Automobiles and airplanes were both inventions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Both of these personal transportation alternatives cost about the same when they first came out but the public never embraced the airplane like they did the automobile. The growth in auto sales was meteoric, while airplanes (excuse the pun) just never got off the ground. Today the average production volume of a private airplane is less than 40 units in a year, with one airplane produced for every 4,500 cars – that’s more cars made every hour than airplanes made in two years!
The great gift of automobiles is that they give us the power to travel wherever we want, door to door, whenever we choose. Even though they are comparatively slow and subject to our increasing traffic congestion, they still offer personal freedom and convenience – they are relevant to our lives – they get us where we want to go.
The great gift of airplanes is that they allow us to travel quickly from airfield to airfield. Unfortunately, airfields are seldom where we want to go and so we invariably need ground transportation at both ends of our journey. The trouble is that, even though there are more than 5000 public use airfields in the USA, 95% of these airfields have no ground transportation or rental car services. The few airfields that do have such services are the ones we generally want to avoid because they are the most congested – both on the ground and in the air. Being so restricted in our choice of airfields also means there is a greater likelihood of needing to drive further at both ends of the journey. Even if it is possible to arrange ground transportation, there is stress involved in relying on other people, making the arrangements, and making the connections. Lastly, parking and tieing down the airplane, then transferring oneself and belongings, adds another time-consuming ‘hassle’ to the procedure.
These factors combine to make private aviation a quirky rich mans sport, not a serious method of travel, and explains why there are more cars sold every hour than planes sold in a whole year!
One of the greatest ‘false hopes’ of the airplane industry is that sales would soar if only airplanes could be made less expensively. There are many factors that effect the price of something, complexity, for instance, or a requirement for exacting engineering standards. The one factor that is overwhelmingly important, however, is production volume. For something to become affordable it must be made in large quantities. All new technologies are very expensive at first but, if successful, they attract sufficient buyers to bring the production volume up and the costs down. Every successful technology has followed the same pattern, including bicycles, telephones, automobiles, computers, cell phones and lap top computers. However, this has not happened with private aviation in 100 years, and airplanes are still ‘hand made’ in minute quantities. Simply put, private airplanes are expensive because very few people have any real use for them.