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Small-town airports close as higher plane costs, falling interest lead to pilot decline

Like many small cities across the country, Onawa is closing its airfield largely because of the steady decline in the number of pilots, especially in rural areas. The number of pilots with private certificates peaked at 357,000 in 1980. Since then, though, that number has nose-dived to 188,000, and hundreds of local airfields have been closing. Interest has waned as planes became much more costly. ( More...

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Mike Mohle 26
Well, flying GA aircraft is a lot more costly and a much bigger hassle than it used to be, due to fuel costs, FAA, more equipment mandates, FAA, liability insurance for new aircraft, FAA, aging airplanes in the legacy fleet (not that they are unsafe, but require more $$ at annual time to keep them airworthy), FAA, restricted use of current airports due to noise abatement, FAA. I was one of those "airport kids" 35-40 years ago and was spending nearly every weekend at the airport. Now kids can't get anywhere near airports with all of the fences and security so why would they bother. I sold my 182 5 years ago to a good home, but do not really miss all of the ongoing headaches and surprise maintenance bills one always must stay on top of as an aircraft owner. The GA pilot reduction and interest in personal flying is really too bad, and is the beginning of the end of an era IMO.
30west 4
Very well said Mike.
ADXbear 3
I to agree Mike.. licensed at 19 in 1978, I did the same thing you did without ownership, I was a renter, the customer that paid a lot of a FBO's bills.. Everything you said drove me away from the passion of my life.. Sadly I've given up on flying due to the excessive GA costs.. I can see why there is only 188K licensed flying pilots..

AOPA needs to continue the good work to bring it back.. the airlines need to be directly involved as they are the end result of many hard hours and aspirations of young eagle's..
BaronG58 3
ADXbear...I too recieved my pvt ticket in 1978 at 27. All total I spent prox 1,000 - 1,200 dollars tops. Serious bucks back then ( at least for me it was) but still doable for the working guy. That's a insurance payment these days. Mike is spot-on.
In the early '60s, it was easy. I got a job at the airport earning the equivalent of $1.00/hr in flying time and got my private license that way. Back then, it was FUN. Now, it's a lot of hard work, regulatory overreach, and expense, due to everything Mike has addressed in his response. As I am now retired from a life-long career in aviation, I will volunteer for the EAA Young Eagle program and try to pass on a little of that enthusiasm I once had, while testing the limits of my wallet in a 55 year-old Debonair.
John Diehl 0
Once again we see something the government touches tarnish and fade....The FAA doesn't want to have to condescend to private pilots, they are only noble enough to deal with airlines with their bureaucratic egos on full display.
We can whine all we want about the FAA and mandates, but they are small factors compared to the cost of gasoline. Even at the current reduced prices, my cost of 100LL is equal to the total cost of everything else. Loan payment, tiedown, oil, maintenance, insurance, recurrent training. Even the cost of ADS-B out amortized over 3 years. So if you want to complain, complain to Phillips and Shell.

And, by the way, in my town the reason why there are no youngsters using their paper-route money for flight training is that the paper routes have been taken over by adults trying to scrape by after their jobs were outsourced overseas (at least that is what mine tells me). Has nothing to do with airport security.
Geoff Cook 2
Newspaper routes are also dying because their content is now online!
ken young 3
Oil companies do not "set" fuel prices.
Price are determined by commodities exchanges
btweston 1
N495PG 1
Ken Young- Avgas isn't traded on the commodity exchange. It's a specialty product, refined by two operators in the USA. In this case, the price is most certainly set by the oil company.
honza nl -1
if the price is too high, capitalism says there will be another firm offering it. After all, if the price is too high there is plenty of room for a profit. So maybe the price is not too high? Maybe back then the price simply was too low and you got used to that.
joel wiley 3
When a monopoly or oligarchy exist rule capitalism gets adjusted. If there is a single source or a few sources in collusion for a resource, supply and demand does not prevail. For example, look at gasoline prices in California where regulation mandate fuels different from the rest of the US. The limited number of refineries producing them are manipulated, in the view of some, to maintain an artificial scarcity to keep prices up.
Gary Dell 2
I got my ticket in 1967 and flew on weekends making about 800 a month but it was doable too back then. Rented and flew a 182RG on a regular basis and a Piper Dakota. Rental and insurance was manageable. Not now as we all know and, 9-11 changed things too with all the new restrictions. I do know of a youngster who is working on his license to go with the airlines so that's encouraging but they are few and far between. AOPA needs to keep working to get folks interested in it again.
Al Schafer 0
Right on the money Mike!
Ric Wernicke 13
While the FAA is certainly less than we deserve, they are not the bulldog demanding to be fed in aviation.

The reason you cannot pay for lessons with a paper route anymore is because of trial lawyers and their desire to take what ever they can from any pocket that has cash. With liability insurance costing more than the manufacturing costs of small planes, it is no wonder a plane is no longer a few bucks more than a nice car.
Al Schafer 2
So it is lawyers that are making an older pilot with no heart problems and 10,000 hrs pay $2200 a year to have a stress test to 100% .
Ken Hardy 6
A plane for the average guy has just gotten to expensive to own, hangar or tie down costs have gone through the roof and insurance cost is out of hand along with maintenance . Even when auto fuel costs go down 100 octane seems to stay up there. We are becoming like Europe where only the wealthy can indulge in their own planes
Geoff Cook 6
Since 9-11 it has been easier for the police or airport authority to shoo people away from airport fences who are watching planes come and go! Most older people in aviation are here becuase their parents used to take them to the local 'drome just to watch the planes. Point a camera at an aircraft nowadays, and in a couple of weeks the FBI will be knocking on your door wondering what you are up to.. (Happened to me last year after a visit to BKL/Cleveland). I have long said this attitude will have a future effect on the industry. Airlines and airports in many ways are like sports teams and stadiums! Airports, rather than push away any interest in their facility, should like sports teams, embrace that enthusiasm. Until that happens this 'drought' of pilots will continue.
AJ Bowers 4
lol......I am buying a plane next week.
I am very excited about learning to fly. I just started but in about one year I will have a sport pilot license. I will just be 60 years old and disabled. Sure I can barely walk, that's why I want to fly. I am not the type to just sit around I need some adventure and I am having fun learning.
Gary Bennett 4
Wish as we might it will never return to what it was in the 60s and 70s But then again nothing will.There may be 188 thousand licensed pilots, but I doubt if over half are active. Go out to the small airports and most aircraft just set and rot. Do I have answers? No, just so sad to see something that I grew up and enjoyed with much pleasure slowly die...
30west 2
That's just Private pilots, not Commercial or ATP.

I think, but not 100% sure, that the Feds are just counting Private pilots with a current medical. I think that if all those who are still living with a Private Certificate in their wallets without a Medical were counted, the number would exceed the 188K mentioned in the article. My wife has a Private with Instrument Rating, but dropped out of aviation a number of years ago as so many have, 10's of thousands...100,000+.....more (?), pick a number. In casual conversation, I have talked with a number of acquaintances who are inactive Private pilots, much to my surprise that they were pilots.
Jack Gibson 4
Ive been flying sense 1953 & still current. Im looking for my own plane now, tired of renting.
Loral Thomas 5
I live near a town of 161,000 that has 2 airports. Neither have flight training or aircraft rental. Nearest rental aircraft for me is over 60 miles. Think that about says it all -- no flight training, no rental, no new pilot possibly buying a plane. How is the industry going to grow with these statistics?
Jealous as hell my friend.But good for you:}I have been reduced to sim flying.
BaronG58 2
It took you 62 years to get tired of renting. 8-) What type A/C you looking for??
gerardo godoy 3
Private aviation as a Hobby is practically dead down here in Panama. In the 1990s there were at least 80 or 100 private pilots flying around with 60/80 airplanes, that was a lot, in this country of 3 million souls most below the poverty line. Gas was cheap and planes were not so expensive, I bought a Cherokee for 9,000 bucks in perfect used condition. As gas prices started to peak things slowed down and today there must be four or five "hobby" planes, all other "private" GA airplanes are in some kind of business or other. This city, famous for its Canal, had four airfields back then now it has two. Young people simply don't see aviation like we did, the stupid hand held machines which is robotizing humanity are more interesting than anything else to this youth which is dummer than some door Knobs around the house. Even commecial aviation is not very interesting to many today due to the stupidity of so many Airlines. Those of us in our 70s really were lucky for having lived probably the best years of aviation. Haven't you heard? the technology of today is looking at "robot" planes quite seriously, then "pilots" will be as obsolete as Roman Galleon oars men.
gene parsons 3
In our town, in North Carolina pop. about 15,000, back in the 70's you had to wait in line to rent an airplane or instructor. Today you can't find a instructor or aircraft on the ramp. The same FBO has run the airport since it was built in 1964 but now it's the third generation. They operate their business on their own property but lease the airport property. The county gets no revenue off the airport and the FBO gets it all. Yes it cost a lot now to learn to fly or buy and operate an aircraft now, but it did in the 70's also. AS a young boy I made $68 a week and spent $40 learning to fly. Airports around us are doing quite well with a waiting list for hanger space, and ours has one aircraft parked on the Nnewly paved and enlarged parking ramp. The problem is Politics!!!!
Al Schafer 3
When the middle class has no money and a new LSA costs $100,000 you know general aviation is in trouble and headed for disaster.
Rich people getting richer and normal people who work hard for a living are making next to nothing. It's a big problem around the world yet, everyone seems to be totally oblivious to this ongoing issue in the world.

Hence why no one wants to go in aviation anymore, too much money to end up with a shitty paying pilot job.
I got my first pilot certificate at 13(Junior none solo) back in 1963 under the auspices of the Civil Air Patrols junior pilots training program.And didn't pay a red cent for it.A different America and a different time.But today a kid has to have parents whose pockets are really deep to learn to fly even in the CAP programs that do not resemble anything like the program I went through.And yes they now charge fees for books,ground instruction(Sims not in the air)and flight time rentals.I to no longer fly not only because of the ridiculous cost but primarily my health (Heart problems). But the general public is being priced right out of the sky on all fronts.
Jerry Smith 2
As an aircraft owner a little advice
Before you purchase talk to someone on the Field with an aircraft similar to the one you purchased most owners will be honest with you about cost make sure you get a good pre-by inspection and all log books to check. A&P Shops prices for work on your aircraft is different from shop to shop.
ko25701 2
Waaaa, crying about it won't get you off the ground. Many of us worked an extra job or did without a shiny new car to be able to fly. I'll take the low entry level pay and work my way up within a few years. Nothing worth doing is easy or cheap.
Kingair31 2
A multitude of problems plague the industry, fuel, insurance, total cost of ownership etc. As an airport operator, one of our biggest losses is base customers, transient aircraft not supporting the local airport. Our retail price for fuel is competitive, but "somebody is always cheaper" If a locality chooses to price fuel at cost plus .25, this actually has a ripple effect to the surrounding airports. We have seen base customers "flyover" and travel another 40nm to "save" .45 a gallon, but what are you saving? In a 172 for example if you buy 20 gallons, you "save" nothing. Engine time, another T/O and landing. We treat all aircraft the same, G-V to J-3. We also subsidize a restaurant in the terminal to promote activity. We are trying to do our part and will continue to do so. We live by the motto that "we are all in this together". That my fellow flying friends is a fact, we are in this together.
joel wiley 2
And rising interest in place by developers doesn't help matters.
Developers might play a part in a large town, but in Rural America, that is not the case. About the only good thing an old airport is good for is corn fields. Same goes for noise abatement, that is an issue of larger cities, and not rural areas.

Onawa (population 3,000), Hartley (population 1,600), and Hillsboro (population 6,000) are all rural areas. South Sioux City is a 'suburb' of Sioux City (Woodbury County), a regional population center of 82,000 people with it's own airport. That makes S. Sioux City more urban than rural and fits a different demographic than the former three towns.
I see kids still in highschool. In brand new cars. You can get up in the air for far less money. I don't think money is the only reason for less pilots. Today everyone wants everything now. Especially young people. It does take more to get a ga license now but the training makes flying safer. Maybe we need more highschool programs. Then the younger people might want a used plane instead of a new car.
iflyfsx 1
What most people don't understand, is that when a general aviation airport closes, it does not come back. You can't reopen it later. The airport and everything that goes with it are lost forever.
Robert Lucas 1
The Irony. I read recently that China is looking to build GA airports for every one of their counties. Literally 1000's of new airports.
Jeff Lawson 4
China seems to be experiencing declining aviation growth actually... "Embraer is considering closing its factory in Harbin, China because of slumping demand. Orders for business jets in China have essentially stopped thanks to a crackdown on corruption. The wealthy are lying low trying not to attract the attention of increasingly aggressive government investigators... " (avweb)
dnickerson80h 0
If you want to fly, you can pickup a Quicksilver MX for less than a used car. Maintained correctly, these are safe, affordable aircraft.


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