FAA Lowers Piston Aircraft Forecast

Slight decline predicted over the next 20 years.

Piston Aircraft
Piston Aircraft

In its latest annual industry forecast, the FAA predicts the number of general aviation piston airplanes will decline at a rate of 0.1 percent over the next 20 years, even as airline and business jet travel greatly expand.

The forecast’s findings, presented at the 37th Annual FAA Forecast Conference in Washington, D.C., last week, project that airline passenger travel will nearly double by 2032, with revenue passenger miles increasing at an annual average rate of 3.2 percent. Likewise, growth in the turbine business aviation fleet, comprising turboprops, business jets and turbine helicopters, is also predicted to grow as delays caused by all the extra airline traffic make private travel more attractive for those who can afford it.

The FAA projects the number of active piston airplanes in the U.S. will drop from 159,007 in 2010 to 155,395 by 2032, with a slightly larger decline anticipated in the next 10 years compared with the decade after 2023. Interestingly, the FAA predicts the light-sport aircraft category will grow throughout the time period, but not fast enough to counteract declines among Part 23 piston singles and twins. There were 6,528 LSAs in the GA fleet in 2010; the FAA foresees that number growing to 10,195 by 2032.

But there might be a glimmer of hope for piston aircraft manufacturers hidden in the data. The FAA has recently revised the assumptions it uses to create the forecast after consulting with industry experts, who believed past predictions about the growth of the GA piston fleet have been too optimistic. As current GA piston airplanes age, they will fly less and drop out of the fleet at a faster rate. What the forecast doesn’t show is how quickly replacement airplanes will be added. The FAA also foresees more use of piston GA aircraft for business travel alongside turbine-powered aircraft, and a probable decline in leisure flying as other activities compete for pilots’ time.