AERO 2012: Slash new aircraft costs to lure pilots, says GAMA

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The cost of building and developing new aircraft must be slashed if general aviation is to attract new pilots, sustain the existing population of owners and flyers and drive up safety, said the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) at AERO 2012 in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

"There is so much unfilled demand for [Federal Aviation Administration] Part 23 category aircraft [up to 5,700kg, 12,600lb] ," says Greg Bowles, GAMA director of engineering and manufacturing. According to data released by the Washington DC-based trade association, the average age of a four-seat piston single in the US is 39 years and a five-seat piston twin, 40 years. "Owners are unwilling or unable to buy many of the latest models because they are so expensive," Bowles says. "A four-seat entry level piston single like a Cessna 172 cost around $8,750 in 1956. By 2000 the price for a typical four-seat piston single like a Diamond Star had risen to nearly $190,000. This rise far outstrips the cost of inflation over that period," Bowles adds.

He attributes this huge price rise to the exponential increase in regulation over the same period. According to the FAA between 1994 and 1996 about 800 rule changes to FAA Part 23 - the standard that covers the design of GA aircraft - were enacted. They made it more costly to certificate a simple aircraft.

"Essentially, the regulatory scope of Part 23 has been shifted to more directly address the more complex aircraft, to the detriment of more simple types," says the FAA. Bowles concedes: "We have created a monster."

His frustration with the burdensome and inflexible certification process persuaded Bowles last year to establish an aviation rule-making committee (ARC) to address these issues. There are now 150 members of the ARC, including manufacturers, suppliers, and a host of civil aviation authorities including those of the USA, Europe, China, Brazil, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

"[The] ARC plan to rewrite simple certification rules for the lighter end of the market that will cut certification costs in half, and be relevant for the next 20 years. We are going through 900 regulations to see if they are applicable, but we won't compromise safety," says Bowles.

The ARC is expected to wrap up in July next year. It is hoped the recommendations will be adopted by international civil aviation authorities, leading to a globally harmonised standard.