# The state of flying in the US

Discussion in 'Hangar Flying' started by brehmel62, Oct 18, 2018.

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1. Oct 18, 2018

### brehmel62

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I was looking over the FAA statistics and some things come to mind. We seem to be losing pilots. There were about 358,000 private pilots in 1980, but this was down to 163,000 in 2017. A loss of 195,000.

Maybe some of those moved up to commercial.
In 1980 there were 183,000 commercial pilots, but this dropped to 98,000 in 2017. A loss of 85,000.

I guess not. What about the totals?
In 1980 there were 827,000 total pilots, but this dropped to 609,000 in 2017. A loss of 218,000.

So, the question is why. It isn't the population. That's up almost 50%. It also isn't due to a shortage of instructors.
In 1980 there were 60,000 instructors, which increased to 107,000 in 2017.

One curious thing I found was evaporation. There were 20,000 pilots trained during WWI. Yet, by 1929 there were less than 10,000 total.

Likewise, there were 400,000 pilots trained during WWII. Yet, by 1956 there were less than 258,000 total.

So, apparently pilots can have a rather short active period of less than a decade.

Is there a correlation with aircraft?

In 1980 there were 169,000 single engine piston aircraft. These were down to 130,000 by 2016. A loss of 39,000.

There were 193,000 total piston aircraft in 1980. This was down to 143,000 in 2016. A loss of 50,000.

In the other hand, if we try to correlate with total aircraft there doesn't seem to be any connection. We have about the same number of total aircraft, around 220,000. There are increases in jet, turbine, rotor, experimental, and other aircraft.

I suppose 'other' would pick up things like powered paraglider. I think it would include hot air balloons but I doubt that category has seen any increases. PPG however seems to be flourishing. Well, relatively speaking; PPG is actually smaller than piston multi-engine and nowhere near as big as piston singles. Still, you can see the improvements.

So, I think that the high cost of a pilots license ($8,000 -$10,000) is an obstacle, however, I also think that even if we trained several hundred thousand new pilots they would just be gone again in a decade. Other than reducing the cost of flying I'm not sure what else would help.

2. Oct 18, 2018

### Voidhawk9

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Cost is certainly one issue. But there are many contributing factors.

Flying as a career is getting less and less appealing, due to the conditions as well as remuneration. Not really worth it.

There has been a large shift in general away from motor-skills type roles and hobbies. Keyboards and mice don't count. A lot of people don't even want to drive a car anymore. Flying a plane would be a crazy idea to people like that.

The increasing cost and complexity of regulations are off-putting as well. Not a huge problem to those already involved in the industry, but to someone looking in from the outside, it is another barrier.

Cost of ownership and operation isn't improving, that's for sure. Especially if one is looking at certified types, it's nuts.

The rate of pilots leaving the industry for more money, a better lifestyle, and less stress is pretty high too. A lot, perhaps MOST of people I trained with and worked with either gave up before making a living in the industry or got fed up with the job and the poor prospects (especially here in NZ) and moved on to something else. I'm one of the latter myself - I'll be flying again once my aircraft is closer to completion, but as a job, not again thank you.

3. Oct 18, 2018

### pictsidhe

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There's fear too. Flying is perceived as being very dangerous, likely thanks to the media reaction to any incident. People are becoming very risk averse.

4. Oct 18, 2018

### dcstrng

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I suspect for those enthused about flying it/they are as active as it ever was – but the percentage of those “enthused” seems noticeably less than I recall 40-50 years ago (and, admittedly this may be yet another closet-geriatric pining for the good ol’ days…) when most of the guys my age hung out at the lake, airport or race-track and preferably all three, all the time. I’m not sure the lessor percentage is peculiar to flying, however. I note there are empty slips at the marina (where there used to be a waiting list), that motorcycle manufacturers are not in the boom industry they were just 15-20 years ago and even my beloved race tracks seem to have lots of empty seats these days… some of that was doubtless a product of economic down-turns, but we’ve had then before and some of the most prolific plane (and hotrod) building was done during the depression years or in the economic malaise a decade after WWII.

Like many of my generation, I sense that the younger generations seem far more content in the virtual world than the real one – but, in fairness, that may not be statistically provable and only an elderly opinion. My observation is that almost any of the recreational pursuits that have a “rite of passage” have taken a hit, as well as some of the spectator sports as well… I’m not sure we have the same percent of folks who actually know how to entertain themselves, let alone spending a few months to a year learning how to fly and then enjoy hanging out at the airport – when I go to the GA airports around me the percentage of grey-beards is way, way higher than down at the shopping mall…

The other factor (in the experimental realm) is that the general populace doesn’t seem to have the general “handi-man/woman/person) skills that used to be common place – so the jumping off place for an aircraft build or restoration is immediately intimidating. I enjoy reading the older Experimenter and Sport Aviation articles – from the 50s, 60s and 70s – and often marvel how this builder or that spent a whole 9-moinths building a Jungster biplane, or 6 months building a Tailwind – now days those would be “years” not months and that is after (re)drafting in “speedy” CAD (not), and then waddling off to the plasma guy (whomever) to cut out the parts, etc., etc. I think less planes were built back then, but those who did do it weren’t terribly intimidated – grab a #2 pencil, hack-saw and a torch and they were off to the races… BTW, add a sliderule and a machine shop as well as an engineer or two who understood working with titanium and you have the basic tools that designed and built the SR-71; might be a message there somewhere…

Not sure how we get it going again – folks seem busier, less likely to spend time in recreational pursuits (of any kind)… Even down and the EAA chapters I’ve visited over the past 30 years things have changes – used to be folks talked about how their planes were coming along, now (not too unlike this forum) it seems we spend more time wondering what the FAA is up to and discussing someone else’s flight/flying (than our own).

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5. Oct 18, 2018

### TFF

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Aviation use to be cool. To the average person in public, it is just a tool. Greyhound for the air. Air travel is not glam nor special anymore. No dream to be like the big boys and buy a 150 and be captain of a two seat airliner. Cost is killer and a lot is fuel. Cost of the "toy" is not really significant seeing other people's street "toys". Relatively efficient plane at 7 gal an hour $5 a gal is$35. Around the patch plane, Ok but you think about it. Something like a Cirrus a real travel machine at 14 gal econ mode, you really think wow $70 and I have two more to the destination. That's$420 round trip. Ok if the wife is game in flying but most are not. They would rather go commercial almost every one of them. As for building a plane in 6 months, those were the days when a husband ruled the house and he would disappear into the garage with no divorce retaliation like today. Different world.

6. Oct 18, 2018

### Wayne

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My buddy has a paramotor school and it costs about $2,500 to train and around$12,000 to buy middle of the road gear (wing and backpack). The wing needs replacing periodically.

He is seeing tremendous growth - so much that he can't match supply. I think, in his case, Paramotor is more accessible, seems more fun in a "Red Bull" way and has a fun culture.

Is it possible that flying is alive and well, just different?

I wonder if many of the activities from prior decades are in decline? I know the Freemasons hit a high in the 50's - not sure about other groups/clubs. There is certainly a lifecycle at work in some form - new interests eclipse older interests.

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7. Oct 18, 2018

### blane.c

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I think a major issue is when you get there then what do you do? You can bring your own bicycle, but it is not elegant transportation to someone who flew the majority of the trip. It simply is that the airport tarmac isn't the dream destination of most. I cannot even get a hamburger at most of the small airports I have been to for years, most are lucky to have a vending machine.

Another issue is the "green revolution" more people are concerned with their carbon footprint. Airplanes are the fastest way to get from ramp to ramp but you can fit several people in a car that gets much better mileage. And then in practicality you need a car to get to and from the airport environment.

And then the kicker is cost. It cost's more in relation to available spendable income year after year to fly. It simply is economy of scale, the less people you have involved in flying the more it cost's each individual and conversely the only way to make it less expensive for everyone is to get more people involved.

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8. Oct 18, 2018

### kent Ashton

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Good points. Here are some others:

-Public airports are fenced. That discourages kids and non-fliers interested in aviation.

-At most modest-sized public airports, you are paying for extra airport cops, their vehicles, weapons, training, cameras, fences, gates, gate-keepers to prevent acts which rarely happen but which intimidate ordinary persons with an interest in aviation from simply strolling out to look at an airplane or talk to a pilot.

-Public airport sponsors will not build simple shade-ports and you can hardly convince them to build T-hangars. If you want to build your own, you have to build a $200K hangar. If you build your own, it will often become the property of the airport in 25-30 years with no compensation to you. -It is hard have a little airport in the East due to zoning. In my county, it's only possible in "Agricultural Open" zoning and it's still a "special use" that gets higher scrutiny. -Public airports require$1M liability policies to be based there.

-You cannot just put up a sign and say "Airplane Rides - $50". You'd have to lease office space on the airport, have a contract, liability insurance, a business permit on top of having a commercial aircraft that get 100-hour inspections. 9. Oct 18, 2018 ### Aerowerx ### Aerowerx #### Well-Known Member Joined: Dec 1, 2011 Messages: 4,798 Likes Received: 1,281 Location: Marion, Ohio Recent activity here on HBA prompts this question: How many ultralight aircraft and pilots are there? Could they have replaced those GA pilots that just want to have fun flying? 10. Oct 18, 2018 ### lr27 ### lr27 #### Well-Known Member Joined: Nov 3, 2007 Messages: 3,216 Likes Received: 463 I know someone who was trained by an airline and now has a pretty good job flying for them. He did have the advantage of being an experienced drone pilot for the military as a civilian contractor. His wife has a PPL but has been on a high powered exec track job at a jet charter company, so she hasn't been using it. I think demand from the airlines may mean salaries will go up. Whether that translates to more GA activity is another question. 11. Oct 18, 2018 ### 12notes ### 12notes #### Well-Known MemberLifetime Supporter Joined: Aug 27, 2014 Messages: 793 Likes Received: 489 Location: Louisville, KY The path to an airline pilot career has gotten a lot more attractive in the US, salaries for regionals have gone up, and the path to Captain takes less time. The signing bonuses today can be more than the annual pay for a first officer 5 years ago - For example, Air Wisconsin is currently offering bonuses of$5K at start and $26K at the end of IOE, then an annual retention bonus of$10K + $2K per quarter until you reach Captain. My flight instructor was a first officer for 18 months before making Captain at PSA. And I know of one first officer at a regional who is already got called to interview with JetBlue, so the majors are starting to feel the shortage, too. There is a regional that will hire you as a trainee with 500 hours, you basically need to build hours on your own and take an online course once a month. Not much work, not much pay, but comes with the travel benefits on their partner airlines and the CTP course. Supply and demand at work. It's a great time to start an airline career, if that's what you want. But this hasn't really helped GA yet, if it will at all. There's not many experienced instructors left, the regionals have been snatching up everyone with 1,500 hours and a heartbeat, a flight school can't compete with those salaries. And there's no help for you getting those first chunk of hours and ratings, it's still really expensive. Comparing it to boats & 4 wheelers, etc. is not a fair comparison, on those you spend the money and go use them the same day. There's no spending in the neighborhood of$10K and months before you can use what you bought. Family & friends see immediate benefits, rather than waiting for you to get your certificate. And it's frequently not practical - it's usually faster and cheaper to take an airline on a trip past a couple hundred miles than a 172.

We don't need to sell it to ourselves, if you're here, the drive and desire is there. But selling it to the general public is a bit harder these days, declining median disposable income hasn't pared well against rising costs of aviation in the last few decades.

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12. Oct 18, 2018

### bmcj

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Considering the popularity of virtual hobbies now, if we want a target group to recruit new pilot trainees from, perhaps we should be looking at the snow skiers and motorcyclists. They’ve proven that they would rather be outside playing instead of in front of a screen, and they have also shown a willingness to spend money on their hobbies.

- I agree that fencing airports off from the public has been detrimental.

- Eco/green movement... I don’t think that is too much of an issue because people tend to be concerned about OTHER PEOPLE’S carbon footprint, but not so much their own carbon footprint.

- Flying used to be more romanticized, largely because the public media made heroes of successful wartime fighter pilots, but that is absent today, and flying was newer back then, but today, airlines have made flying a chore of convenience to passengers.

13. Oct 18, 2018

### slevair

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Another thing going against aviation as a hobby is that it is hard to show off your plane and flying skill to a group or person at a party/gathering. You can take your laptop, motorcycle, hotrod, etc to the gathering, but planes usually only meet other pilots. It's hard to admit that people are that shallow, but the "showoff factor" weighs heavily on some. Size, storage, and accessibility rank high too.

14. Oct 18, 2018

### ScaleBirdsScott

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I feel we keep having these discussions. But, basically all the points hit on some factor or another.

There are people who still want to go out and fly but the world keeps changing; most people have been on an airliner and were unimpressed with the whole ordeal so why go in a more-dangerous, old, complicated small plane? The promise of any practical benefit is long dead and the fun-per-dollar isn't there anymore since everything is more expensive and there are more things to pay for, with more restrictions and less options.

More and more people in cities, who have plenty to do and worry about and experience without going flying. So the growth in population in cities is basically cut off from relevance anyhow.

Flying is a lot of work to learn old systems and hope they still work, while paying a lot for the chance to fly that old hulk around the pattern or follow a GPS from home airport to destination airport. If you're the passenger getting taken up, chances are you aren't going up and doing a lot of rolls and other fun things. You're going for a ride with an experience halfway between being in an old car, and what you have had in an airliner, with about the same amount of personal space as coach. All the gauges and knobs, whether steam or digital, are confusing and complicated. The thing bounces and jolts and is loud. The people on the radio are talking fast with lots of code. If they can get beyond all that, don't get the stick feeling, and are a certain personality, they may enjoy grabbing the stick and giving a few slow turns before giving it back to the pilot. And anything beyond the slow-gentle probably gets that pilot wanting to take back control quickly.

Meanwhile the world is all about improving user experience, streamlined and modern interfaces, lowered bars to entry, shared experiences, etc. For example a 20-30 foot or so boat is not much cheaper or less onerous to own or operate than an airplane. But a boat is a lot simpler to drive around in, you can at most times just stop and take a break, crack a beer, whatever. You can take it out all day, see sights, and interact with some of them, and most importantly you can share that experience with a bunch of friends or prospective partners and offer them an experience they may not normally get. No-one is traveling by ship anymore. So being out on the water is potentially a more glamorous sounding experience than memories of flying from JFK to ORD.

Seems the more visceral and low-fi, low-cost experience of powered parachute is taking off, which is interesting, but I guess it's seen as simple enough, and extreme/cool enough, for people to see it as a fun activity.

Maybe drones and e-flight type developments will bring a new breed of pilot, but, you have to somehow convince these people there's something up there worth doing with it all; or flying FPV drones and flying commercial will satiate the itch for many.

If there were a pretty cheap kitfox style bush-plane kit, with a powerful motor, marketed for being a near turn-key way of doing the type of fun flying you see the guys showing off on YouTube doing; and someone offered package deals to get trained and get your own plane setup and join a posse of like minded people to all go out with and do the same stuff, you'd get a few people jumping into being pilots. But it wouldn't be a movement.

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15. Oct 19, 2018

### BJC

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With all due respect to my airline / freighter pilots, whom I like and respect:
Lots of airline pilots completed a paid 5 year training program, compliments of the tax payers and the military.

Some slightly dated info here: https://money.cnn.com/2016/03/29/news/companies/delta-pilots-pay-hike/index.html Starting base of $68,000 plus$40,000 profit sharing. That is worth it for many.

Yes, what interests young people today is very different. Also consider that one can sit in a secure, air-conditioned room with a coffee cup at hand, and fly a combat aircraft on the other side of the planet.

Agree. And recognize that those regulations are a manifestation of the societal shift from individual responsibility to governmental responsibility for our well-being, something that generations younger that I seem to want.

Ergo, the current FAA effort to revitalize sport aviation via loosening of some LSA and E-AB regulations. Note, however, that professional regulators rarely are successful at achieving their desired results by changing regulations.

Some data references on that would be interesting. The ones that I know really like their jobs.

BJC

16. Oct 19, 2018

### Aerowerx

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Some convoluted logic...

When an airliner crashes there will be 100-200 people killed or injured.

When a small plane crashes it is only 1 or 2, therefore small planes are safer?:ermm:

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17. Oct 19, 2018

### Turd Ferguson

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A note of caution about FAA stats: The FAA has been working to clean up the aircraft registry by purging aircraft that show no signs of life. So while it may look like a lot of planes have disappeared over the past 20 yrs, the reality is many of those were phantom airplanes that existed only on paper.

However, there has been a steady decline in active pilots in the US. Whatever the reasons, I still go fly because that's what I like to do. Can't control what other people do.

Take a look at some other popular activities:.
Motorcycle sales are free fall. Riding is losing popularity. Sales of high end bikes are stagnant.
Golfing is in decline. Many golf courses are closing because they are no longer viable.
Maybe people just like to sit around and do nothing.

18. Oct 19, 2018

### lr27

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Our RC club membership is definitely down, plus people build a whole lot less and use almost ready to fly models a whole lot more. The nearest free flight club, OTOH, isn't shrinking any more and everyone builds their own stuff, with the usual exception of propellers. Both clubs' membership are getting older, though.

I think the entire TV news industry may be devoted to making people scared so they'll stay home and watch more news. But that's just a passing impression from when I worked in a place that had TV's in the lobby. I don't want or have a functional TV these days.

19. Oct 19, 2018

### Pops

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Don't remember the last time I have watched TV except for the weather . My time is more important than to waste it watching TV.

20. Oct 19, 2018

### ScaleBirdsScott

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Thing is many of the coming generation won't know what TV even means. Oh they'll have plenty of media to keep busy with but it's on their time and schedule now. That's good because they won't be rotting away with terrible TV and constant advertising, but it does not mean there will be people stepping away from watching their shows. It just hopefully means that the average quality and intelligence of the shows improves and becomes even more distilled.

We no longer are dealing with 40-episodes a year of the same episodic concept over and over. Now it's 6-10 hours of almost movie-grade storytelling per year per show, with more shows to watch than hours in the day.

(Just got finished with the latest season of Peaky Blinders myself and looking forward to the next season.)

I've noticed when I would spend a weekend with friends that they would be happy to just sit and binge TV for hours. I get bored after an episoe or two. I'd rather do just about anything else. But I've seen good, active people, who might spend the day climbing or biking cross country, just sit and spend an entire whole day just binging some show.

My rule is only watch shows when I'm also doing some other work, and the shows follow my schedule not other way around. Yeah, sometimes I'm not getting much CAD done while Peaky Blinders is on, but, at least the work is there to be done if need be.

But mainly we have videogames now. As a kid of the 90's we always had some good videogames, Doom, Command and Conquer, Medal of Honor, Mario Kart and countless others. We played a lot of that. But we also had models and rockets and forts and other stuff to do in the old ways. Built a lof of things then too. So for me building airplane just follows the natural progression. I think the games now are just much more addictive and compelling. If I were growing up now the level of stuff we have access to today is insane. I don't know anything would end up being more fulfilling to the simple monkey brain inside all our little skulls than more rounds of Battlefront or Overwatch or so-on.

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