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In a comment on my previous question about the paucity of South Korean general-aviation aircraft in the 1990s, @Pondlife pointed out (in response to my comparison between the numbers of GA aircraft per capita in South Korea and the United States) that, in their words:

Considering that just over 50% of the world's GA aircraft are in the US perhaps you should be asking why the US has so many, rather than why South Korea has so few? :-)

Why does the U.S. have such an extreme abundance of general-aviation aircraft (210,000 out of the total world population of 416,000 GA aircraft in 2016, according to the provided link), amounting to one GA aircraft for every 1,540 U.S. citizens (a per-capita abundance more than ten times the global average of one GA aircraft per 17,950 humans)?

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    $\begingroup$ Tangential point, but I suspect this is why you hear of more miracle landings in the U.S. than elsewhere in the world: airline pilots there are more likely to be experienced private aviators outside of work; while in many other countries, pilots are only as good as their companies can afford to train them, and structured trainings can only expose you to a limited number of conditions. $\endgroup$ – aerobot Apr 2 at 17:57
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    $\begingroup$ Actually on a per-capita basis, Canada is the most "heavily aviated" country in the world. CANADA: GA feet of 29000, total population 37 million. One aircraft for every 1275 residents. US GA fleet of 211000, total population 327 million. One aircraft for every 1550 residents. Canada is roughly as wealthy, and has even more wide open spaces for its population, so it makes sense in that regard. $\endgroup$ – John K Apr 2 at 18:21
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Combination of two factors

  1. Wealth, particularly long term. The USA is a wealthy country that has been that way since the invention of flight. A large number of general aviation aircraft flying today are quite old 70's and 80's equipment makes up a large portion of the market and even 40's and 50's equipment can be found easily.

  2. Area and population density. Europe and the Asian Pacific are densely populated areas. Cities are close to one another meaning commute times are short and airspace is highly regulated (those airports are close together as well). This makes it harder to fly and leaves less incentive as one is less likely to have a particular route in mind.

The only a few wealthy countries have large amounts of land, Australia, Canada, and the USA.

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  • $\begingroup$ And Australia and Canada have far fewer people than the United States. $\endgroup$ – Sean Apr 2 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ Exactly, together they have less than 1/5th the population of the USA. $\endgroup$ – XRF Apr 2 at 17:06
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    $\begingroup$ Land of the free, that's why. $\endgroup$ – CrossRoads Apr 2 at 17:48
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It is said that airplanes fly because of money and the Bernoulli effect, in that order. So the first cause is simply that there's a lot of wealth in the USA to support what is essentially a rich person's hobby. There are also a lot of airplanes still flying that were built during the boom years of aviation to support interest in the novelty of plane ownership (which is much less a novelty today), which tends to hold down the purchase price of a small plane. In addition, gasoline is much less expensive here than in western Europe so the operating costs will be lower.

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  • $\begingroup$ Is the gasoline price differential actually a thing for avgas as well as for mogas? $\endgroup$ – Sean Apr 2 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Sean If anything, it's worse for avgas than mogas. 100LL is getting expensive even in the US, and it's not available at all in many countries due to lead bans or insufficient demand. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Apr 2 at 17:33
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Part of the reason is also historical. After World War II was over there was a large number of veterans with flying experience returning to a country that suddenly had a massive surplus of small trainer aircraft.

While the US expended huge amounts of resources on World War II, it was largely untouched by the destruction that many other countries suffered. This meant that instead of having to rebuild, the US could focus on growing the economy. Though GA declined in the Great Depression and was suspended during World War II, there had been a similar situation after World War I that had gotten the industry started.

Small aircraft were much simpler then, with a much lower cost to build and certify. This made general aviation relatively much cheaper. Also, while the US certainly had a highway system, the interstate highway system had yet to be built. Commercial aviation service was not nearly at the scale it is today and was still fairly expensive. This made general aviation a much more reasonable option for traveling around a large country.

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