to deal with that as we sit here now without a one-size-fits-all solution for every type of aviation,” he says.
While larger business jets are beginning to burn Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), on our end of the GA spectrum, we’re seeing more airplanes being certified with engines that burn Jet-A fuel.
“With the recent FAA certification of the Tecnam P2010 TDI with a Continental CD-170 and the launch of Diamond’s DA50 RG with the CD-300, we’re looking forward to seeing more and more interest and acceptance of Jet-A piston engines, even where 100LL is available,” Continental officials note.
Another challenge facing the industry is a logjam in rulemaking at the FAA, according to GAMA’s Bunce.
“Rulemaking is a three to five year process, then when Congress mandates something, it gets put on the top of the list,” he says. “We’ve been waiting on some rules and they just keep getting pushed back. Things are coming out slow as molasses and aren’t keeping pace with what we need to do to keep the industry growing.”
Among those Congressionally mandated changes is Modernization Of Special Airworthiness Certification (MOSAIC). For GA, the big changes are coming in light-sport aircraft and experimental aircraft.
“I hope that by the end of 2022 we will actually see this going into the rulemaking phase,” Pelton says. “That’s very exciting.”
According to the Congressional mandate, the FAA must have the new regulations in place by the end of 2023, which means a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will have to be issued this year.
Our LSA expert, Dan Johnson, predicts we’ll see that at EAA AirVenture 2022. Then the FAA will collect comments on the proposals, read and evaluate each one, then incorporate changes until the rule is finalized. That takes about 16 months, which would take us to the end of 2023.
GA is also facing the same problems that other American industries are facing, including supply chain problems and inflation.
At Continental, for instance, the company continues to face supply chain challenges for some product lines, extended lead times, and trucking and shipping delays.
“Continental has created dedicated teams to focus on overcoming obstacles within our power to combat these issues,” officials said. “This team constantly communicates with our partners to think of creative and viable solutions.”
Cirrus Aircraft is also dealing with supply chain challenges.
“The economic environment impacts on labor and supply chain are being felt industry wide and we are not immune to these challenges,” says Pat Waddick, President of Innovation & Operations at the aircraft manufacturer.
“We are anticipating continued supply chain volatility for the next 12 to 18 months,” he says. “Demand is robust, placing a growing burden on the entire supply chain and we are working to mitigate these challenges.”
He noted the company is “continuing to invest and expand to enhance the customer experience, improve productivity and efficiency, bring new people into aviation, and ultimately deliver more aircraft and services.”
Another hurdle facing all industries: Inflation and rising prices.
“We’re seeing it already from tires to spare parts to gas prices and everything else,” EAA’s Pelton says.
But AEA’s Adamson notes that these challenges are not unique to general aviation. “Every industry is dealing with them in some form,” he says.
“However, our industry has met the challenge before,” he says. “We live in a regulated environment where we are constantly clearing hurdles to bring innovative products to market. That will not stop as we navigate these economic challenges, nor will our continued focus on safety as our highest priority.”
And if there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that GA is never boring, Sporty’s Zimmerman says.
“And we see no reason why 2022 would be different,” he says. “But it’s still an amazing community, and we think that, in many ways, the good old days are right now.”