As we leave 2009 and the hundredth anniversary of powered flight in Canada we should give some thought to the future of Personal Aviation.
According to Transport Canada’s published statistics fixed wing Private Pilot Licenses and Permits peaked in December 2003 at 35,879. As of September 2009 that number had declined to 31,113 (a 13 per cent decrease in six years).
Although Ultralight and Recreational permits have increased slightly by 102, the decrease in Private licenses has overshadowed that with a decrease of 4,868. This is not entirely due to pilots dropping their licenses as they get older. Over the last three years the number of new licenses and permits issued has also been declining.
Although alarming it shouldn’t be a great surprise. Consider the post-war baby boom generation. Right now those at 62 and 63 years of age are on the leading edge of the boomer wave. From there the population continuously increases back to those around 45 years old. This is a significant increase of approximately 30 per cent.
Currently the wave peaks at 45-46 years of age and drops off by 20 per cent as we go back to the 35-36 age group. It then remains fairly level back to 20 years old.
If we assume private pilots are a consistent percentage of the general population then our numbers should follow the same trends. The 20 to 30 age group is prime new-pilot territory and in recent years the available population has been decreasing.
So there are fewer potential new pilots to replace the pilots at the front of the boomer wave who are now starting to let their licenses laps due to age and health.
This seems like a logical explanation. But look a little closer and it gets scary. We have approximately 20 years to go before the peak of the boomer wave hits 65.
Which means the number of pilots dropping out every year will increase by as much as 30 per cent over that period while it is very likely new pilot candidates will remain steady over the same period of time.
Also I don’t believe the assumption that pilots will remain at a constant percentage of the general population is valid. The boomer generation was born of World War II parents, many of whom had an aviation or military background. This provided an impetus for many boomers to take up flying when they were able.
Is it any wonder that the 60’s and 70’s saw the proliferation of Cessna and Piper pilot training centres? But for the past 20 to 30 years we have seen no major events focusing young people on aviation. Even the space program almost ground to a halt.
It is interesting to note that in the past five years the number of light aircraft owned in Canada has been increasing. This seems counter-intuitive but it is often those pilots in their 50’s that can finally afford to buy their own aircraft. So as the boomer wave ages there are more pilots able to buy aircraft. I predict this too will start to decrease once the peak of the boomer wave moves into the 50’s.
COPA membership should follow the same pattern. With fewer pilots coming into the system and if aircraft owners start to decrease COPA membership should follow suit unless we take action to attract an larger percentage of the pilot population to COPA.
Today COPA is the pre-eminent aviation association in Canada. In order to insure that COPA is equally effective for future generations of pilots and aircraft owners we must work to keep our numbers up.
Here’s how you can help. Our best sales people are our members. Each time you meet a pilot, ask him or her if they are a COPA member. If the answer is yes congratulate them on a good choice and thank them for helping to keep personal aviation alive and well. If the answer is no, tell them why you are a COPA member and suggest they go to our web site and sign up.
Tell them they will receive the most informative aviation newspaper, COPA Flight, delivered to their door every month. And along with it they will receive the best listing of aircraft for sale in Canadian Plane Trade. These are worth the annual membership alone. Then explain how they will be helping to keep personal aviation alive and well for the next generation by being a member and helping to increase our voice.
Let’s work together to bring more pilots and aircraft owners into the fold. Meanwhile, keep your prop spinning.
In my December column I stated that the Edmonton International Airport (EIA) would be closing the Cooking Lake airport and Floatplane base. This is incorrect. The EIA is working with the local user group to develop an agreement for them to take over the airport and floatplane base. I was attempting to raise awareness and speculating that closure might result if an agreement is not reached. I apologize for any undue concerns this might have caused. – Bob Kirkby