It's not surprising, therefore, to see a trend away from private flying - despite the fact that there are 16,582 active airports in the US. 'There's growing demand from commercial operators and until the government does something to fix the system it is inevitable that private flyers will be squeezed,' adds Friedman.
According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), general aviation outnumbered commercial aircraft 220,000 to 4,900 in 1986. However the production of such types has dropped a dramatic 90.3 percent from a 1976 high of 15,451 units to 1,495 in 1986.
Friedman admits that there will always be a demand for luxury executive jets, whether new or converted from commercial aircraft. But the argument used by manufacturers that the CEO of a major corporation is too valuable to be left to the vagaries of the commercial transport system is fast diminishing. Buying new is expensive for corporate America and, with changes in the US tax laws, no longer so attractive. Gone are the days when companies could write off the expense of both acquiring and operating their private aircraft. Aircraft Owner and Pilots Association (AOPA) data suggests the average price of a new jet is excess of $6 million while a turboprop is nearly $2 million.
Even Richard Nadeau, president of aircraft interior designers Frunzi Nadeau, admits the business is not what it used to be: 'The one drawback to having a private jet is that take off and landing permission is given after commercial airlines have been cleared.'
Boston's Logan Airport is so capacity constrained that it is now considering the idea of peak-hour pricing: between 0800 and 1800, prices would reflect demand. National Business Aircraft Association (NBAA)'s Jonathan Howe feels general aviation will suffer most: 'While we recognize that there may be some validity to a form of pricing for this scare commodity, we do feel it should have some resemblance to the cost of providing it.'
Howe says his organization isn't opposed to paying its 'fair share' for a 'notion whose time has come'. What he does object to is his claim that general aviation will subsidize commercial operators. According to an NBAA study, the proposed Boston charges will increase user fees to general aviation by 380 percent and to commuter aircraft 550 percent. Air carriers, on the other hand, will see charges rising by a mere 70 percent.
'The notion of pricing out general aviation seems to be the objective at many locations, not least of which is Boston. It is an objective, ironically,that has been adopted by the Federal Trade Commission...which seems to say: "Let's go ahead in the name of the free market and price people out of (it)",' says Howe. In a bid to strenghten their position, the NBAA has joined a broad based coalition of airline and aviation related organizations to lobby Congress to fix the country's air transport infrastructure - and in particular to reorganize the Federal Aviation Administration.