When It Comes to Safety, No Other Industry Has Evolved as Quickly as Aviation
In comparison with other industries, in a span of one hundred years, has anything evolved so marvelously as aviation? With planes, we mastered distance. Distance, achieved through precise navigation, was once a thing of crinkly paper charts, and instrumentation, reliant upon intricate gears and gyro mechanisms. Pilots followed needles into and through the clouds and, given the improbability of all that, humans handled it with respectable capability. Smart people kept going, kept pushing.
The Best of Times?
Has general aviation (GA) already enjoyed its peak, perhaps in the dawn and rise of the jet age? Some aviators recognize the heyday of the market as being the 1960s and 70s, given the number of aircraft manufactured. Many shudder in reflection of the 1980s, a notoriously rough decade in which production plummeted and mostly ceased altogether. However, something interesting sparked in the 90s, a tsunami of technology. Although difficult to pinpoint the mechanism of change, there was a catalyst.
Revolutionary and Evolutionary
While planes haven’t changed all that much, but the technology has, dovetailing in the vein of safety. Was it Mooney with the gen one autopilot, a wing-leveler, of the 1960s? How about Garmin and the Global Positioning System (GPS) in 1995, with the humble handheld 195, a tiny screen of grey dots? The Cirrus SR20, launched in 1999, with the revolutionary type-certified ballistic parachute technology?
GPS Begat Glass Cockpits
Garmin had sold 3 million GPS devices in the form of fifty products by the year 2000. Garmin then began working with a subsidiary of famed parcel-carrier United Parcel Service (UPS) to develop a line of panel-mounted GPS products for their fleet of aircraft. This launched the research and subsequent development of the integrated cockpit systems that revolutionized the commercial and corporate aviation industry– and hence, the GA market.
Benefits for Experimental Aviation
The modern GA pilot has the luxury of choice in the platform in which they choose to fly, most elementally in the form of certified or experimental category aircraft. While the concept of experimental, or kit-built aircraft, was born in the 1950s, technology has driven the rise of this market to 33,000 strong, according to the Experimental Aircraft Association. A fascinating segment of the general aviation market, experimental aviation boasts the appeal of cost savings, among other worthy ideals. For example, having an autopilot aboard has been a notoriously expensive and therefore, a luxury item rather than an incredibly effective safety tool. The advent of digital technology made it possible to equip a single-engine land airplane comparably, and affordably, to what was and is available to the certified market.
And the Award Goes to…
What was the most important advance in GA safety? Was it the development of the Cirrus aircraft, or Garmin’s revolutionary GPS navigation-based systems, or comprehensive Flight Management System (FMS) offerings from Dynon or even Avidyne? Whatever came first, the chicken or the egg of this incredible technology, is not what matters. What matters is that the feature- and option-rich selection is at the fingertips of the general aviation consumer. Even better than that is one need not be uncommonly affluent to enjoy these benefits.