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Waypoint: The numbers just don’t add up

One of the unfortunate things about general aviation in Canada is there’s a noticeable lack of hard data indicating its size and relevance – and that’s a real problem when it comes to determining influence in critical situations.


May 6, 2011
By Rob Seaman

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One of the unfortunate things about general aviation in Canada is there’s a noticeable lack of hard data indicating its size and relevance – and that’s a real problem when it comes to determining influence in critical situations.

The Canadian Business Aviation Association (CBAA) attempted to create this type of information a few years back because frankly, whenever asked, it lacked the data to illustrate and support some of its arguments. The most relevant data it possessed centred around the number of members and aircraft, which to groups like the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA), is significant. But this alone is not sufficient when you’re dealing with the government – or funding sources – over airport access, community support or even the most basic rights and equality.

Our friends south of the border are more savvy when it comes to creating quantifiable information. When analyzing general aviation (GA) numbers from the United States, it’s apparent the value this segment holds here. The General Aviation Manufacturer’s Association (GAMA) tracks data that includes the market as a whole – and that includes Canada to some extent and the world at large.

In its 2010 annual report, GAMA defines GA as all aviation other than military and scheduled commercial airlines. There are more than 320,000 GA airplanes worldwide, ranging from two-seat training aircraft to intercontinental business jets. Of aircraft flying today, nearly 228,000 are based in the U.S.

GAMA reports that GA contributes more than $150 billion to the U.S. economy annually and employs more than 1.3 million people. The spillover to Canada, while not nearly as big, is considerable, given the country’s population base – and the fact many of our domestic aviation-focused businesses provide manufacturing or parts support around the world. In addition, many Canadian support organizations are a valuable part of larger international operations and make significant contributions to the $150 billion pie.

In the U.S., GA aircraft fly close to 24 million hours and carry 166 million passengers annually. And while not part of current GAMA data, past reports from other sources have shown that GA actually transports more passengers than the commercial carriers. There are also nearly 4,000 paved GA airports open to the public in the U.S. By contrast, scheduled airlines serve less than 500.

This is a significant amount of data that clearly illustrates the importance of the sector. It also shows GA is far more than government or public perception – it’s not a “hobby” or just “lives of the rich and famous” oriented, with limited public or general benefit.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Those working in GA in this country must work together to support and substantiate its value. There needs to be a national transportation and airports policy that addresses and includes the rights and needs of GA. There must also be real support for community airfields as, in many cases, they represent a significant means for getting people, goods and materials where they need to be in a timely manner.

And in times of disaster or stress, it is GA that is able to respond quicker and with more humanity than commercial or military operations. During the devastating earthquake in Haiti, GA aircraft flew in tons of aid and support to victims. More recently in Japan, GA flights were able to evacuate people first, while governments were still planning an exit strategy.

The NBAA are particularly adept at this sort of response and support to their members. By March 14, barely three days after the initial disaster in Japan, its Humanitarian Emergency Response Operator (HERO) database – where people can register themselves and their aircraft in support of efforts to help the people of Japan – was active. By March 17, U.S. trade media were reporting many companies had sent corporate aircraft to Japan to pick up executives and workers. Private jet providers had received thousands of inquiries from people eager to escape. One L.A.-based broker of charters reported its normal monthly charter request for Japan is around one. In the days immediately after the first earthquake hit, they had 25 to 30 inquiries – and that was just one firm.

As part of the transportation network, GA is irreplaceable. Working as a unit – all the alphabet organizations and individuals collectively – there is a real need to focus on encouraging governments at all levels not only to create a favourable and encouraging environment, but also to develop strategies to encourage and grow the business and community.


Rob Seaman is a Wings writer and columnist.


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