A Bellwether Year for Oshkosh?

Will 2015 be remembered as the year of the GA comeback?

AirVenture Oshkosh Crowd

AirVenture Oshkosh Crowd

As we race inexorably toward the week of Oshkosh to partake in the bounty that is the greatest airshow of the year there are some tangible signs that general aviation is poised for a return to real, honest-to-goodness growth.

For starters, the first Icon A5 light sport amphibian will be handed over to its new owner at AirVenture, a significant milestone that ranks right up there with the debut of Burt Rutan's Long-EZ and the first appearance of Jim Bede's BD-5J microjet at Wittman Regional Airport. Icon has garnered over 1.2 million Facebook likes to go along with more than a thousand A5 orders, proving that interest in personal aviation really is on the upswing.

An even better indicator (at least for us) is that Flying Magazine is experiencing among the highest audience growth rate in the country, according to the Association of Magazine Media, which tracks such things. We were in the top 10 for print and digital growth this past spring, not just among aviation publications but all major newsstand magazines — beating out everyone from Road & Track to Men's Health to ESPN The Magazine (and just about every publication in between, thank you very much).

While we'd like to believe that our print subscriber and online audience gains have everything to do with the fascinating articles and stunning photography in Flying, we understand that the trend can be explained in some measure by a renewed excitement surrounding general aviation. The Light Sport market is mature, the Part 23 rewrite of light airplane certification rules is coming, Third Class medical reform is a real possibility, and some intriguing new airplanes — from the Icon A5 to the Flight Design C4 to the Tecnam P2010 to the Mooney M10, the Airbus E-Fan and the Cirrus Jet — will soon start appearing on airport ramps. Who wouldn't be excited by that?

I'm sure a lament we'll hear at Oshkosh again this year will be about too many "old guys" roaming the flight lines and exhibit halls. We can tell you for a fact that our audience is trending younger, smarter and wealthier, which is a good thing. But there's no shortage of old rich (and not-so-rich) folks subscribing to Flying too. Twenty years ago these were the pilots in their mid-40s who were too busy with family and work to fly as often as they wanted. Twenty years from now, today's 40-somethings will be the old guys and gals (but let's face it, mostly guys) at Oshkosh. We should embrace and cherish every last one of them.

After all, if the palpable enthusiasm in general aviation — and Flying's growing audience numbers — are any indication, there will be a lot more of them kicking around soon enough.

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