2
U.S. Civil Aviation Fleet, Airport, and Airway Use Characteristics

The U.S. civil aviation sector is large and diverse. It consists of about 190,000 aircraft, 5,000 airports open to the public, and 600,000 pilots. In this chapter, an overview of the basic types of aircraft in the fleet, their uses in transportation, the system of airports and airways they operate in, and the qualifications and characteristics of the pilots that fly them is provided. Much of the discussion is background, helpful for understanding the terminology and issues presented in subsequent sections of the report. In addition, much of the factual information and many of the statistics are referenced in later analyses of the Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) concept. Inasmuch as the SATS vision postulates a radical transformation in civil aviation, an understanding of the structure, scale, and uses of civil aviation today is helpful in better gauging the prospects for such dramatic change.

Several pertinent findings emerge from this overview; they are summarized at the end of the chapter. In general, the data indicate

  • Trends in demand for small aircraft, how they are being used, and the kinds of aircraft that are most popular for transportation;

  • The condition, capacity, and location of small airports in the United States, and the factors that influence their use; and

  • How small aircraft operate in the national airspace system, the wide-ranging skills and qualifications of the pilots that fly them, and long-term changes taking place in the U.S. pilot population.

U.S. AIRCRAFT FLEET

The U.S. civil aircraft fleet consists of about 182,000 fixed-wing and nearly 7,000 rotary-wing aircraft (see Table 2-1).1 There are many ways to classify these 189,0000 aircraft; the most common groupings are by type of wing (fixed-wing or rotary-wing) and power and propulsion (piston- or turbine-engine and propeller- or jet-driven). The fleet is described in these terms below. The description is followed by a discussion of how the aircraft are used for transportation and other purposes, such as law enforcement, emergency airlift, crop dusting, aerial photography, sightseeing, and recreation.

1

Another 19,000 civil aircraft are classified as gliders, dirigibles, balloons, and experimental aircraft. These aircraft are not considered here.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 2 U.S. Civil Aviation Fleet, Airport, and Airway Use Characteristics The U.S. civil aviation sector is large and diverse. It consists of about 190,000 aircraft, 5,000 airports open to the public, and 600,000 pilots. In this chapter, an overview of the basic types of aircraft in the fleet, their uses in transportation, the system of airports and airways they operate in, and the qualifications and characteristics of the pilots that fly them is provided. Much of the discussion is background, helpful for understanding the terminology and issues presented in subsequent sections of the report. In addition, much of the factual information and many of the statistics are referenced in later analyses of the Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) concept. Inasmuch as the SATS vision postulates a radical transformation in civil aviation, an understanding of the structure, scale, and uses of civil aviation today is helpful in better gauging the prospects for such dramatic change. Several pertinent findings emerge from this overview; they are summarized at the end of the chapter. In general, the data indicate Trends in demand for small aircraft, how they are being used, and the kinds of aircraft that are most popular for transportation; The condition, capacity, and location of small airports in the United States, and the factors that influence their use; and How small aircraft operate in the national airspace system, the wide-ranging skills and qualifications of the pilots that fly them, and long-term changes taking place in the U.S. pilot population. U.S. AIRCRAFT FLEET The U.S. civil aircraft fleet consists of about 182,000 fixed-wing and nearly 7,000 rotary-wing aircraft (see Table 2-1).1 There are many ways to classify these 189,0000 aircraft; the most common groupings are by type of wing (fixed-wing or rotary-wing) and power and propulsion (piston- or turbine-engine and propeller- or jet-driven). The fleet is described in these terms below. The description is followed by a discussion of how the aircraft are used for transportation and other purposes, such as law enforcement, emergency airlift, crop dusting, aerial photography, sightseeing, and recreation. 1 Another 19,000 civil aircraft are classified as gliders, dirigibles, balloons, and experimental aircraft. These aircraft are not considered here.

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 Table 2-1 U.S. Aircraft Fleet by Aircraft Type and Use, 1998–2000 (FAA 2000b; RAA 1999; RAA 2000)     Air Carrier Aircrafta General Aviation (Including Air Taxi) Major Passenger Airlines Major Cargo Carriers Commuter Passenger Airlines Regional Cargo Carriers Total Fixed-wing               Single-engine piston 144,662 – – 284 55 145,001   Multiengine piston 16,219 – – 196 544 16,959   Total piston 160,881 – – 480 599 161,960   Turboprop 5,857 – – 1,759 790 8,406   Turbofan (jet) 6,071 4,176 1,022 412 169 11,850   Total turbine 11,928 4,176 1,022 2,171 959 20,256   Total fixed-wing 172,809 4,176 1,022 2,651 1,558 182,216 Rotary-wing               Piston-engine 2,259 – – – – 2,259   Turbine-engine 4,668 – – 3 – 4,671   Total rotary-wing 6,927 – – 3 – 6,930 Total 179,736 4,176 1,022 2,654 1,558 189,146 aExcludes approximately 19,000 gliders, dirigibles, balloons, and experimental aircraft.

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 Fixed-Wing Aircraft Piston-Engine Airplanes Piston-engine propeller airplanes make up about 80 percent of the fixed-wing fleet. A large majority of these airplanes are very small, having six or fewer seats, weighing less than 5,000 pounds when fully loaded, and equipped with a single reciprocating engine. Single-engine aircraft account for about 90 percent of piston-engine airplanes in the civil fleet (see Table 2-1). With few exceptions, large multiengine piston aircraft, once common in the U.S. commercial fleet, have been displaced by more reliable and powerful turbine aircraft, which require less maintenance in heavy-duty use. Most small piston-engine aircraft have normal cruise speeds of 120 to 175 mph and maximum ranges of between 500 and 1,200 miles, depending on fuel capacity, weight, cruising altitude, and other design and use characteristics.2 Some high-performance single-engine piston aircraft, such as the Mooney Bravo, can cruise at more than 250 mph, and some twin-engine aircraft, such as the Beech Baron, can fly for more than 1,500 miles. Piston-engine aircraft are seldom flown higher than 10,000 to 15,000 feet above sea level, since few are pressurized or designed for efficient operations at high altitudes. Small piston-engine aircraft have the advantage of needing only 750- to 2,500-foot runways for takeoff and landing. Over the past two decades, demand for new piston-engine aircraft has declined overall, although in recent years it has grown slightly. Domestic sales fell from 10,500 units in 1980 to fewer than 1,000 in 1995 and about 1,700 in 1998 (see Figure 2-1). There has been much speculation about the causes of this dramatic decline, from rising interest rates and product liability costs to changes in tax policy and a shrinking population of private pilots interested in recreational flying. Because many piston-engine aircraft are used sporadically—on the average, less than 150 hours per year (FAA 2000b, V-7)—there is an ample supply of used aircraft, which has contributed to the limited demand for new aircraft. The average age of a piston-engine aircraft is 30 years (GAMA 1999a; GAMA 1999b). Hence, despite the major drop in production beginning in the 1980s, the size of the fleet has fallen by only 15 percent since 1980 because of the large number of older and reconditioned aircraft still in operation. Faced with declining demand, a number of general aviation (GA) manufacturers have failed over the past two decades, and many others have had to revamp their product lines to attract a new base of customers. New manufacturers, such as Cirrus Design Corporation and Lancair Company, have emphasized ease of operation, advanced avionics, and modest prices to appeal to customers interested in aircraft for both personal and business uses.3 Cirrus even includes a whole-airframe parachute as a safety attraction for its four-seat SR20. Long-time GA manufacturers such as Raytheon Aircraft Company and Cessna Aircraft have increasingly emphasized speed and styling in their new piston-engine designs, promoting them as affordable, comfortable, and practical for business travel. 2 Detailed information on aircraft dimensions, specifications, and performance characteristics can be found in the Aerospace Source Book, published annually by Aviation Week, McGraw-Hill. The most recent edition, January 15, 2001, was referenced in this chapter. 3 See aircraft company and product information at www.lancair.com and www.cirrusdesign.com.

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 Figure 2-1 Shipments of new general aviation aircraft in the United States from domestic and foreign manufacturers, 1980, 1995, and 1998 (GAMA 1999b). Piston-engine aircraft sales have increased in recent years; about 1,000 more new aircraft were sold in 1998 than in 1995, when Cessna—the largest domestic maker of GA aircraft—reintroduced its line of piston-engine airplanes (see Figure 2-1). The average price of a new piston-engine aircraft in 1998 was $220,000 (GAMA 1999a; GAMA 1999b). This price is low compared with that of turbine aircraft but still high relative to used piston-engine airplanes, which can be purchased at a fraction of this price. Turbine-Engine Airplanes The two general classes of turbine-powered aircraft in the civil fleet are turboprop and turbofan designs. A turboprop aircraft uses a gas turbine to drive a shaft and propeller that provide thrust forces to propel the airplane. In the turbofan aircraft, the gas-air mixture exiting from the rear of the turbine engine produces thrust pushing the aircraft forward.4 Although both types of aircraft use gas turbine technology, the latter type is normally referred to as jet aircraft. Turbine engines are more reliable than piston engines, having fewer moving parts, and they require less frequent maintenance and downtime for overhauls. They also burn readily available grades of kerosene fuel, which are generally less expensive than the aviation-grade gasoline 4  Jet aircraft in the civil fleet, designed for subsonic flying, almost always have turbofan engines, which have greater fuel efficiency than turbojets. Pure turbojets are relegated mostly to high-speed military aircraft.

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 used in piston engines. These are especially important attributes to aircraft operators; however, among the main attractions to passengers of turbine aircraft are their ability to fly faster, at higher altitudes (above most weather-related turbulence), and for longer distances than piston-engine aircraft. In addition, passengers experience less noise and vibration. All jet aircraft and most turboprop aircraft are pressurized and capable of flying more than 250 mph at altitudes above 18,000 feet. A deterrent to the use of turbine engines is that they are much more expensive to manufacture than piston engines. They also tend to burn more fuel in a given time to produce the same horsepower. However, because of their performance advantages, turbine engines have displaced piston engines on nearly all aircraft in which reliability and payload capacity are important. Turboprops There are about 8,400 turboprop airplanes in the U.S. civil fleet (see Table 2-1). These airplanes vary widely in size, seating, and cargo capacity. Most weigh more than 10,000 pounds when loaded and can seat 6 to 30 people. Some are much larger, especially those used for passenger transportation. Large turboprops used by commuter airlines, such as the De Havilland Dash 8, can weigh more than 60,000 pounds loaded and seat 70 or more people. Turboprops usually have cruising speeds of 200 to 350 mph and ranges in excess of 1,200 miles. They tend to be most efficient when flown at 15,000 to 30,000 feet above sea level. Although even the smallest turboprops can cost $1 million to $4 million (GAMA 1999a, 6; RAA 1999, 37–42), they are generally less expensive to manufacture than jet aircraft. Turboprops can also be used on shorter runways than turbofan and turbojet aircraft because they produce more static thrust for a given horsepower. Some are designed to be used on unpaved fields and in amphibious configurations. A powerful turbine engine coupled to a propeller provides for the efficient generation of thrust, particularly at lower airspeeds, so that single- and multiengine turboprops have found utility in short-haul passenger service and cargo hauling. The multipurpose Cessna Caravan, Beech 1900, and Embraer Brasilia are examples of the latter. Growth in domestic sales of turboprop airplanes has been modest over the past two decades. The number of turboprop aircraft in the civil fleet is up by about 10 percent since 1990 (FAA 1989; FAA 2000b). The most rapid growth in turboprop sales occurred during the 1970s, as these aircraft replaced multiengine piston aircraft in many commercial uses. Between 1975 and 1985, an average of 445 new turboprop aircraft entered the U.S. fleet each year, compared with an average of 247 since 1986 (GAMA 1999a, 6). Commuter airlines invested heavily in these aircraft during the 1970s and early 1980s; however, during the past 15 years, both airline and business users have shown a preference for jets. The sale of new turboprops used for GA is down 45 percent since 1980, although sales have risen by 25 percent since the low in 1995 (see Figure 2-1). The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicts that the GA fleet of turboprops will increase by only 10 to 15 percent over the next decade, while the airline fleet of turboprops remains stable (FAA 2000b). The average price of a new turboprop used in GA was $2.8 million in 1998 (GAMA 1999a; GAMA 1999b). Turbofan Jets There are about 11,900 jet airplanes in the U.S. civil fleet. They range from 10,000-pound (loaded) business jets that carry 5 or 6 people to wide-body jet

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 airliners that weigh more than 800,000 pounds loaded and can seat more than 500. Jet aircraft offer high performance, including speed, reliability, low maintenance, and ride comfort (less cabin noise and vibration) qualities that exceed those of piston-engine and turboprop aircraft. Normal cruise speeds are 475 to 600 mph. Most jets have ranges exceeding 2,000 miles and are designed for cruising altitudes above 25,000 feet. However, the turbofan engines—which require extensive quality control in fabrication and material selection—are expensive to manufacture, raising the price of even small jet aircraft to several million dollars. Jet aircraft also require longer runways than propeller aircraft because of the extra distance necessary to accelerate to flight speeds.5 In general, runways used by jets must be long, hard-surfaced, reasonably level, free of debris, and otherwise well maintained. Large jet airliners, used for passenger and cargo transport, can carry passengers and weigh more than 100,000 pounds fully loaded. Their range is usually at least 1,500 miles, and some have a range exceeding 7,000 miles. They usually require 6,000 feet or more of runway for takeoff and landing (depending on factors such as load weight, elevation, and air temperature).6 Medium-sized jets with seating capacities of 32 to 100 and gross weights of 50,000 to 80,000 pounds are now being used by many airlines. Commonly referred to as regional jets (RJs), these aircraft have become increasingly popular for scheduled air service. Although some jets designed for 100 or fewer passengers have been used by airlines for many years, such as the Fokker 100 and the four-engine BAE-146, the recent growth in RJs has centered on 50- to 70-seat jet aircraft, such as the Bombardier Canadair RJ 200 and 700 series and the Embraer ERJ-135 and 145. RJs generally require runways that are 5,500 to 6,500 feet long. Somewhat smaller jets, such as the Dassault Falcon, Raytheon Hawker Horizon, and Citation 10, are configured to seat 8 to 19 passengers and are typically used for corporate aviation. These midsize business jets, weighing 30,000 to 60,000 pounds loaded, have ranges exceeding 3,500 miles and cabin amenities such as lavatories and compact galleys, which are valued for longer trips. Growth in demand for even smaller jets for use in business transportation has prompted GA manufacturers to increase jet production over the past decade. In doing so, they have introduced smaller, entry-level business jets, such as Cessna’s Citation CJ series and Raytheon’s new Premier 1. These smaller jets are certified for single-pilot operations and can seat four to seven passengers. When fully loaded, they weigh between 10,000 and 12,500 pounds and generally require at least 3,000 feet of runway for takeoff. These small jets sell for $5 million or more new, depending on their many customized features. 5 FAA aircraft certification rules stipulate that an aircraft must be able to reach takeoff speed, decelerate, and stop safely on the runway, as may be necessary in an aborted takeoff because of an engine failure. Alternatively, the aircraft must be able to continue to climb safely under the power of other functioning engines if an engine fails after the aircraft reaches the speed at which it can safely stop on the remaining available runway length. The runway length required to achieve this requirement is the aircraft’s FAA-certified takeoff field length; aircraft are certified to operate only on runways with sufficient length to meet this standard. For aircraft used in air carrier operations, an additional runway safety margin is required, as noted later. 6 For illustration, newer-model narrow-body turbofan aircraft such as the Boeing 737-800 (160 passenger) and Airbus 320-200 (150 passenger) require 6,200 to 7,600 feet of runway for takeoff, while an older Boeing 727-200 (145 passenger) requires 10,000 feet.

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 Still smaller private jet aircraft are in various stages of planning, design, and development. For instance, the start-up Eclipse Aviation Company is designing and seeking to certify for manufacture a twin-engine jet airplane (Eclipse 500) that weighs less than 5,000 pounds loaded and has a wingspan and fuselage that are about one-fifth shorter than those of existing small jets. Eclipse anticipates that its aircraft will require about 2,500 feet for takeoff and accommodate up to six people, including crew.7 Safire Aircraft Company, another start-up, is likewise planning a small twin-engine jet (the S-26) with comparable features and capabilities.8 Anticipating the development of low-cost jet engines, as well as advances in electronics and manufacturing systems, both companies have targeted sales prices of about $1 million for their new aircraft. By dramatically reducing small-jet prices, these companies expect much greater use of such aircraft for business, and even personal, travel. FAA predicts continued growth in the jet fleet for both private aviation and airline uses (FAA 2000b). The number of shipments of new GA jet aircraft was 45 percent higher in 1998 than 1980 (see Figure 2-1). The GA jet fleet grew by one-third from 1995 to 2000 (from about 4,600 to 6,100), and it is expected to grow by another 80 percent during this decade. Meanwhile, FAA predicts that airlines will continue to invest heavily in RJs. It expects the RJ fleet to increase from about 400 to more than 1,500 aircraft in 10 years (FAA 2000b). Rotary-Wing Aircraft There are about 6,900 rotary-wing aircraft in the U.S. fleet (see Table 2-1). About 60 percent of these aircraft use gas turbine engines, and the remainder use piston engines. FAA estimates that the number of rotorcraft will increase by about one-third over the next decade, contingent in part on the development and introduction of technologies that improve nighttime and all-weather flying, while reducing maintenance requirements and environmental impacts—mainly external noise—that limit routing, landing, and takeoff options (FAA 2000b). Civilian tiltrotor aircraft are being developed. These aircraft can take off vertically like a helicopter but fly like fixed-wing aircraft when airborne; hence, they can greatly increase the range, speed, and comfort of rotorcraft by flying above most weather and at speeds exceeding 250 mph. A major attraction of these aircraft is that they do not require runways, so service can be provided with little land area and with limited noise impacts by reducing the ground surface areas flown over during climbing and descent. These aircraft achieve versatility by combining many of the components otherwise unique to helicopters on the one hand and fixed-wing aircraft on the other. This combination, however, requires more parts and therefore higher manufacturing cost and—in all probability—higher maintenance costs. FLEET USE CHARACTERISTICS Most turbine and many piston-engine aircraft in the civil fleet are used to transport people and goods from point to point. However, transportation is only one of several uses of civil aircraft. These transportation and nontransportation applications are discussed in this section. 7 See www.eclipseaviation.com. 8 See www.safireaircraft.com.

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 Aircraft Uses in Transportation In regulating air transport operations and flight standards, FAA has long distinguished between “for-hire” and “private” service. Aircraft operators who provide for-hire transportation are defined as air carriers and are subject to comprehensive federal regulations governing operating procedures, aircraft maintenance, and pilot training and eligibility. In contrast, owners and users of private aircraft are subject to more general operating and flight regulations. The rationale for this differing treatment is that customers of for-hire carriers do not have direct control over or responsibility for their own safety; therefore, the government must assume a more prominent role in ensuring airworthiness and safe operations.9 This broad regulatory distinction and the nature of air transportation demand itself have led to differentiation in the types of for-hire and private air transportation providers. The primary types include (a) major airlines, which fly large jet aircraft for mainline passenger and cargo services; (b) commuter airlines, which fly RJs, turboprops, and some piston-engine aircraft on short to medium-length routes for scheduled passenger and cargo services; (c) air taxis, which use small jets, turboprops, and piston-engine aircraft for short- to medium-haul, on-demand passenger and cargo transportation; and (d) corporations and other private entities, which own, lease, and operate aircraft used for in-house transportation purposes that are incidental to their main line of business. Major Airlines Major passenger and cargo airlines operate about 5,200 aircraft domestically, including most of the narrow- and wide-body jet passenger airliners and freighters in the U.S. fleet (see Table 2-1). About three-quarters of these aircraft are used in scheduled passenger service. Charter airlines operate about 5 percent of jet airliners, and large cargo carriers operate about 20 percent. Some of the scheduled airlines (e.g., low-fare airlines such as Frontier and Spirit Airlines) provide large-jet service over a limited number of business or vacation routes. However, most large jet airliners are used by carriers with nationwide route networks (e.g., Delta Airlines, United Airlines, American Airlines). The major airlines have found that jet aircraft with 100 to 250 seats are particularly well suited to their domestic networks, which have been structured into hub-and-spoke systems since deregulation of the industry nearly 25 years ago. Most major airlines configure their routes around two or three large connecting (“hub”) airports (such as Dallas, Denver, Atlanta), two or three regional hubs (such as Charlotte, Cincinnati, Salt Lake City), and international gateways (such as Miami, San Francisco, Washington Dulles). The major airlines fly mainly between these two dozen or so connecting hubs and about 125 other large and medium-sized destination, or “spoke,” airports. Narrow-body (single-aisle) jet airliners such as Boeing 737s, MD- 80s, and Airbus 320s work well on the 400- to 1,200-mile flight segments, although desired flight frequencies, traffic volumes, and distances in individual city-pair markets dictate the most suitable aircraft. Markets with a preponderance of business travelers, who tend 9 FAA has recently reiterated its rationale for this distinction in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for fractional ownership programs and on-demand operations (Federal Register 2001).

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 to prefer a choice of departure options throughout the day, are often served by smaller RJs that can operate with higher frequency (and more easily meet economic passenger load factors) than larger aircraft. About half the passengers on major airlines are business travelers. RJs now constitute about 5 percent of the major airline fleet, and FAA expects this share to double by 2010 (FAA 2000b). Since 1980, the fleet of jet aircraft operated by major passenger and cargo airlines has doubled. The increased number of flights brought about by hub-and-spoke systems has contributed to the increase in fleet size; however, the main source of growth has been escalating passenger demand. Major airlines enplaned about 665 million domestic passengers in 2000, a 40 percent increase over passenger enplanements a decade earlier. Included in this number are connecting enplanements, which account for about one-fourth of all enplanements (FAA 1989; FAA 2000b).10 Thus, excluding connections, airlines accommodated about 500 million passenger trips in 2000.11 The volume of air cargo carried in jet aircraft has also increased significantly over the past decade because of the growing demand for express package services and the emergence of all-cargo carriers. Air cargo traffic, including shipments carried in passenger aircraft, has increased by 50 percent since the early 1990s (measured in ton-miles) (FAA 2000b).12 Commuter Airlines A key distinction between major and commuter airlines is that the latter operate fleets composed primarily of aircraft that have 60 or fewer seats. Another difference is that commuter airlines seldom fly distances greater than 500 or 600 miles. They are sometimes referred to as regional carriers because their networks are usually confined to a single region of the country, rather than extending nationwide as do the networks of major airlines. Commuter carrier networks are typically configured to provide service between large hub airports and smaller communities within 75 to 600 miles of the hub. Commuter airlines provide scheduled service in about 450 airports in the contiguous United States, performing more than 4 million departures per year.13 Commuter airlines account for between 15 and 80 percent of operations at the country’s largest 150 commercial airports, and they provide all scheduled service at about 280 smaller airports. Altogether, nearly 100 commuter airlines operate in the United States. They deploy about 4,200 aircraft, including about 1,600 all-cargo aircraft (see Table 2-1). The top 25 commuter airlines (in terms of passenger enplanements) operate most of the 2,600 aircraft used in passenger service. All large commuter airlines are affiliated with one or two major airlines; they share flight codes, aircraft paint schemes, baggage handling, ticketing, and other service and marketing functions. 10 In addition, see industry statistics collected by the Air Transport Association (www.air-transport.org). 11 These trips are generally referred to as true origin-to-destination (O&D) trips; a traveler on a round-trip ticket generates two O&D trips (one trip for each direction of travel) regardless of the number of connecting legs. 12 In addition, see the Air Transport Association website (www.air-transport.org). 13 The statistics cited in this subsection are from the Regional Airline Association’s annual fact book (RAA 1999; RAA 2000) and Internet website (www.raa.org).

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 The commuter airlines provide important feeder service to the major airlines at their hub airports. Although some passengers on commuter flights are heading directly to the hub, most are transferring to larger aircraft for mainline transportation to a more distant city. Indeed, about one in five passengers on major airlines uses a commuter airline on one or more legs of the trip. Commuter airlines enplaned about 85 million passengers in 2000. Most passengers on commuter airlines—about two-thirds—travel for business purposes. FAA predicts that passenger traffic on commuter airlines will increase by about 20 percent over the next 5 years (FAA 2000b). By affiliating with major airlines, the commuter airlines have been able to increase their passenger traffic substantially, allowing for the efficient use of large aircraft. Consequently, nearly all commuter passengers are now being carried on turbine aircraft—either turbojet or turboprop. About 16 percent of the commuter passenger fleet consists of regional jets, 66 percent of turboprops, and 18 percent of piston-engine aircraft. [Regional airline fleet data are provided by the Regional Airline Association (RAA 2000)]. However, because turbine aircraft have many more seats than piston aircraft and operate on the densest routes, they account for more than 95 percent of the passengers carried on commuter airlines. Outside Alaska, few piston-engine aircraft are used in scheduled commuter service. The commuter airline industry has undergone considerable change over the past two decades. In 1980, 60 percent of the commuter fleet consisted of aircraft with fewer than 20 seats (FAA 1989; FAA 2000b; RAA 1999; RAA 2000). At the time, more than 200 commuter airlines operated throughout the country, averaging less than 150 miles per flight and using aircraft with an average of only 15 seats. Commuter carriers were just then beginning to affiliate with major airlines and, accordingly, to structure their networks around connecting hubs. Today—with passenger volumes six times greater than in 1980—most commuter airlines operate aircraft with 30 or more seats. RJs now account for about 40 percent of passengers carried by commuter airlines. FAA predicts that RJs will account for half the fleet by 2010—mainly by replacing turboprops and opening new, longer-haul markets to commuter airlines (FAA 2000b). Air Taxis Air taxis operate the smallest aircraft used in the for-hire segment of air transportation. In what are essentially charter operations, these companies typically operate aircraft with fewer than 10, but sometimes up to 30, seats. Air taxis are certificated as an air carrier by FAA but are subject to operating requirements different from those applicable to the scheduled carriers using larger aircraft. For instance, because of the nature of their services and the kinds of aircraft they operate, air taxis can often use single-pilot crews and access GA airports that do not provide on-site safety and security services—such as rescue and fire fighting, passenger and baggage screening, and weather reporting—required for scheduled operations. Of course, air taxis also operate in the large commercial airports. According to the National Air Transportation Association, there are some 3,000 air taxi operators nationwide (NATA 1999). They provide services ranging

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 from passenger and cargo transportation to air ambulance services. These services are often provided by fixed-base operators (FBOs) at commercial and GA airports. FBOs sell and store aircraft, provide aircraft maintenance and fuel, and offer flight instruction. Many have modest fleets of aircraft that can be rented by private pilots or chartered in air taxi service. FBOs sometimes manage aircraft for corporations and charter the aircraft when they are not being used for corporate aviation. Because they are often used for multiple purposes, the aircraft used in air taxi service are usually counted as part of the GA fleet even though air taxi companies are regulated as “air carriers.” FAA estimates that about 5,000 GA aircraft are used in air taxi service (FAA 2000b). Turboprop aircraft are frequently used, as are smaller piston-engine aircraft. Small and midsize jets have become more popular to charter, especially in business markets. As measured by hours flown, air taxi service is the leading application for rotorcraft, accounting for about 30 percent of their service hours, including more than two-thirds of the total hours flown by turbine rotorcraft (FAA 2000b). Air taxis flew about 2.4 million hours in 1999, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the total hours flown in GA (FAA 2000b). There are no national-level statistics on the number of passenger trips by air taxi. Most air taxi companies operate aircraft with fewer than 10 seats. If it is assumed that each flight averages 1 hour and carries six passengers, the total number of passengers carried by air taxi is on the order of 15 million per year (2.4 million ÷ 1 × 6 = 14.4 million). Air taxis normally charge hourly rates that vary by the type and size of the aircraft. For instance, a Cessna CE 340 twin piston-engine airplane, which accommodates up to four passengers, may have an hourly rate of about $400, while a Beech King Air C90A turboprop that seats up to seven passengers costs $1,000 per hour.14 Jets are the most expensive to charter. A Cessna Citation Jet CE255 that seats up to six can cost $1,500 or more per hour. Ultimately, the utility and expense of air taxi service must be judged on the basis of its cost, safety, and convenience relative to other forms of travel, factoring in the potential savings in time, lodging, and ground transportation and the additional business opportunities that such direct service can provide. Business Aviation and Fractional Ownership Aircraft are used in business aviation in many different ways. For example, a private pilot may periodically rent a small piston-engine airplane to meet with a client, and a corporate flight department may employ professional flight crews and own dozens of turbine aircraft used to transport executives and managers. Most corporations that operate business aircraft use turbine aircraft with fewer than 20 seats. These aircraft are typically flown by professional pilots (usually by two pilots) whose exclusive responsibility is to fly company aircraft. On-demand service and accessibility are important reasons why businesses own or lease aircraft. Operators of private aircraft for business aviation can fly to more airports than for-hire air carriers, including many air taxis. Private aircraft have better access to some airports because they are not subject to the same safety restrictions on 14 For examples of hourly charter rates by aircraft see www.bizcharter.com (accessed August 2001).

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 eral grants. For the most part, user charges at small airports cover only operating expenses. Airports receiving federal aid are subject to additional federal environmental requirements, including environmental review to determine whether proposed airport development would result in significant impacts pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act, as well as state requirements where applicable. Environmental statutes and regulations, both federal and state, can be key factors in the decision to expand an airport, whether the expansion involves a new or modified runway or the construction of access roads, parking facilities, or other airside and landside infrastructure. Noise and other environmental considerations also affect how often and in what manner an airport is used, potentially affecting its capacity. For instance, noise abatement procedures for an airport can reduce available capacity during certain hours of the day and restrict the use of departure and approach paths that pass over residential areas. Airport environmental issues are discussed in greater detail in Chapter 3. AIRSPACE SYSTEM Charged with providing for the safe, orderly, and expeditious flow of air traffic, FAA is responsible for designing and operating the national airspace system. The system consists of terminal and en route airspace and a complex network of navigation, surveillance, and communications systems that are used to guide and control traffic within the airspace and on the ground at airports.17 Controlled Terminal and En Route Airspace The airspace in the United States includes all altitudes from the ground up to 60,000 feet above sea level. This space is divided into two broad sectors: traffic-controlled and uncontrolled. Over the years, FAA has divided the controlled airspace into different classifications, each with its own set of rules for aircraft operations. Thus, within the controlled space are several subclassifications, from Class A through Class E (see Figure 2-2). The least controlled airspace is referred to as Class G space. Operations anywhere in the United States below 18,000 feet, except near large airports, can be conducted under visual flight rules (VFR), providing the weather is good. Most airspace up to 1,200 feet above the ground is Class G, including the space above most small airports without traffic control towers. Because there are only 450 control towers nationwide, most of the country’s 5,000 public-use airports are under Class G uncontrolled airspace.18 Controlled Terminal Airspace Towered airports can fall into one of three categories of controlled airspace. At a minimum, all airspace within a 5-mile radius of a towered airport is Class D terminal airspace. This airspace is cylindrical in shape and typically extends up to 2,500 feet above the ground. Most towered airports, including most with light to moderate 17 Much of the data and description in this section are derived from the 2000 Aviation Capacity Enhancement Plan (FAA 2000a). 18 As discussed below, however, the higher-altitude airspace (above 1,200 feet) above many GA airports is controlled if they are located within 5 to 30 miles of a busy commercial-service airport with a control tower.

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 Figure 2-2 Airspace structure in the United States (see text for definitions of airspace Classes A through G) (FAA 2000a). Note: AGL = above ground level; FL = flight level; MSL = maximum sea level. scheduled air carrier service, are subject to FAA rules governing Class D airspace. Radio contact before entering this controlled airspace, known as the Airport Traffic Area, is mandatory. Few Class D airports have their own radar surveillance systems, although the radar facility at a nearby larger airport may cover the Class D airport and transmit information to its tower. Most Class D airports broadcast recorded weather advisories to pilots. The tower, when open,19 is responsible for regulating all aircraft maneuvers in the local airspace and approving all aircraft for takeoff and landing. A separate ground controller may be used to clear aircraft movements on taxiways and onto runways. FAA has designated approximately 200 airports as subject to Class D airspace restrictions. These airports account for about 5 percent of all passenger enplanements on scheduled airlines. A more restrictive category of controlled terminal airspace is Class C, which surrounds most of the airports of the country’s midsize cities—generally the middle 19 Many control towers at small and medium-sized airports have limited hours of operation.

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 40 to 175 busiest commercial-service airports. These airports account for about 25 percent of the country’s enplanements on scheduled airlines. In addition to having airspace controls within a 5-mile radius of the airport extending up to 2,500 feet above the ground, Class C airports are subject to controls on the approach-level airspace extending from 2,500 to 4,000 feet above the ground within a 10-mile radius of the airport. Class B airspace surrounds the busiest 40 airports in the country. At its core it extends from the ground to an altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level. Because Class B airspace is designed to meet the specific needs of the airport, its size and structure differ from place to place. The radius of the core airspace is usually 5 to 10 miles long, and the outermost layer of restricted space can have a radius of 20 to 30 miles extending outward from the airport center and upward to from 4,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level. The pilot in command of an aircraft operating in Class B airspace must hold at least a private pilot certificate and have specific equipment for air traffic control surveillance and communications. Operations within this controlled terminal airspace must receive air traffic control clearance and separation services. Airports subject to Class B airspace restrictions account for about 70 percent of all air carrier passenger enplanements. In general, all airports that have at least 3.5 million passenger enplanement per year or a total airport activity of 300,000 or more annual operations are subject to Class B airspace restrictions. Moreover, traffic at all other airports within a 20- to 30-mile radius of the Class B airport, including most of the high-capacity GA reliever airports in metropolitan areas, is subject to operational restrictions. Aircraft operating in Class B terminal airspace are generally separated from other aircraft by at least 3 miles horizontally and 1,000 feet vertically.20 En Route Airways The final two categories of airspace are Classes A and E, which comprise the en route structure. Class E airspace extends from the top of the very low-altitude Class G uncontrolled airspace to 18,000 feet above sea level. Airways in Class E airspace are charted and can be used for en route travel by pilots flying under VFR or instrument flight rules (IFR). Each of these two traffic types is assigned an altitude level (in 500-to 1,000-foot increments staggered according to directional flow) in the Class E corridors, which are normally 8 miles wide and guided by navigation aids. A typical navigation aid is a very-high-frequency omnidirectional radio signal (VOR). Pilots operating under VFR can fly between Class G airports without ever being controlled by an air traffic center or tower, if they keep within the Class E altitudes set aside for VFR and approach the destination airport under 1,200 feet if in the vicinity of controlled terminal airspace. This freedom ends, however, when landing, taking off, or entering Class B, C, or D terminal airspace. Aircraft flying at IFR altitudes in Class E airways are subject to air traffic control monitoring, instructions, and clearances to change altitudes and headings. For the most part, the low-altitude Class E en route airways are used by piston-engine and turboprop aircraft. 20 On approaches and departures, separation standards are modified when different types of aircraft are following one another to limit the impact of wake turbulence. In general, light aircraft must extend separation distances when following behind much heavier aircraft.

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 Class A airspace consists of all airspace between 18,000 and 60,000 feet above sea level. All operations in this airspace are IFR, subject to direct FAA controls. The mid-structure of Class A airspace (24,000 to 45,000 feet) contains the nation’s major jet routes. Aircraft flying in this en route domain are separated from other aircraft by 5 to 10 miles horizontally and 1,000 to 2,000 feet vertically, depending on the altitude and radar coverage reliability. In addition to the controlled airspace in Classes A through E, FAA has established Special Use Airspace designed for military users. Most of these spaces require altitude changes or detours to bypass. Air Traffic Control Facilities Three basic kinds of controllers direct aircraft through the airspace system, each during a different phase of the flight. In the towers of commercial-service airports and some large GA airports, local air traffic controllers together with ground controllers handle aircraft movements. The tower controller directs runway operations (takeoff and landing clearances), and the ground controller directs surface movements between the gates, taxiways, and runways. Approximately 450 airports have control towers, which manage traffic within approximately 5 miles of the airport up to an altitude of about 3,000 feet. Departure and approach controllers at terminal radar approach control (TRACON) facilities handle departing aircraft from takeoff to cruising altitude and arriving aircraft during the approach phase. More than 185 TRACONs sequence and separate aircraft as they approach and depart all airports in major metropolitan areas. They typically control air traffic within a 30-mile radius of the airport, exclusive of the local core area managed directly by airport towers. TRACONs also guide high-altitude traffic that is flying over the area. Terminal airspace is usually divided into sectors that can be modified on the basis of runway configurations in use by the airports in the TRACON airspace. All Class B airspace and most Class C airspace is under the control of TRACONs. Twenty-one air route traffic control centers (ARTCCs) monitor and control aircraft in transit over the United States. Each center handles a different region of the country, and some also control aircraft over the ocean using radio communication. The airspace controlled by each of these centers usually covers several states. Each ARTCC has controllers who guide the lower-altitude airways (Class E and lower-altitude Class A) used by turboprops and piston-engine airplanes and the higher-altitude airways used mainly by jets. The Air Traffic Control System Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, coordinates the actions of the various local and regional control centers and airline operating centers. Normally, the federal air traffic control system handles 30,000 to 45,000 flights per day. Other Traffic Control Equipment and Navigational Aids An extensive network of facilities, generally known as navaids, supports aircraft movement in the airways. The main navaids that define the system, the VOR airway stations, transmit signals to guide traffic in designated airways. Pilots can use these signals, which are transmitted from more than 1,000 stations, for bearing information. Radar surveillance also aids controllers in monitoring en route aircraft, allow-

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 ing them to better advise pilots on navigation. All aircraft used by airlines and many of the GA aircraft used for long-distance transportation are equipped with transponders that transmit aircraft identification and altitude information to air traffic control. Other navaids help pilots descend from cruising altitude to prepare for landing. Visual and radar navigation cannot be used for precision approaches in poor visibility. This capability is provided by ILS, which consists of a localizer for horizontal guidance and a glide slope for vertical guidance. The localizer is placed beyond the stop end of the runway, aligned with the centerline. The glide slope is located beside the runway, near the touchdown point. There are currently about 1,300 ILS-equipped runways in the country, including multiple ILS runways in large airports. Other navaids that assist pilots with approach and landing include precision path lighting systems and runway end lights. FAA is transitioning from this system of ground-based navigation aids to the satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS). Radar and other ground-based navaids limit the amount of airspace available and can increase travel distance, since aircraft must follow one navigational fix to another. Under GPS, several sequenced satellites orbiting the earth each transit an omnidirectional signal that reaches a receiver on the aircraft, which with precise timing information calculates a radius of distance from each satellite. The intersection of at least three spherical surfaces allows for the automated calculation of the aircraft’s position. This process provides highly accurate information for en route navigation. GPS is already being used for navigation in oceanic and en route airspace. To enhance the accuracy and reliability of GPS so that it can be used as a primary means of navigation and nonprecision approaches, FAA has been augmenting the system with a nationwide network of reference stations that will receive and refine signals from the GPS satellites. Known as the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), these enhancements will allow so-called “differential” GPS to be used as a primary means of navigation for en route travel and nonprecision approaches in the United States, as well as near-precision approaches. WAAS will also allow a pilot to determine a horizontal and vertical position within 6 to 7 meters, compared with the 100-meter accuracy available today from the basic GPS service. FAA is also testing other applications of GPS, such as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B),21 as part of its transition from central control to “Free Flight” concepts. The aim of Free Flight is to give pilots greater flexibility to determine optimal routes and speeds, thereby improving the overall efficiency and capacity of the airspace system. Though promising, such capacity-enhancing systems require more than FAA certification and investment; they require the installation of appropriate equipment in airports and aircraft, the training of pilots, the availability of safe and certifiable avionics, and other private-sector commitments and investments. Finally, FAA maintains approximately 75 Flight Service Stations at its air traffic facilities. These stations provide pilot briefings and en route communications, and 21 ADS-B is a surveillance system that continuously broadcasts GPS position information, aircraft identification, altitude, velocity, vector, and direction to all other aircraft and air traffic control facilities in the area. The information is displayed in the cockpit to provide greater situational awareness. Controllers will also receive ADS-B transmissions, providing them with more timely and accurate traffic information.

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 they assist aircraft in emergency situations. They also relay air traffic control clearances, originate pilot advisories (Notices to Airmen), broadcast weather reports, and receive and process IFR flight plans. This complex airspace system has come under scrutiny in recent years as demand for air transportation has escalated. Much of the concern has centered on flight delays and the slow pace of national airspace system modernization and capacity enhancement. The factors that influence system capacity and delay are discussed in more detail in Chapter 3. AIRCRAFT OPERATORS About 620,000 people are licensed to fly in the United States, representing about 0.25 percent of the country’s adult population. By comparison, there are 325 licensed automobile drivers for every pilot. Thus, pilots are rare. Moreover, they have become even rarer in recent years as the pilot population has declined, mostly because of a drop in the number of private, as distinguished from professional, pilots. The total population of pilots is down by 12 percent since 1990 and by 19 percent since 1981 (see Figure 2-3). Trends in the number of private pilots and other pilot types are discussed in more detail below. Private Pilots The shrinking number of private pilots has been a main reason for the decline in total pilots over the past two decades. The “private pilot” certificate qualifies a person to act, without compensation, as a pilot-in-command of an aircraft carrying passengers. The number of private pilots fell from 328,000 in 1981 to 247,000 in 1998 (see Figure 2-3). Attrition in the historically large civilian population of aviators trained in the military (from World War II through the Vietnam War) is one reason for the long-term decline. Other likely factors include the time and expense associated with pilot training and maintaining proficiency, as well as the cost of owning (or renting) and operating small aircraft. In metropolitan areas with heavy air traffic and much controlled airspace, the need for private pilots to obtain a thorough familiarity with radio communication techniques adds to the overall training and proficiency requirements. According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association,22 the cost of obtaining a private pilot license is $3,000 to $5,000, and a student training 2 to 3 days per week can obtain a license in about 4 months, flying 40 to 65 hours.23 The rental charge for even a small trainer airplane at a GA airport tends to begin at $50 to $75 per hour. Most private pilots are rated to fly only under VFR; earning and maintaining an IFR rating is an added expense, as discussed below. Whatever the cause, the number of students seeking pilot licenses is much lower today than two decades ago. New student certificates issued each year have fallen sharply during the period, from more than 110,000 issued in 1981 to fewer than 63,000 issued in 1998 (GAMA 1999a). The total number of student pilots fell by nearly half between 1981 and 1998 (see Figure 2-3). 22 The discussion of pilot training requirements in this section was derived from W. L. Gruber, “Beyond the Private: How to Ascend the Aviation Hierarchy,” Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (www.aopa.org). 23 Although FAA rules require the student to log 35 to 40 hours, most students will require more hours to obtain the necessary proficiency.

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 Figure 2-3 Historical trends and FAA predictions, U.S. pilot population by type, 1981–2011 (FAA 2000b).

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 Commercial and IFR-Rated Pilots While the total pilot population has fallen, the number of commercial-rated pilots has continued to grow (see Figure 2-3). For the most part, these pilots have instrument ratings, which allow them to fly by referring to instruments on board the aircraft. About 15 percent of private pilots also have instrument ratings, on the basis of data from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA 1999a, 19). The number of IFR-rated pilots has increased by about 25 percent since 1981. An instrument rating offers greater flexibility and utility, since flight plans do not have to be contingent on specific weather conditions. Pilots qualified to fly only under VFR can only operate when the cloud ceiling is no lower than 1,000 to 3,000 feet above ground level and when visibility is at least 3 miles, and they must remain clear of clouds. Because such visual conditions cannot be relied on for flight planning, professional pilots must have instrument ratings as a practical matter. Applicants for commercial pilot’s licenses are now required to have an instrument rating. Students who train 2 days per week can expect to obtain the instrument rating in about 5 months after obtaining a VFR rating, at an additional cost of $3,000 to $4,000; they first must log at least 50 hours of nonstudent VFR flying (equivalent to about $2,500 in aircraft rental). IFR-trained pilots may go on to obtain their commercial certificates, at an added expense of $2,000 to $2,500, plus 75 hours of additional IFR flying time (250 hours minimum). Commercial pilots can be compensated for their services, and many become flight instructors in order to log more hours to obtain higher-paying airline positions. Airline Pilots The number of pilots certified for airline operations (the air transport certificate) has continued to grow over the past two decades, both in absolute and relative terms. Airline pilots now make up about 20 percent of all pilots, compared with 8 percent in 1981 (see Figure 2-3). The air transport certificate qualifies a pilot to act as a pilot-in-command of an airline’s aircraft. The pilot must be IFR-qualified and have logged 1,500 hours of flight time to become eligible to pursue the certificate. Furthermore, to operate a jet or other aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds, a pilot must be type rated in the particular aircraft, which can take several additional weeks of training (e.g., type training on a Boeing 737 takes 3 weeks and costs about $7,000). Airline pilots must also pass more rigorous periodic medical exams than private and other commercial pilots. A Class 3 medical certificate is required for private pilot duties, and it must be obtained every 2 to 3 years. Every year, commercial pilots must obtain a Class 2 medical certificate, which has additional physical and mental health requirements. Air transport pilots must obtain a Class 1 certificate, which has additional requirements, every 6 months. Pilot Forecasts Despite the recent trend toward fewer private pilots, FAA anticipates an expanding base of pilots and predicts 20 to 30 percent growth in student and private aviators over the next decade (see Figure 2-3). It expects that continued economic growth will increase the number of people who can afford pilot training and that GA indus-

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 try programs will spur interest in learning to fly.24 FAA also anticipates that many of these new pilots will further their training and predicts an increase of 15 to 20 percent in the number of IFR-rated pilots by 2010 (FAA 2000b). The demographic characteristics of the current pilot population, however, suggest the significant challenge involved in expanding the pilot population and bring into question FAA predictions of significant growth in the pilot population over the next decade. The average age of all pilots currently is 44 and has been increasing over time for all pilot categories; even the average age of a student pilot is 35.25 One-third of all pilots, including student pilots, are more than 50 years old, and more pilots are 55 to 59 than are 25 to 29. The time commitment and out-of-pocket cost of pilot training, which are too high for many younger individuals, may explain this distribution. Moreover, women account for a very small share of all pilots. Despite a doubling of the number of women airline pilots from 1989 to 1998, the total number of women aviators fell by 15 percent during the period. Women now account for less than 6 percent of all pilots. Progress in expanding the demographic base of pilots beyond middle-aged men has been slow, and the obstacles to further expansion— apart from the expense and time required for training—are not well understood. RELEVANT FINDINGS The aviation system in the United States in general is covered in this chapter. The following points and findings from the discussion are especially relevant for analyzing the SATS concept, and they are cited again in the analyses of Chapter 4. Small Aircraft and Their Use The vast majority of the U.S. civil aircraft fleet is composed of small GA aircraft. Most of these aircraft are piston-engine airplanes used mainly for personal and recreational flying. There has been a large decline in demand for these propeller airplanes over the past 20 years as the number of private pilots has fallen sharply. There is little evidence to suggest that either trend will change dramatically in the near future. GA manufacturers have focused their attention on meeting the needs of business aviation, producing increasingly sophisticated jet aircraft flown mostly by professional pilots. The experience of business aviation and commuter airlines indicates that travelers prefer flying on jet aircraft because of their higher levels of safety, speed, reliability, and ride comfort. Business travelers, in particular, value the fast, on-demand, and direct service that private jets can provide. Nevertheless, most business travelers fly on commercial airlines; by consolidating traffic through their hub-and-spoke systems and affiliating with commuter carriers, airlines can offer frequent service, including jet service, between many points. Small jet aircraft are much more expensive to produce than are small piston-engine aircraft. The smallest jets in production are 10 to 30 times more expensive than 24 These include the “Be-A-Pilot” program, established by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and other industry groups, which claims to have increased student starts by 14 percent since program inception in 1996. 25 Data on pilot demographics obtained from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (1999a, 15–19).

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 new piston-engine aircraft. Jet aircraft require runways that are longer (4,000 feet or more) and in better condition than do piston-engine aircraft. The higher-performing jet aircraft also require more pilot training. Small Airport Condition, Capacity, and Use Approximately 5,000 airports are open to the general public for GA operations. About 3,000 of these airports have a paved and lighted runway that is at least 4,000 feet long, and about half these airports have a 5,000-foot runway. Jet aircraft require hard-surface runways and seldom operate on runways shorter than 5,000 feet. About 1,200 airports have a runway with an ILS, which allows for precision landing during low-visibility conditions. FAA has identified about 3,300 airports as part of the national airport system. By and large, these are the highest-quality public-use airports. About 550 of these airports are certified for commercial service, having procedures, facilities, and equipment required for safe air carrier operations. The remaining 2,750 serve only GA traffic. About 10 percent of these airports have sufficient infrastructure and services (such as ILS) to accommodate a wide range of aircraft, including small jets, under most weather conditions. These top GA airports are mainly located in major metropolitan areas and have been designated by FAA as “relievers” because they supplement the large commercial-service airports. Altogether, about three-quarters of all GA airports in the national airport system are located within 75 miles of a commercial-service airport with regular air carrier service. The federal government has a prominent role in airport funding. Funding is provided through the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, which is financed largely by taxes on the passengers flying on airlines; hence, a large share of the fund is used to improve infrastructure in commercial-service airports. The general philosophy of FAA is to concentrate aid for airports and air traffic control infrastructure at the most heavily used airports to ensure their safe and efficient performance. The airspace system is heavily used in and around the nation’s major metropolitan areas, and thus it is heavily restricted and complex. Many small airports, including most of the nation’s busiest and best-equipped GA reliever airports, are located under restricted airspace. Small Aircraft Operations in the Airspace System Most of the small aircraft in the civil fleet are used primarily by private pilots for recreation. The population of private, nonprofessional pilots in the United States has declined markedly over the past 20 years, and despite recent stability there is little indication that the number of pilots will grow substantially during the next decade or longer. The large commitments of time and expense required to train for and obtain a license and to maintain proficiency are deterrents to growth in the number of private pilots; however, the full array of factors influencing pilot supply and demand are not well understood. An instrument rating is essential for operating aircraft as a reliable means of transportation. Proficiency in flying under instrument conditions is important for planning trips with reliability. The number of instrument-rated professional pilots has been increasing. Growth in commercial passenger and cargo activity and the use of

OCR for page 20
Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept - Special Report 263 jet aircraft for business aviation have increased demand for professional-grade pilots. Substantially greater effort and expense are required to attain and maintain the necessary proficiency levels for piloting jet aircraft than are required for private pilots operating small, piston-engine aircraft. REFERENCES Abbreviations FAA Federal Aviation Administration GAMA General Aviation Manufacturers Association NATA National Air Transportation Association NBAA National Business Aviation Association RAA Regional Airline Association FAA. 1989. Aviation Forecasts Fiscal Years 1989–2000. U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C. FAA. 2000a. 2000 Aviation Capacity Enhancement Plan. U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C. FAA. 2000b. Aerospace Forecasts Fiscal Years 2000–2011. U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C. FAA. 2000c. Annual Report 2000. U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C. Federal Register. 2001. Vol. 66, No. 138, pp. 37,520–37,561. GAMA. 1999a. 1999 General Aviation Statistical Databook. Washington, D.C. GAMA. 1999b. GAMA Almanac: A Look at the Past 10 Years of General Aviation Production Airplane Shipments and Billings. Washington, D.C. NATA. 1999. Aviation Businesses and the Services They Provide. Washington, D.C. NBAA. 2000. Business Aviation Factbook 2000. Washington, D.C. RAA. 1999, 2000. RAA Annual Report. Washington, D.C.