It’s that time of year again. As 2013 draws to a close, it’s time we take a look back at the year that was and identify trends we’ve seen developing in general aviation. So, for the fourth time, here we go. And, of course, we have to lead off with… what else?
iPad becomes the cockpit hub. ADS-B has been a hot topic for a while now, with products like the Stratus showing up in thousands of cockpits. But now the iPad is more than just charts or even weather. The latest high end ADS-B receivers add traffic and a built-in AHRS, making your iPad more like a multi-function display than just a chart viewer. What will be thought of next?
Smart watches for pilots. Smart watches have been the next big thing for consumers for years, but they haven’t really taken off. With the launch of Garmin’s D2 Pilot Watch, the smart watch movement may catch on in aviation. The D2 can even receive flight plans from an iPad, and it was a hot seller for Christmas.
Flying clubs get renewed attention. AOPA has made a concerted push to support flying clubs and encourage the creation of new ones. Clubs offer an affordable way to get involved in aviation, and also offer a social/support network that is proven to be important for pilot retention. Sporty’s added its support for flying clubs with its new Flying Club Rebate Program, which allows pilots to earn cash back for Sporty’s purchases paid to their club. Interest has been high.
Aviation videos — from your iPhone? While dedicated HD cameras like the GoPro and Garmin’s new VIRB continue to be hot, there’s a growing movement towards using the iPhone as a video camera. It shoots surprisingly good video, is always in your pocket and its built-in WiFi/cell connection makes it simple to share videos. Sporty’s now offers a line of accessories to make an iPhone cockpit-ready.
The LSA shakeout. The Light Sport Airplane category has had its ups and downs, including Cessna’s recent announcement that the Skycatcher “has no future.” But some LSA manufacturers, especially the ones made in the US, are finding success. Sporty’s partnered with Van’s Aircraft to offer its factory-built RV-12 for our 2014 Sweepstakes and we’ve been delighted with the airplane. It is fun to fly, affordable to maintain and performs well. There is a lot of interest in this program, and Van’s recently announced it will build more of the “production” RV-12.
Heavy iron falls for the iPad. The popularity of the iPad continues to spread far beyond early adopters and cost-conscious pilots. Airlines and corporate flight departments are quickly adopting the iPad, making the move faster than any other consumer technology we can remember. To serve this growing market, we launched our Easy Approval consulting program this year, where we walk an operator through the (often confusing) process of getting approved for a paperless flight deck. We’ve been shocked by the breadth of Part 135 or 121 operators we’ve talked to, from big airlines to single Cessna tour companies.
The evolving flight bag. Twenty years ago, the average pilot’s flight bag held stacks of paper charts, plotters, manuals and maybe a portable intercom. That’s changed dramatically today, as these have been replaced by iPads, charging cables and ANR headsets. In response, Sporty’s introduced a completely new collection of Flight Gear bags, focused around the modern pilot and the things he carries. The sizes are smaller, the pockets are redesigned and the look is fresh.
App consolidation. We began 2013 wondering if Android would overtake Apple’s iPad as the top tablet. It wasn’t even close. As far as aviation is concerned, the iPad maintains its dominant position. The same trend is true for apps: while there are more aviation apps than ever, the big three (ForeFlight, Garmin and WingX) are, if anything, getting stronger. It’s a rapidly maturing market, with some really incredible features now available for under $100/year.
Flight training remains strong. While the overall industry may be weak, the demand for high quality flight training is as strong as ever. Sporty’s Academy, our flight school, has just wrapped up its busiest year ever. The airlines are hiring and should continue to do so for several years, and individuals are still interested in the power of a pilot certificate. Our school’s modular approach, which focuses on a series of stepping stones like the first solo and Recreational certificate, leads to more engaged students and better pilots. Our dropout rate is approaching zero.
The high-end headset war continues. While it may seem improbable, the hottest part of the headset market is the $1000+ premium ANR segment. Bose continues to set the standard, but Sennheiser has recently entered the market with its S1 Digital and Lightspeed is launching its Zulu PFX in early 2014. Smart pilots are beginning to focus on comfort in addition to quiet, realizing that all headsets are incredibly quiet these days. But the battle continues, and pilots are the winners.
Here’s a final trend, if you can call it that, we’ve noticed. In a topsy-turvy industry filled with bankruptcies and management shuffles, Sporty’s has stayed true to its foundation. We are still focused on general aviation and we still offer flight training. We’ve also remained a family company. Our customer service lines are staffed with human beings and an electronic voice will never ask you to “press your 19-digit customer code.” I’m proud that 44 of our employees have been with us for over 20 years. Personally, I’ve been at Sporty’s for over 40 years–and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
All of us send our very best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous new year. We value our relationships with the aviation media so you know the welcome mat is always out for you. Don’t be a stranger – stop by for a visit.
Here’s to a fantastic 2014!
Michael Wolf and Sporty’s Pilot Shop Staff