The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) released its 2016 report on aircraft sales and billings towards the end of February this year, and although it wasn’t radiating with good news, there were shafts of light. It wasn’t much of a surprise either – anyone who has anything to do with general aviation knows that times are quiet.
Precipitated by the economic crisis in 2008, the big drop in sales happened in 2009, when worldwide piston aircraft sales dropped by over 50 percent in one year. South Africa was sheltered to a degree from the economic crunch, but the ripples of the event have reached our shores. Nevertheless, worldwide piston aircraft sales, a good indicator of the health of the general aviation industry, have stabilised at a little over 1,000 sales per year, so it seems we are pulling out of the dive. Turbine sales improved marginally, and although total piston sales were down, billings were up.
The sense that things are turning around was also felt at the annual HAI Heli Expo, held from 7-9 March. Although there weren’t record sales or attendees, there was an encouragingly strong presence from exhibitors. President and CEO of Helicopter Association International, Matt Zuccaro, confirmed that there was a general feeling of optimism in the industry.
But, while the rest of the world seems to be recovering, regulation and red tape are holding us back – the impending ICAO audit at CAA no doubt playing its part.
Many flight training schools in South Africa are busy again, but it’s not the locals who are training; it’s foreigners who are attracted by our sunny skies and who have support from the rest of the world that knows there is a pilot shortage.
Columnist Mike Gough, who operates a flight training school at Lanseria and so is exposed to the full smorgasbord of fees and obstacles concocted by our airports and aviation authority, says the following in his April column: “I remember detailing these to a pilot from the US doing a local licence validation, and he was gob smacked that training attracted all this. In the US, training is specifically exempted from such charges in an attempt to encourage and promote the flight training industry. Ha! Fat chance of that happening here.”
Meanwhile, the CAA airfield registration and licensing saga continues, but clarity on what it all entails is lacking. The pessimistic view is that we will lose all our private airfields, and with it will go the tourist destinations that depend on them, and other GA-dependent industries. Much of the issue hangs on what requiring an airfield to be ‘registered’ really entails. The trouble is the CAA hasn’t made that clear, and so we are making assumptions based on what is required of a ‘licensed’ airfield. My gut tells me that it won’t be the end of the general aviation world as we know it – it rarely is.