Janice Wood General Aviation News
What does the future hold for general aviation?
February 25, 2024
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  • While 2023 was a “banner year” for general aviation, what does 2024 look like?

    GA manufacturers delivered more than 4,000 aircraft last year, a sign of “strong, steady, and sustained growth,” according to General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) President Pete Bunce.

    And that growth was across all segments of aviation, from pistons to turboprops and business jets to helicopters.

    While 2024 looks to be another great year with “robust and growing order backlogs for all segments of aircraft,” the industry is not without its challenges.

    Bunce noted that the general aviation industry “faces headwinds from ongoing supply chain issues, workforce shortages, uncertainty and unpredictability from global regulators, and short-sighted efforts aimed at curbing business and general aviation, particularly in Europe.”

    “This industry depends on predictability,” he said during the association’s annual State of the Industry event, held Feb. 21, 2024, in Washington, D.C. “And we don’t have that across the globe.”

    A big part of that unpredictability is that we still don’t have an FAA reauthorization bill in place.

    Why is that important?

    The reauthorization bill not only sets the FAA’s budget, it also includes the agency’s “marching orders” from Congress.

    While the House passed its reauthorization bill in the summer of 2023, the Senate is moving much slower.

    GAMA officials said they are pleased the Senate has finally gotten an FAA reauthorization bill out of committee, but there’s still work to be done as the Senate and House reconcile their bills.

    “We need to get it done,” noted Chuck Wiplinger, president of Wipaire and chairman of the GAMA executive committee. “Running from one temporary authorization to another is not working.”

    Another important issue for GAMA and its members is international validation, which means if something is approved by the FAA, other agencies, such as Transport Canada, EASA, or ANAC in Brazil, accept that approval.

    “Now they are all just checking each other’s work,” he said, noting this delays innovation in the industry.


    And innovation is critical to general aviation — well, all of aviation, according to GAMA officials.

    “General aviation is the innovation incubator for all of civilian aviation,” Bunce said.

    That’s why efforts by several countries in Europe to curtail general aviation activity are harmful to not just GA, but all aviation, he added.

    He pointed to a recent vote to tax private jets in Europe — which would have effectively grounded business aviation across the continent — that was only defeated by 18 votes.

    “That’s scary,” he said.

    Innovation is in general aviation’s “core and DNA,” added Allen Paxson, head of innovation for GE Aerospace.

    He told the story of a recent visit to the Wright Brothers National Museum in Dayton, Ohio, where he saw the wind tunnel the brothers used to develop the fundamentals of flight.

    “That’s a great reminder that technology and innovation are not going to pop up in aircraft with 300 seats,” he said. “It will start at the component level and in the smallest products.”

    Unleaded Fuel

    Of course any discussion of general aviation would not be complete without looking at the impact of the transition to unleaded fuel for piston aircraft.

    In fact, it was two years ago at this annual event where then FAA Administrator Steve Dickson unveiled the EAGLE initiative, which stands for Eliminate Aviation Gasoline Lead Emissions, which spelled out the industry’s commitment to an unleaded GA by 2030.

    In 2023, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an endangerment finding, saying emissions from leaded avgas “contributes to air pollution that may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and welfare.”

    “That was not a surprise,” Bunce said. “We knew that was going to happen.”

    But he emphasized that this is just the first step towards transitioning to unleaded fuel.

    “The FAA, not the EPA, regulates aviation,” he said.

    It’s important that 100LL remains available as the industry continues its transition to unleaded fuel, GAMA officials emphasized.

    While General Aviation Modifications Inc.’s G100UL has been approved through the STC process, the fuel is not yet available in the marketplace. And other fuels are still in the testing phases.

    “It’s important that we test everything,” he said. “It goes beyond the aircraft and engines to fuel tanks and also the trucks and rail cars that will deliver the fuel.”

    While it’s a daunting problem, it is one that will be solved, GE Aerospace’s Paxson added.

    “We will solve this — it is what innovators do,” he said.

    But it’s dangerous to be too hasty, noted Wiplinger.

    “We are making progress, but it’s vitally important that the new fuels perform well and are safe. If we are too hasty, we will be inducing risk. We need to be thoughtful and smart. Testing takes time and we need to keep working on it.”

    Electric Aircraft

    Acknowledging that aviation is the most challenging mode of transportation to electrify, GAMA officials said that this is another challenge that “GA will work out.”

    “The first electric aircraft will be small,” Ben Tigner, CEO of Overair, which is developing all-electric VTOL (eVTOL) aircraft. “They will also be far less noisy.”

    In 2020, Pipistrel’s Velis Electro became the world’s first electric aircraft to receive full-type European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification.

    And that is “key” to getting cities to accept electric aircraft, he added.

    He noted that today’s batteries are not as effective as fuel to power aircraft, “but the technology is advancing,” he said.

    And it’s advancing at a greater pace than ever before, said Paxson.

    Until it does, using a hybrid of electric propulsion and gas “makes the entire mission more efficient,” he said.


    Another challenge facing the general aviation industry is finding enough employees.

    “The success of this industry relies on the workforce,” said Wiplinger. “We need to showcase to future generations that jobs in general aviation are rewarding and fulfilling.”

    It’s also important that the government include grants to grow the aviation workforce in the FAA reauthorization bill, Bunce added.

    GAMA leaders noted that workforce issues are also plaguing the FAA. With a lot of retirements and turnover, the agency is dealing with many new hires that need training.

    The GA leaders added it is imperative to introduce aviation as a career early to kids to expand the “breadth and depth” of the industry’s workforce.

    “We need to expose all kids to the aviation industry, as this industry will help create the future,” said Henry Brooks, president of Power & Controls, Collins Aerospace, and GAMA vice chairman.