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  • EAA AirVenture ’08 Takes on GA Challenges
    Posted by Christopher Fotos 4:50 PM on Jul 27, 2008

    Below is the complete version of AW&ST's main EAA AirVenture 2008 story, which I excerpted on Friday. It includes info on the theme of this year's show, "WomenVenture,' a collaboration between EAA and Women in Aviation International.

    Reaching For Tomorrow

    EAA holds fast to vision of building a one-million-pilot base and affordable, easy-to-fly aircraft

    By Frances Fiorino

    Staggering fuel prices and a deteriorating economy pose serious threats to general aviation—but the Experimental Aircraft Assn. is optimistic that these will not halt the annual migration of Osh­koshers eager to embrace new technology and build GA’s future.

    Nowhere is the passion for aviation so palpable and eloquently expressed. Each year 500,000-650,000 people from around the world, 10,000 private aircraft, 2,500 show aircraft and 800 exhibitors descend on Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wis., for the joy of it all.

    “People come from all aspects of the aviation community, not just to sell their wares, but because of their interest in aviation,” says EAA President Tom Poberezny.

    Astronauts, airline pilots, student pilots, wanna-be pilots. Celebrities, government officials. Youngsters. Oldsters. All come to see the new technology, buy new products and glimpse the future. Four huge hangars of product exhibits await them, and airplanes galore fill the sky and static display areas.

    “There’s a unique blend of aircraft . . . the big and small, the fast and tall, and everything in-between,” says Poberezny. Visitors to EAA AirVenture ’08, July 28-Aug. 3, will find that the “fast” include the U.S. Air Force Raptor F-22, which will participate in flying demonstrations for the first time. The “big and tall” include the Boeing 747-400 large cargo freighter. For helicopter fans, there’s the U.S. Marine Corps V-22 Osprey tiltrotor.

    In what might be described as the “new, small-and-fast category,” visitors will get a chance to see Cirrus Design Corp.’s entry into the single-engine personal jet market, the Vision SJ50, formerly called “the jet,” which had its first flight July 3 (see cover and p. 77). Eclipse Aviation plans to start taking orders on its latest single-engine concept jet, and it’s rumored that Piper Aircraft might unveil its PiperJet, now in taxi tests.

    blog post photo
    The Aeroshell aerobatic team demonstrates precision flying skills over Wittman Regional Airport during last year’s daily air show.Credit: DEKEVIN THORNTON/EAA

    In the “small” category, ICON plans to unveil its light sport aircraft (see p. 73). And for those aspiring to explore the upper atmosphere, Richard Branson and Burt Rutan will exhibit models of their White Knight2 and SpaceShip2 vehicles and update the crowd on the Virgin Galactic space tourism business.

    Acting FAA Administrator Robert Sturgell will be on hand Aug. 1 for the official opening of Wittman Regional’s new tower.

    This year’s show theme is “WomenVenture,” a collaborative effort between Women in Aviation International (WAI) and EAA. Its purpose is not just to showcase the number of female pilots at the site, but to highlight the contributions of women in all aspects of aviation, from boardroom to maintenance bay, according to WAI President Peggy Chabrian.

    The EAA show guide will highlight women speakers and presenters at forums and lectures. Women pilots are invited to sign a logbook. Events will culminate Aug. 1, when women pilots will gather in Aeroshell Square, the main display area, for what it hoped to be the largest gathering of its kind in the world.

    Will the cost of automobile and avgas ($4.00 and $6.50 per gal., respectively) and economic woes deter the crowd from taking to the highways and skyways leading to Wittman? Poberezny admits EAA is competing against the economy and fuel prices. “People are making hard choices, and some may not be able to enjoy the things they want to do. The EAA is working harder than ever to create value in the hopes of helping them decide to keep Oshkosh on the list.” He is a proponent of keeping the dream of affordable flying alive.

    Based on surveys of his 170,000 membership and on advance ticket sales, Poberezny is cautiously optimistic the turnout this week will be the same or higher than last year’s 650,000. As of the beginning of July, only two exhibitors, Adam Aircraft, which ceased operations, and Epic, had dropped out.

    “But the wild card is if people think with their pocketbooks and not their hearts,” says Poberezny.

    Fuel prices are causing at least one manufacturer to offer unique sales incentives. Through September, Cessna Aircraft Co. is offering free fuel for 18 months and a free Garmin synthetic vision upgrade for buyers of the 2009-manufactured Cessna 182 Skylanes or Turbo Skylanes.

    The General Aviation Manufacturers Assn. (GAMA) is monitoring fuel pricing to check on its effect on GA flight operations. The 2007 data is not yet conclusive, but more information is expected in September. The FAA’s 2005-06 data show a significant increase in fuel pricing and a drop of about 10% in piston operations, according to GAMA.

    The state of the general aviation marketplace is, for the most part, healthy, according to GAMA statistics. Last year was the second consecutive record year, with $21.9 billion in total billings and shipments of 4,272 units—the highest in more than 25 years. The piston airplane segment was down 2.9%, to 2,675 aircraft, yet it was the second-best year for pistons in more than 20 years. These results followed a “spectacular” 2006, with total billings of $18.8 billion.

    First-quarter billings were at an all-time high for the period, with a 16.1% increase over the same period in 2007 to $5.3 billion in billings, while total shipments were down 7.5% and piston shipments, 28%.

    GAMA was successful in having pistons included in the U.S. bonus depreciation for new business aircraft, and it is hoped that this will help to bolster that side of the industry during next year’s deliveries, says Vice President of Operations Jens C. Hennig. The bonus depreciation is part of the economic stimulus package act passed earlier this year and could provide substantial tax savings for new aircraft ordered in 2008 and being delivered this and next year, according to GAMA.

    “We wanted to be sure pistons were in the package because the lighter end is more price-sensitive and pistons would be the first affected by an economic downturn,” says Hennig.

    Fuel pricing is not the only threat to the general aviation market. The dwindling pilot population and cost of buying and maintaining an aircraft are also deterrents.

    Poberezny’s vision for the future of general aviation is to create a pilot base of one million and to that end, make sure that affordable, easy-to-fly aircraft are available.

    Pilot demand is surging worldwide, particularly in regions where aviation is rapidly growing. However, in 2006, the number of student pilots fell below 600,000 for the first time, to 597,109, and in 2007 they dipped further, to 590,349. The first quarter saw zero growth in new students, according to Poberezny, who added that industry growth can’t be sustained without an influx of pilots.

    The high cost of learning to fly has inhibited many an aviator-wannabe. In addition, the cost of owning an aircraft—inspections, maintenance, chart subscriptions—is daunting. And user fees, which Poberezny calls an “abscessed tooth,” is also considered a hindrance.

    “We need to build the base of the pyramid so that the food chain is big enough to feed up,” says Poberezny. To get more instrument, more corporate, more air transport pilots, you first have to have sport or private pilots.”

    The Light Sport Aircraft/Sport Pilot License is the answer to affordable flying. Both are less expensive to secure and less financially debilitating,” says Poberezny. However, it will be several years until the market is ready and sufficient numbers of Cessna’s Skycatcher and Cirrus’s LSA are in operation. So it will be 2-3 years before industry can gauge the impact of sport pilot licenses and LSAs on student starts and the overall pilot population.

    EAA’s efforts to draw young people into the pyramid will be evident this week at Oshkosh. Children can join in KidVenture, or participate in Young Eagles activities, the latter an EAA program that has already touched 1.4 million children. Visitors will be able to talk with experts at the “Affordability Tent,” to gather information on learning to fly and purchasing an aircraft.

    In keeping with the WomenVenture theme, EAA/WAI is offering the “WomenSoar” two-day seminar July 27-28 aimed at high school students who have a peripheral interest in aviation. The girls are paired off with women who are successful in various aspects of aerospace to learn firsthand about aviation careers.

    “There already are a significant number of women flying than ever before,” says Poberezny, “but, still, a significantly smaller number than men.” He hopes to change those statistics.”

    Let the show begin.

    Tags: ba99, EAA, AirVenture

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