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GA activity and its decline

Very few “young” people (say under 30) ever flew. When I was at university, 1975-1978, I met exactly one, aged about 20, who had a PPL. Unless one strikes it really rich, or has very supportive parents, one isn’t going to have the money to fly at that age – regardless of enthusiasm.

I started when I was 24 and I was neither really rich nor did my parents support me. I did have a decent job (software developer) and lived in a city with excellent GA provision (Houston, Texas) and the flying club at Houston Gulf airport was only 5 minutes from home, and you don’t have to cancel for weather very often during the summer there. A couple of years later I bought a 1946 Cessna 140 with a friend. We worked out our costs were about $20/hr to fly that plane (it didn’t use much fuel and we did 300 hours a year or so, this was around 1999-2000 time) and the capital cost was less than a typical mid size car. My syndicate partner on this was the fuel guy at the airport (although he did have a supportive wife who was a petrochemical engineer). When my contract finished I took two months off and flew that plane coast to coast. (The US is big when you only do 85 knots, it worked out to be about 200 hours of flying time. Crossing mountains in an 85 hp aircraft with a cruise prop is interesting!)

The most important factor was that I was single. I had as much time as I wanted to go fly.

Incidentally my partner in the plane became a flight instructor, and his first student was taught in our Cessna 140 (and his first student was about 25 if memory serves, and was an airport worker). If (CofA) GA is to survive in Europe at all it really ought to be possible for freelance instructors to be able to operate to increase the availability and ease of obtaining flight training.

Andreas IOM

My main flight instructor did it in a similar way: he’s the son of a truck driver and midlevel (woman) chemical engineer with three kids. They bought him a C140 in 1989 for $11,000 and he got his private certificate and commercial certificates in that. I’m not sure what he flew to become a certified flight instructor, maybe the same C140, but in his late teens he made his spending money teaching (‘converting’) people to fly tail wheel aircraft in his own plane. Somewhere along the line that plane was sold to raise cash and he ended up with a cheaper 65 HP Luscombe with which he made a trip to all four corners of the continental US without an electrical system.

Last Edited by Silvaire at 02 Jun 11:43

Certainly not the case where I do most of my flying these days, KSMO.

Don’t forget that KSMO (where I took my PPL, btw) is located in an atypical and highly affluent area – basically right next to the LA showbiz money. Both Tom Cruise & Harrison Ford parks their aircraft there & the regional Cirrus dealership is located on the airfield as well.

I think the “old white guys at 60+” stereotype is pretty self-evident these days in “heartland” GA. I fear 25% of the US private pilot population will lose their medical within the next 10-15 years.

While the World has gradually become more affluent over the past 50 years, with the wealthy top 2% increasing their net worth drastically (I noted that BMW sold almost 2,000,000 new cars in 2013), there really is no economic reason behind the decline of GA. It can only be because GA has lost its purpose & utility, probably never to be regained.

Whoever is left in GA are the people for whom the purpose itself is flying – tinkering with machinery, having a hobby that gets them out of the house or away from work, the fantastic sense of accomplishment when faced with all the flying challenges and pilot responsibilities, and the unique flying adventures we all experience. Luckily there’ll always be people like that around. So let’s just enjoy our fantastic airplanes & stop moping around!

For a start, one usually doesn’t have the money to fly until one is well established financially, which for most people doesn’t happen till their 40s or 50s

Also mid life crisis only tends to set in during mid-40s…

Last Edited by Hodja at 02 Jun 11:41

I fear 25% of the US private pilot population will lose their medical within the next 10-15 years.

I’m thinking maybe they won’t need a medical by then. Actually they don’t need one now, but I mean for four seat planes etc.

Luckily there’ll always be people like that around. So let’s just enjoy our fantastic airplanes & stop moping around!


Also mid life crisis only tends to set in during mid-40s

I keep thinking I haven’t yet had mine, and at 56 I have probably missed the opportunity

The husband of a woman who once worked for me shagged a barmaid, grew a ponytail, got some tatoos, and bought a sports car. He was an accountant which made this doubly impressive!

I fear 25% of the US private pilot population will lose their medical within the next 10-15 years.

I wonder on what criteria?

I can only think of obesity. But presumably those heading for the limit will just not renew their Class 3 and go straight to the Sports Pilot route. In the US system you must not fail your medical – unlike in the UK where you can fail it and just smile and openly go to the NPPL.

Last Edited by Peter at 02 Jun 11:53
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

And if Annex II get IFR, the FAA PPL/IR should also work (though you will need significant avionics for Eurocontrol IFR, due to equipment carriage requirements)

We were actually considering a glass panel for the Auster at one stage :-) (Panel space is very limited such that our radio is overhead and the transponder is jabbing the passenger’s knee. However, I suspect the less expensive panels you can put in a permit to fly aircraft probably still need something supplemental to satisfy Eurocontrol). We got an email from a previous owner of our aircraft who owned it in the 1970s, I think, who was pleased to see the aircraft still flying today but thought it was a little bit sacrilegious that it had a Lycoming engine these days instead of the Gipsy. We were going to tell him about our glass cockpit plans to see what his reaction would be!

In the end we’ve decided to stick with the World War II issue gyros.

Andreas IOM

My local(!) airfield is going to restart training after a brief lull when the small flying school decided it was all too much hassle and packed in. The solution is to become a ‘satellite’ centre for a FTO at a bigger airfield. Certainly not my political ideal i.e. I like to see lots of small businesses or self-employed people rather than fewer, larger businesses, but things aren’t ending as badly as they could have.

The scary part is what’s going to happen to used aircraft prices when all these people finally hang their hat up so to speak.

Great Oakley, U.K. & KTKI, USA

You might lose a little, maybe, but then you could use the proceeds to trade up to something else with wings that’s depreciated even more because it cost more originally. If the whole aircraft market depreciates a little it’s a whole lot cheaper than the endless buy/depreciate/buy cycle with a series of new cars or whatever. I’d like to die having done a few things – its only a few decades until it won’t matter, if you’re in middle age now.

My planes will have value long after my value is stone cold zero.

Last Edited by Silvaire at 02 Jun 15:15

I have no personal ownership experience of this but have heard numerous piston twin owners say that many of the “traditional” twins (e.g. Aztecs) are now worth only the value of the two engines.

I have been offered King Airs (seriously) for about the value of the two PT6s. That was perhaps 2/3 of the cost of a used TBM700 with the same time left on its one engine.

It is probably just singles (piston and turboprops) that trade at a premium over the engine value – most likely because SEPs give you the most bang for the buck (MPG) which also is most likely the main reason why they have pretty well taken over the piston market.

Like the housing market, everybody in it wants values to rise but everybody trying to get into it wants them to fall. Everybody trying to jump off and emigrate to some cheaper country wants them to rise but everybody wanting to trade up wants them to fall

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom
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