Flying limits are crippling the sector and may drive smaller companies out of business

General aviation industry leaders say airspace clamp-downs imposed following the 11 September terrorist attacks have so far cost the industry around $400 million in lost revenues.

The estimate comes as New Piper Aircraft slashes production in the face of the general aviation downturn, which, it says, has deepened in the wake of 11 September.

At an industry press conference on 9 October of representative trade bodies and light-aircraft manufacturers, New Piper and Cessna blamed much of the downturn on "severe restrictions" imposed on general aviation flying, including a ban on visual flight rules (VFR) operations in nearly 30metropolitan areas and flights of foreign-registered aircraft into the USA.

Cessna chief executive Gary Hay admits: "This has hit all segments of the industry, including aircraft manufacturers, aviation fuel companies, maintenance shops, fixed-base operators and flight schools."

Phil Boyer, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, is calling on the US Government to open restricted airspace to VFR aircraft weighing less than 2.7t. "Some 282 airports remain effectively closed to VFR operations in Enhanced Class B airspace, affecting more than 41,000 aircraft and 120,000 private pilots," he says.

But Cessna's Hay says that while US transportation secretary Norman Mineta and Federal Aviation Administration head Jane Garvey are receptive to loosening the restrictions, it is the National Security Council (NSC), which is "calling the shots".

The US General Aviation Manufacturers Association president Ed Bolen says the group is "working in a vacuum" since they have not been able to plead their case with the NSC.

The industry is urging the US Congress to enact its General Aviation Small Business Relief Act, which will provide federal grants to small aviation businesses, such as flight schools. "We have a number of small companies not particularly well funded that are struggling to survive. We don't want to see a solution come about after it is too late to take advantage of it," Bolen adds.

Source: Flight International