The general aviation sector is highly diverse and represents a significant number of flights, from recreational flying with non-powered aircraft to the complex operation of business jets and specialised aerial works.
Since 2001, this segment has grown twice as fast as the rest of air traffic put together. Therefore, the general aviation sector is not only diverse, it is significant in size and growth even compared to commercial aviation.
The economic contribution of the general aviation sector is driven in particular by a growing business aviation sector. Business aviation is growing by up to 10% per annum. Europe is a ‘hot-spot’ for the growth of business aviation sector, which accounts for 24.9% of business jet shipments.
The European fleet of business aircraft has grown strongly in the last two years to about 3 000 airframes. By looking at a range of published forecasts, we estimate that the fleet will grow to around 4 600 by 2017. If air taxi operations do grow strongly as expected on the back of the very light jets (VLJ) market, then 2 200 additional flights per day over 10 years is possible. This growth would make a contribution of about 0.8 percentage points per year to a total growth in traffic of 3.7%-4.7% per year.
However, the success of business aviation and VLJs in Europe will be dependent on the availability of a proper infrastructure – in particular precision instrument approaches enabling all-weather operations at smaller airports.
The current generation of EGNOS avionics available for purchase by the general aviation community provides a range of functionality from the ability to guide aircraft en route through to the display of terrain data and flight planning information. General aviation operators stand to benefit not only from EGNOS approach operations but also from a range of other benefits such as improved situational awareness, terrain awareness warnings and easy in-flight re-planning – all of which contribute to enhanced safety.
A review of general aviation accidents across Europe encompassing accident report statistics from six EU Member States identified 170 incidences where it was believed that the current generation of EGNOS avionics would have prevented an incident or accident. Even for pilots operating VFR in good weather it would provide them with valuable information regarding their position and the altitude of the surrounding terrain, allowing them to make better decisions.
It is estimated that the turnover of the general aviation industry in the Community is as much as €15 billion annually, while it employs approximately 70 000 people. Growing general aviation traffic at an airfield benefits not only the aircraft operators but also the airport and regional economies as a whole.
EGNOS can provide instrument approach procedures at a fraction of the cost of precision approach systems bringing them within the financial reach of a much greater range of airfields and acting as a catalyst for such growth. There is already a wide range of EGNOS-enabled equipment available for purchase to support both IFR and VFR flight. IFR solutions range in price from €3 000 to €60 000 depending upon the equipment, scope and complexity of the installation.
General aviation operators are willing to equip on the basis of future potential benefits but there are issues of concern to them, notably the lack of visibility of the start of EGNOS operations, evidence of the viability of the system in the longer term as well as no evidence that airfields are preparing to implement EGNOS approaches. Many of these matters are within the sphere of influence of the GSA and as such could be addressed to enable the market.