There are three major areas of US Aviation, Commercial, Military, and General Aviation. To many of us, our perspective of aviation is what we see when we go to the airport to board a commercial flight.
The concentration of activity at the drop off ramp or pick-up area and the challenge of squeezing into a place to unload or pick up someone. If you are parking, then it is roaming around to find an open space and then carrying all your luggage to the baggage check and then on to the security check. After all that, if you allowed yourself enough time, you are in the secure waiting area watching the planes come and go through the large windows.
As you walk to your gate, you’ll see all the other destinations of other flights. The airport is truly a gateway to the world.
There is so much more to aviation than the commercial scheduled carrier segment. Commercial carriers such as Delta, Southwest, American, and others are just a small percentage of the US Aircraft fleet, but they carry the most people and cargo. Of all the US aircraft, commercial aviation has just 2.1% of the aircraft fleet!
You might expect the next biggest segment would be military aviation, after all the Air Force, Navy, Army, Marines, and Coast Guard have many aircraft fulfilling different roles. Larger than commercial, but it is only 3.6% of the US Aircraft fleet.
The largest segment of the US aircraft fleet is General Aviation, or GA as we refer to it. It holds 62.1% of the US aircraft fleet! These are the planes at the local airports privately owned, or owned by corporations flying the company personnel around, agricultural applications, or flight schools teaching folks to fly. The types and applications are wide and diverse.
The GA fleet and pilots are the developmental system for the commercial airline pilots, and presently GA is not generating enough pilots to fill the needs of commercial aviation. In the next ten years, there will be thousands of commercial pilot vacancies as the current commercial pilot ranks age out due to the mandatory retirement age of 65, up from 60 a few years ago.
There is some talk of moving the age limit to 67 to retain pilots who can continue to pass the required flight physical every 6 months.
If you add up all the percentages so far, there is a gap of 32.2%. That segment is filled by Unmanned Aircraft Systems. These are the drones that are used in a variety of ways, for aerial surveillance, mapping, photography, agriculture, and so on. The group is growing larger every day. GPS technology and new and advanced computer software make flying UAS aircraft simple and safe.
They can be programmed to maintain a position, fly a preset course and return to their starting point. If you have ever watched the “Deadliest Catch” on TV, many of the shots are made with programmable photo drones.
US aviation faces many challenges. Commercial airlines are trying in be more profitable or just be able to stay in business by flying more fuel-efficient aircraft, squeeze more people in the cabin, charging for bags, or extra seating space, or other in-flight services. Schedules are reduced trying to fill planes to make any given flight to be more cost effective or there may not be a crew available with the shortage of pilots.
Other issues include an outdated air traffic control system, crowded airways and potential airspace conflicts with UAS aircraft. General Aviation airports need upgrades and federal and local funds are limited to meet those needs. The cost of aviation fuel is rising, and the cost of learning to fly has increased making it harder for new pilots to enter the system moving on to airline pilot status.
US aviation is a strong economic engine and creates a major number of high skill high wage jobs. These jobs are not just the pilots, but the technicians that maintain the aircraft, aircraft engineers and designers, and those who support the cargo operations such as UPS and FedEx. Aviation touches thousands of different occupations.
So, what is the future solution? One effort is to have more programs in the schools that help educate our youth about the options and opportunities that are developing in Aerospace and Aviation.
We have come a long way from the Wright Brothers in the last 100 years, and the next 100 promises to be exciting. Come and join us in the journey with our EAA Chapter 1240 and School Board programs, engaging our youth and developing their futures. Let us know if you are interested and how to join in the fun.
John Rousch is a pilot and Aerospace Technology Instructor with the School Board of Highlands County. He is also President of EAA Chapter 1240 in Sebring, Florida. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, call or text 863-273-0522.