2010: The Good and the Bad of It

2010 was a tough year all around but there is reason for optimism in 2011.

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The Bad
5. Weather Woes
Record heat scorched much of the East and South, "Snowmagedden" buried the Northeast last February, flooding inundated parts of New England and devastated Nashville, and Iceland's volcanic eruption played havoc with European jet traffic which affected passengers worldwide. The good news? Despite a record number of named storms, no major hurricanes made U.S. landfall.
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4. RJ Slaves
Despite the final report of the Buffalo Colgan crash clearly showing that the working conditions for regional pilots contributed to the disaster, nothing was done about it, except to move to increase the amount of total time these pilots need to have, thereby increasing their indebtedness and making the sub-$20,000 starting salaries they're looking at for a right seat job in an RJ all the more absurd. The wonder is that these (mostly) young men and women do as great a job as they do.
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3. TSA/Homeland Security I'm all for national security, but the TSA seems to have decided on a formula for it that centers on the notion that if you make flying as unpleasant as possible, you'll eliminate the threat because nobody will fly. I've hated flying on the airlines for years, and a lot of it is the fault of the airlines themselves, but the feds are working hard to make it a worse experience than ever. Full body scans, badly administered watch lists, the incompetent management of registration databases, which led to the detention at gunpoint of aviation legends Martha and John King at Santa Barbara last year … it's all too much. And now the TSA is making noise about instituting new security measures at all of our GA airports. I guess that nothing ever happening is too good a safety record for them not to mess with.
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2. High Prices Pilots continue to be hit hard by the cost of flying, a fact of which we're all too cognizant here at Flying. Fuel prices, while slightly south of record highs, are still pricing some out of the market. The overall cost of ownership seems even higher than it is, thanks to tight credit and our money already being spoken for to pay mortgages, soaring college costs and sky high insurance premiums. While none of this is going to change significantly any time soon, the recession has made prices even harder to swallow.
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1. Downturn Aviation businesses, from the smallest to the largest, were battered by the downturn this past year by a festering economy that 18 months ago we all hoped would have turned a corner. The market was devastated by a double whammy: tight credit and low consumer confidence. The credit crunch hits us all. For us would be buyers, it means that it's hard to get a loan. The days of nothing down are long gone, and even ten percent down won't cut it in most quarters. The crunch also hit manufacturers, who rely on credit to keep the cash flowing. It's a small miracle that we haven't seen more aircraft builders go under. As a result of all of this, manufacturers are selling fewer airplanes and we're all flying a lot less than usual. We all need a rebound in the worst way.
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The Good 6. Accelerated Depreciation
It wasn't intended solely to stimulate aircraft sales, but for now the fed's thumbs-up to bigger depreciation allowances has definitely spurred aircraft sales late in the year. It's hard to say what long-term effect it will have on sales, but any improvement would be welcome news. A few aircraft manufacturers with whom we spoke reported doubling their output to meet the late-season demand.
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5. Innovation
2010 saw some remarkable new products, the emergence of which were all the more remarkable when you factor in the terrible economic climate in which they were hatched. Garmin's clever and fully scalable envelope protection system set a new standard for GA, deliveries of Cessna's Skycatcher LSA gave that segment a big shot in the arm, and new technology powerplants from Lycoming and GE promised improved efficiency and value. Bose introduced the impressive A20 headset, Gulfstream got set to certify not one but two remarkable new jets, the G250 and G650, and Embraer earned certification for its phenomenal Phenom 300 light jet. These were just a few of the many innovative products to take to market or take first steps during the past year, which proves that even though the market is slow, the imaginations of aviation designers are working overtime.
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4. iPad
How cool is this latest aviation tool. With long battery life, a great display, instant on and off and a plethora of great aviation apps from which to choose, the iPad instantly put a lot of computer power into the hands of pilots at a value price.
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3. Legacy
Despite a big hit on public dollars for aviation museums and restoration efforts, the aviation history community had a great year in 2010. We saw gaggles of DC-3s take to the skies for AirVenture this year to celebrate its 75th anniversary. And the establishment or rebirth of several new aviation museums, coupled with the public unveiling of several new warbird projects, including the impressive B-29 FIFI, made 2010 a year to remember.
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2. Eclipse Back in Business
Very light jets are cool, and the Eclipse 500, the prototypical example of the breed, -I would argue, the only example-is back in business. Sure, the company that took over the remains of Eclipse isn't yet building new airplanes, but its refurbishment of existing Eclipses to the latest standards is impressive. And it won't be long, I predict, before new 500s are rolling off the line in Albuquerque. (Look for the Eclipse 500 on the cover of the February issue).
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1. Still Flying
The greatest news every year is that despite the challenges, we still have the best aviation community and infrastructure in the world, and flying is far more affordable here than in just about any other place in the world. Let's all strive to be a bigger part of it in 2011.