General Aviation:

Status of the Industry, Related Infrastructure, and Safety Issues

GAO-01-916: Published: Aug 31, 2001. Publicly Released: Aug 31, 2001.

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Over the past decade, the booming growth in scheduled commercial airline traffic has tended to obscure developments in another part of the aviation industry--general aviation. General aviation covers all civil aircraft not flown by commercial airlines or the military. In 1994, concerned that general aviation was in decline, Congress passed the General Aviation Revitalization Act (GARA), which sought to boost the industry by placing limitations on product liability lawsuits against aircraft manufacturers. Trends show that there was a decline in most general aviation indicators prior to the 1994 enactment of GARA and that this decline reversed in the years after GARA--sharply in manufacturing indicators and to a lesser extent in flying activity indicators. Trends in general aviation since GARA was enacted suggest that the law has reduced manufacturers' liability concerns, leading to a rebound in the manufacturing industry. The amount of federal funding available for capital development at general aviation airports has consistently been below what has been requested by the airport officials to fund their airports' planned projects. In 2000, for example, the amount of federal funding available was almost $900 million short of what was requested to fund airports' eligible planned projects. The safety of general aviation has been improving. The total number of accidents declined from 3,233 in 1982 to 1,989 in 1998--a decrease of 41 percent--while the accident rate fell from about 10 to about 7 accidents for every 100,000 flight hours. More than two-thirds of general aviation's accidents, both fatal and nonfatal, are caused by pilot error, including mistakes related to procedure, skill, and judgment. Besides determining the requirements for pilot certification, the Federal Aviation Administration oversees the safety of general aviation by working with federal agencies and industry groups to identify safety improvements. Most initiatives seek to enhance safety in one of three areas: training, technology, and the procedures that are designed to govern such operations as takeoffs, landings, and flight patterns.

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