Will general aviation in the UK go the way of fox hunting?

Flight Global recently had an extensive article about how general aviation is also taking a big hit in Europe and in the UK in particular. Moreover, general aviation has been declining in both Europe and the UK for some time now with the UK being hit particularly hard.

In fact and as the following chart shows, the total of new private and commercial pilots licenses that have been issued by the Civil Aviation Authority has steadily fallen since 2003 with the decline being particularly rapid for the past four years. And while the UK did introduce a more localized plus less rigorous and much cheaper license in 2002 and this did attract new pilots, the total number of new pilots has still continued to decline since 2003.

UK Pilot Licenses Graphic

Martin Robinson, the chief executive of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) UK and regional vice-president of IAOPA Europe, was quoted as saying that the financial meltdown has hit general aviation particularly hard. In fact, Martin estimates that since 2007, the total number of pilot training recruits in the UK has fallen by 30% as would-be pilots spend their money on other leisure activities or more important commitments. Moreover, Martin noted that it will typically cost about £8,000 (or US$12,900) for a would-be pilot to obtain a private pilot’s license and roughly £65,000 to obtain a commercial pilot’s license.

Martin also pointed out that flying is just simply not a young person’s activity. In fact, the 40 to 60 year old age bracket sees the most licenses issued as this demographic group will typically have more disposable income to spend on flying.

Finally, Martin observed that general aviation itself faces some hostility at the local and national level in the UK thanks to the image that light aircraft is noisy, intrusive and environmentally unfriendly. Hence, general aviation is not seen as a politically correct leisure activity.

Hence, we want to ask you our readers what you think of the state of general aviation in the UK. In other words, will general aviation in the UK slowly go the way of fox hunting?


5 Responses to Will general aviation in the UK go the way of fox hunting?

  1. Sean Thompson May 10, 2011 at 12:27 #

    I think the growth of Light Sport Aircraft could help reverse the trend. I'm doing my PPL in a Cessna 152 and it's pretty expensive (in fact over the last two years thanks to fuel and VAT the price has changed dramatically).

    While I'd love to move into larger/faster aircraft, I've realised the most financially sensible move is to get a share in a LSA – not only is the cost much lower but you also end up in more modern aircraft. For example the Flight Design CTSW might not be the prettiest looking plane around but it's very cheap to run. It also offers a airframe parachute system, which you won't find on the other 'cheap' options of really old Cessna 150s !

    As more and more LSA arrive in the country and flight schools train on them at lower cost, it makes flying more financially viable and more modern.

    I don't ever think GA will go the way of fox hunting – how many young boys and girls daydream about fox hunting or go to fox hunting shows!

    • Matthew Stibbe May 13, 2011 at 10:08 #

      LSAs may be the most economical route forward for flying schools and enthusiastic hobby pilots. They're going to be cheaper to run than older Cessnas and Pipers and, increasingly, they offer better performance and more modern systems. Interesting contribution – thanks. Matthew

  2. Dave Colgate May 13, 2011 at 07:44 #

    Being a 25 year old aviation fanatic, I am quickly becoming convinced that gaining a licence in the UK to become a private pilot is near on impossible. Although soaring fuel costs donate much to increased costs, the overall amont required to get your feet off the ground is astounding. Without commiting to a long term loan, getting enough money together to pay for air time is hugely challenging.

    I also completely agree that flying is predominantly and maybe stereotypically associated with an older generation. No local flying clubs publicise young person flying opportunities and the clubs themselves come across very outdated, with very little in the way of attracting a younger demographic. Additionally, I have always found that in some clubs, disappointingly, members and instructors are suprisingly opinionated against younger pilots. Perhaps best described as arrogance or stiff upper lip syndrome.

    I myself am in the Air Training Corps seeking opportunities with a yonger generation to share my passion for aviation with equally minded youngsters. Hopefully, one day, I too can join the PPL world. But not for a long time I feel.

    • Matthew Stibbe May 13, 2011 at 10:13 #

      As the wit said 'if God had wanted man to fly, he'd have given us more money.' That said, I'm not sure about the generational thing. I see lots of young people (ouch, writing that makes me feel old) at Denham doing courses at Cabair as part of their studies. And, generally, I've found the older (relative to me, anyway) generation very friendly once you get to know them. I took a couple of WWII flyers on a trip a year or two ago and they were a bit frosty at first but soon warmed up. It was a very memorable experience for me. Perhaps the younger people need to go half way to meet the older ones?

      But I really feel sorry for people in their late teens and early twenties. Houses cost a fortune, tuition fees are becoming a big worry and the job market is in the tank. Even twenty years ago, things were different. I bought my first flat in central London and it cost roughly three times a nurse or or teachers' salary. Now it's more like ten times. And that's after they've paid off their student loans (I had a full grant). And I got to go flying with the CCF at school at no cost at all.

  3. Roger January 21, 2012 at 04:37 #

    I got my PPL at Elstree in 2000, but stopped flying when I moved overseas (Australia) in 2004.

    On my last visit to the UK in Sept 2011. we looked in at the airfield for old times sake, and there was no one flying at all on a sunny weekday afternoon.

    One student was about to take a lesson in a R22, but absolutely nothing else going on at all.

    A far cry from 2004 when there would have been plenty of students doing touch and goes, as well as various other PPL's taking advantage of a sunny Sept day 🙁

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