I think that small aircraft GA has reached a very much “grow-or-die” or at least “grow-or-be-forever marginalized” point. While it may be–although I’m skeptical–that hobbyists at the 0.25% level can generate enough demand to sustain acceptable profitability levels for a company like Cirrus, trends of modern life conspire to make this more difficult than in the past.
Production for a hobbyist market will always be expensive (how much would a Honda Accord cost if they only made 700/year?). Third-wave-of-migration cerebrations aside, major urban areas are where the money is and where the majority of current and potential GA hobbyists reside.
But small airplane GA and the facilities it requires are under ever increasing pressure in and near urban centers as population densities and living costs increase. Nearly all small airports in such areas are endangered, or at least find it impossible to expand, and difficult or impossible to modernize their facilities. Despite AOPA’s tireless good works on our behalf, there is still no compelling (to “civilians”) counterargument to the assertion that, “a GA airport is NOT an appropriate use of land where more jobs are needed, housing is so scarce, etc.” Around here, only a year or two ago it was of course impossible to get a hangar but tiedown space was readily available. Now tiedown spaces have wait lists too–just ask Paul Traina! There’s a sizable empty chunk of land at the southeast edge of PAO: will it ever host hangars, tiedowns, or an aviation-related business? Probably not, but if so only after years of wrangling and politicking in a Palo Alto City Council which listened with rapt attention to the arguments of citizens against a new airport security fence because it would inhibit the ability of small animals to escape predators! I’m not making this up.
As living costs increase and other, better paying professions beckon, A&Ps for small airplane GA are becoming harder to recruit and retain. At least in the SF Bay Area this has resulted in a noticeable change in the “maintenance quality of life” in just the last year: longer waits to have something fixed, more expensive work, even a decline in the quality of work.
Many but not all pilots with sufficient levels of enthusiasm (hobbyists) and/or wealth (plutocrats) will find ways to adapt to these trends: move to a more GA-friendly, smaller community, fly their planes an hour or two away for maintenance, or just endure the increased cost and hassle of owning. But some will not–I have a pretty good idea what my own thresholds are!–and even the hobbyist population will dwindle.
So I think there’s little choice but to strive to increase the number of civilians who fly and therefore value & support small airplane GA. Only when demand for this resource is voiced by a larger part of the community will accomodations be made to maintain or improve access to GA in urban areas. There’s no time like the present for this to happen–greater wealth spread amongst a larger proportion of the population than ever before. But GA needs to be more attractive to civilians. It needs to be (or perceived to be) simpler, safer, more enjoyable, and more convenient.
Solutions? They are attainable: simpler, snazzier, faster, more comfortable, more economical and more reliable small planes (Cirrus et al.). More sophisticated and capable, yet simpler to operate navigational aids (Garmin, UPSAT, NASA et al.). Managed fractional ownership for small airplane GA to take the hassle and time-wasting aspects out of ownership (OurPlane et al.). Point-to-point air taxi service at a cost competitive with an airline ticket (Eclipse, maybe Safire et al.). And yes, the FAA likely needs to rethink its certification process. GA really needs these things or it will become ever more an activity on the margins of society.