State of the Industry


Those of you who regularly read my remarks have probably noticed that I don’t often take on global subjects, instead preferring to discuss narrow or even personal situations. After all, there are commentators out there who are far better informed than I bother to keep myself, so I’m happy to let them comment on things like, well, the state of the industry.

But I don’t ignore broader happenings. After all, for example, who isn’t aware of the declining numbers of our ranks? Yet, the pace of aircraft and avionics development is unprecedented. I find it challenging to reconcile a dwindling pilot population with all that new-product development. Who’s buying all that new stuff? I can guess.

Let’s rewind the clock a few decades. Say it’s the late-1970s and you’re shopping for a brand-new, high-performance single. You’ll go all in because you expect to keep this airplane for, well, probably a few decades. You’re in your mid 20s and you can afford it because your engineering degree is starting to pay off and, besides, your Uncle Rich recently passed away and left you some money.

You want the best, so your panel will have a pair of navcoms, an ADF, a DME, autopilot, and, of course, an HSI. What else is there? Not much, really.

You love your new airplane and you absolutely pamper it. But, time marches on and after 20 or so annuals, you’re thinking that perhaps you’d like one of those new GPS all-in navigators. So you pull one of the navcoms and replace it with an amazing new GNS 430. Life couldn’t get any better.

Another 20 or so annuals take place and even that 430 is looking a little tired. The rest of the panel is now, well, hopelessly out of date. Since you’re in your 60s, you’ve got far more disposable income. So, still in love with that airplane, you decide it’s time for a face lift. Besides, you’ve put off ADS-B because you stopped flying for about nine months to attend to some medical issues.

Like the original purchase, you decide to go all in. You select the right shop and work closely with them to pick all the newest toys. You decide to replace just about everything, leaving almost nothing original in the panel. You go full touchscreen EFIS, and even an electronic standby instrument. This allows you to pull that troublesome vacuum pump. (For fun, you look back through the logs and discover that you’re removing the tenth vacuum pump your prized bird has supported. Good riddance.)

Of course, all the avionics go, to be replaced with the latest touchscreen navigators and a digital autopilot. Sure, this requires you to dig a bit (okay, a lot) deeper into that disposable income, but you only live once, right?

Variations on this story are happening all over the world right now, explaining why fewer pilots are spending more money. We might not be buying many new airplanes, but we’re sure spending a lot to make ’em new to us.

Yup, that’s my guess. It’s an easy guess, too, because, well, that’s pretty much what I did. You too?

—Frank Bowlin


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