Air Facts Journal has been doing a special series about the declining general aviation pilot population with one of the articles in the series being written by Adam Smith – who was born and raised in northern England where he managed the Scottish National Museum of Flight before eventually moved to the USA to manage the operation of the EAA AirVenture Museum. In the article, Adam recalls that when he first went to the USA:
We were completely blown away by the aviation environment we found in the USA–compared to the UK it felt like arriving in paradise! Half price airplanes, fuel at one-third the price, airports everywhere, free weather briefings, affordable hangars, no charges to fly in controlled airspace and, get this, no landing fees, anywhere… wow, this was the place to be!
However, things are changing for general aviation in the USA and its changing for the worst. Adam noted a research study by a graduate student at MIT that used a large amount of statistical data to confirm what pilots already know from their observation – general aviation has been in a slow and steady decline for around three decades. Adam quoted a line from the study that said:
…as the pilot population declines, in part due to increasing costs, the economies of scale in all aspects of cost in general aviation will diminish and will push costs up even more, creating a crippling positive feedback loop.
In other words and as Adam noted, what happened in the UK is now happening in the USA. Adam gave some suggestions for how to reverse this trend (e.g doing something about the 80% drop out rate in flight training as moving the “needle even 10%” would add thousands of new pilots every year) but it will be a daunting challenge.
The research study itself is well worth reading along with the other articles in the Air Fact Journal series and it would be interesting if any pilots left in the UK were to post a few comments to them to add a British perspective to the problem.