As Yogi Berra once famously said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Nevertheless, the FAA each year tries to do exactly that. The agency’s Aerospace Forecast for fiscal years 2019 through 2039 was just released, and—to no one’s great surprise—projects continued growth in most aviation-industry sectors.
Despite full airplanes and across-the-board increases in U.S. revenue passenger miles—an industry statistic—”U.S. commercial air carriers (including passenger and cargo) reported an operating profit of $21.0 billion in 2018, compared to an operating profit of $24.6 billion in 2017. Operating revenues increased 8.0 percent in 2018, while operating expenses increased 11.5 percent,” the forecast summary states.
Another metric the FAA tracks—total operations at FAA and contract control towers—were up 2.8 percent in 2018, when compared to 2017. Air carrier operations at towered facilities increased by 4.3 percent and general aviation activity increased 3.3 percent.
According to the assumptions the FAA used in its forecasting, the U.S. economy is projected to grow during the period, but more slowly than any other region in the world. Real gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the U.S. for the 20-year period is forecast at 1.8 percent while worldwide GDP growth is estimated at 2.8 percent. Only Europe, Africa and the Middle East are projected to see similar GDP growth, estimated to be 1.9 percent. The Asia/Pacific region leads the pack, with 4.0 percent growth projected over the next 20 years.
While the news for general aviation over the next 20 years could be better, it also could be a lot worse. According to the FAA’s forecast, the active general aviation fleet is projected to hold relatively steady. The agency counted 212,885 GA aircraft in CY 2018 and projects 211,800 in CY 2039. The sector’s loss of “only” some 1000 airframes over the next 20 years would be a favorable outcome for many in the industry—even though it’s negative growth, the rate of decline is down in the noise level.
Specifically, the FAA forecasts the number of fixed-wing turbine aircraft will grow 1.8 percent per year while the number of single-engine piston aircraft will decline by one percent a year. Rotorcraft will grow at a rate of 1.7 percent per year, canceling out the loss of piston singles over the timeframe. Total GA hours flown are forecast to increase from 25.6 million in CY 2018 to 30.3 million in 2039, an average annual growth rate of 0.8 percent a year, limited by single-engine piston hours declining at 1.1 percent per year.
Once can make several conclusions from the data. Among them is that the Asia/Pacific region is the place for a brand-new ATP to be. And those of us who own piston singles should hang on to them, since they’re going to start becoming more rare.
— Jeb Burnside