One small step forward to free Europe's talented but often ignored general aviation (GA) sector from restraint is not enough

If the "final draft" of the notice of proposed amendment (NPA) on commercial single-engined instrument flight rules (SEIFR) operations is what it says it is, Europe's embattled general aviation sector is about to get a small but welcome shot in the arm.

It is about time too. The main trouble is that most European politicians have no idea of what the GA industry is or does, since the nearest most of them get to it is a trip on a business jet or a hired VIP helicopter during their election campaign. The result is that they see the industry as rarefied, elitist and nothing to do with political priorities.

SEIFR is the industry's attempt to convince Europe that modern single-engined turboprops are safer than older piston twins with which they compete, and if their 10-year battle is finally won, air taxi and air cargo operations will become cheaper, more available, and by definition, less "elitist".

Meanwhile, try telling the pilots of fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft among the following jobs that they are in a peripheral or elitist trade: crop-spraying; oil pipeline or power line inspection; oil-support; search and rescue operations; pollution patrol and dispersal; coastguard surveillance; police helicopter surveillance; fire-fighting; air ambulance operations; overnight mail distribution; and flying instruction. Then there are air taxis to suit almost every pocket, and people who use their own fixed- or rotary-wing aircraft for business travel. The business jet is at the elite end of the market certainly, but it is no longer a rarity for business people to use this mode of rapid point-to-point travel because the fast growth of fractional ownership schemes has enabled them to do it more economically. Behind all this is a massive industry - or at least it is in the USA: manufacturers of aircraft, engines and avionics; engineering and maintenance organisations; flying and engineering training schools; and the many other forms of flight support at airfields and airports.

Then there is the other politically ignored sector - sport and recreational flying. Interestingly, sport is climbing political agendas everywhere. Witness the international scramble to host the Olympic Games. Synchronised swimming and ice dancing have made it into the Olympics, but sport aerobatic flying, air racing or synchronised paragliding is not there. Maybe that is partly the industry's fault for not recognising a sports bandwagon when it sees one. Governments encourage their citizens to pursue physically or mentally challenging pastimes, but not recreational flying - at least not in Europe. Neither do politicians appear to have taken on board the fact that GA is the entry portal for commercial pilots, and is often the catalyst or starting point for aerospace careers that are only limited by an individual's abilities.

Europe's big manufacturers in the airline, military and helicopter sectors receive some government recognition or support. Meanwhile Europe's GA sector offers real quality in modern composite light aircraft and trainers, in rotary wing, and now leads diesel power for light aircraft, so ironically there is a danger that Europe's politicians could argue that it needs no encouragement to be at the leading edge. Pilatus's PC-12 and EADS Socata's TBM-700 will benefit from SEIFR, but so will Cessna's Caravan, and that sector is small beer across GA as a whole. The numbers of GA aircraft selling in Europe are a trifle compared with what they could be if the continent had a positive attitude to GA, as in the USA. And if the industry grew and had more power it would also have more leverage as an exporter.

European politicians have to be made more aware that GA is not elitist; that modern GA aircraft are quieter and more fuel-efficient than their forbears; that they carry out essential tasks; that the industry employs people and creates wealth; and finally that people have as much right to indulge in light aviation as a recreation or sport as do owners of vintage cars, rally or Formula One drivers, or drivers of family cars who use them for leisure activities.

Flight International will from this week reflect the growing importance of both business aviation and general aviation by giving each their own dedicated news sections within the magazine. The two- and one-page sections respectively will still contain the technical and programme coverage for which Flight International is renowned. But now there will be more operational, safety and financial stories with greater relevance to aircraft operators and service providers, from our internationally based team of reporters.

Source: Flight International