Right now, we’re wrapping up holiday sales – this year is shaping up to be a solid Christmas sales season, which is good news for all of us. In the meantime, we want to take a moment to look back at 2016 and offer some thoughts on the general aviation market, at least as we see it from Batavia, Ohio. Here goes:
Flight training is strong. Airlines are hiring rapidly, airline pilot salaries are going up, and more people are pursuing their dream of being a pilot. Sporty’s Academy, our on-site flight school, is concluding a record year. It was a mix of “community learners” and career-oriented pilots, some of whom are looking for a mid-life change in career. Our 172 LITE airplanes are popular rental options, costing 25% less per hour than typical glass cockpit airplanes.
Non-certified avionics in certified airplanes. EAA, AOPA and others are pursuing a variety of novel approaches for improving the avionics in Part 23 airplanes, without requiring expensive certification programs. In 2016, the Non Required Safety Enhancing Equipment (NORSEE) policy from the FAA came into force and a variety of groups are working on STCs to allow replacement attitude indicators and autopilots to be installed for far less than before. Garmin’s innovative G5 flight instrument is a prominent example, and Sporty’s has seen strong interest in these units.
Youth aviation programs pass important milestones. At The Sporty’s Foundation, we’re working every day to build a strong future for general aviation, and 2016 saw some major successes. Young Eagles, a program for which Sporty’s has been a major supporter for over 10 years, flew its 2 millionth kid this year. Separately, EAA signed a memorandum of support with Aviation Exploring, another organization Sporty’s has been working with for decades. We hope next year brings even more good news.
New competition in the premium headset market. Bose and Lightspeed have been slugging it out for years (even defeating Sennheiser, who withdrew from the market this year). Now David Clark has joined the battle, with their ONE-X. This new design is lighter and smaller than classic DC headsets, and has become a very popular option.
Cincinnati Avionics stays busy with ADS-B Out installations. You’ve probably read about ADS-B Out for years, but with the January 1, 2020 deadline now just three years away it seems like pilots are finally getting serious about equipping. A slew of new products, including the affordable Stratus ESG and the all-in-one Garmin GTX 345, met with very favorable reactions. The FAA’s $500 rebate program also accelerated installations. There’s a long way to go, but the pace is quickening, and our shop’s schedule is already filling up for 2017.
Home study courses evolve beyond just video. The days of passively watching a VHS tape are long gone. Today’s online courses and apps offer more features and more interactivity than ever. In 2016, Sporty’s introduced ForeFlight logbook integration so you can log your written test endorsement in your iPad logbook, plus an “ask a CFI” feature, an interactive Airman Certification Standards guide, and more. Our 2017 Learn to Fly course just launched and shows how far these learning platforms have come.
Drone hype fades, but reality is still exciting. The FAA finally implemented its Part 107 rule for commercial UAS operations this year, and the first Remote Pilots were certified (including many Sporty’s employees). It’s still uncertain how big this market will be and how it will impact GA, but what is clear is that drones are here to stay. When it comes to training, Sporty’s is there… we partnered with the Unmanned Safety Institute to offer comprehensive, professional training courses that share some of the lessons from manned aviation with remote pilots. Sporty’s has also developed a Drone Study Buddy app for iOS devices.
The iPad is still the most important avionics system for most pilots. The glass cockpit revolution is already here, but it looks like a tablet more than a PFD/MFD. The iPad has been out now for over six years, but new iPad accessories keep coming, including: SiriusXM’s Aviation Receiver for ForeFlight, XNaut’s innovative iPad mounting system with built-in fans, new kneeboards from Flight Outfitters, and much more.
Connected avionics expand in all directions. Garmin’s popular Flight Stream products allow pilots to send a flight plan from their tablet to their panel-mounted GPS, or to pull weather off the panel and onto the tablet. But there are other connections happening in the cockpit: Stratus 2S portable ADS-B receivers can be connected to the Stratus ESG transponder, and Garmin’s D2 Bravo watch can control a Garmin VIRB camera.
Pilots on the go. Always mobile, pilots are keeping themselves informed more than ever on iPhones and iPads. This includes Sporty’s Takeoff app, which offers quick bites of training anywhere you are. We spotted more aviation podcasts than ever this year as well. All these options mean pilots never have to miss a chance to learn.
So that was the year that was. We continue to live in interesting, challenging times where changes come at us at a rapid pace. What hasn’t changed is pilots’ passion for what they do and our commitment to serving them. As always, our new product development team is hard at work, so stay tuned for some exciting new products next year.
From all of us at Sporty’s, we send our very best wishes for a joyous holiday season and a happy and healthy 2017. Don’t forget to come see us in the New Year. You are always welcome.
The Sporty’s team