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Celebrating 50 Years:

AEA meets new challenges and grows to help members grow.

Few segments of the aviation community have seen more technological change than the 1-300-plus members of the Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA). With a membership that includes repair stations- avionics shops- electrical suppliers- instrument facilities- avionics manufacturers- electronics distributors and test-gear makers- AEA has worked toward its international memberships’ success in an environment of rapid technology advances.

At the same time that its members have had to adapt to electronic flight instruments- multifunction displays- a plethora of GPS advances and new technologies such as enhanced and synthetic vision and all-digital flight-control systems- AEA has also kept one eye on the political and regulatory machinations of the Federal Aviation Administration as well as international regulatory agencies.

Not easy tasks- these divergent activities- but tasks the AEA handles with aplomb - albeit not in a fashion typical of an aviation trade association. The bulk of aviation “alphabet-soup” organizations call the Washington- D.C. area home and use regional staff to connect to their far-flung members. Conversely- AEA has its home in Independence- Missouri- in the heartland of the country – and uses remotely located staff to house its Washington office. Smart from both a fiscal and political perspective- this is only one way in which AEA and its staff successfully represent their members.

Under the leadership of AEA president Paula Derks- the association has grown its educational opportunities- its annual trade show and its advocacy for its membership – no small feat in the rapidly advancing technological world its members work.

Recently the AEA has been advising its members on the potential impact of a far-reaching rewriting of FAR 145 recently proposed by the Federal Aviation Administration. Derks and her staff have also been hard at work preparing for the AEA’s 50th Annual Convention and Trade show that runs during the last three days of March in Reno- Nevada. And the AEA has also been digesting the potential impact of the Fiscal Year 2008 budget proposal released by the White House- February 5- should the new user fees and higher taxes envisioned become reality.

To say the least- these are dynamic- challenging times for everyone in the avionics industry – and nowhere less so than at the AEA. It’s against this background that we asked Derks to participate in a World Aircraft Sales Magazine ‘Ten Questions Interview’ a few weeks ahead of the upcoming AEA convention.

WAS: The last decade has brought enormous changes in the equipment and technologies employed in aviation- in particular in general aviation cockpits. How have these changes challenged your member companies to keep pace?

Derks: No doubt the emergence of state-of-the-art avionics systems has kept our members busy over the last several years. Not only has the introduction of new products kept both the manufacturers and the repair stations hard at work with engineering- certification- and installation- but regulatory mandates have been thrown in the mix- such as TAWS and RVSM. It’s hard to complain about all the challenges of keeping pace with the demand- though- when your repair station hangar is full of planes waiting to be outfitted with those great new innovations.

WAS: Does the prospect of even further changes in required technology – such as the pending proposal to make ADS-B mandatory by 2020 – help or hurt your members’ future prospects?

Derks: Well- my first response is- ‘bring it on’. Of course- our industry will welcome that business. But- with the promise of guaranteed business for the manufacturers and the repair stations- come the frustrations of meeting regulatory requirements- meeting installation dates- and finding enough qualified technicians to perform all of the required installations.

WAS: The White House recently distributed a budget proposal for Fiscal 2008 that reveals plans to seek fundamental changes in how the FAA and ATC are financed with a new regimen of user fees and greatly increased fuel taxes- as well as a shift in FAA oversight away from Congress. What is AEA’s position on these dramatic changes?

Derks: AEA joins with our sister associations such as AOPA- GAMA- NATA and NBAA- to fight this proposal of funding our air transportation system with a user fees scheme. Quite simply- the current system is in no way broken; in fact- the FAA’s Airport and Airways Trust Fund currently has a $2 billion surplus with government projections of more than a $4 billion surplus by 2011. Fighting this proposal will be no easy task; it will take many voices of opposition to reach Congress. At our upcoming convention the end of March- AEA will be moderating a user fee panel with guest speakers including Ed Bolen- president of NBAA; and Pete Bunce- president of GAMA.

WAS: The NPRM to re-write FAR 145 generated a lot of reaction from several corners of the aviation community- few of them very positive. What does AEA see as the impact if the changes are adopted as the NPRM proposes?

Derks: While the motivation of this proposal was well intended- the application of it will be trying at best. The FAA is proposing a rewrite of the ratings system which is a clean-sheet approach of making the system more flexible for the fast-paced technology changes being experienced by the aviation industry in general- and avionics industry specifically.
While the concept of a new rating system is good- the implementation of it will be burdensome and costly for the majority of our members.
Since 2003- repair stations have had to rewrite their repair station manuals and quality manuals. Many still have not been returned from their Certificate Holding District Office. Add to that the 2006 implementation of the repair station training program. Now the FAA is proposing a rule change that will require the repair station’s manual- quality manual- and training program to be revised.
Each repair station will be required to generate a capability list for each article it works on. There will be no more ‘Class Ratings’ as we currently know them. Every repair station will be affected by this. Every aircraft-rated repair station must be type rated. 
The FAA is proposing to eliminate the current four classes and replace them with a single aircraft rating. And their capability lists will be limited to the specifically authorized aircraft types. Plus- the repair station would have to petition to the FSDO to amend their operations specification to add the “aircraft type” before the repair station could perform any maintenance. AEA has submitted detailed comments on this NPRM- as well as encouraged our members to do the same.

WAS: On a similar note- what would be the ideal outcome from AEA’s perspective on the FAR 65 NPRM to increase IA renewal cycles to two years – two year renewal cycles for FAR 145 repair stations?

Derks: AEA has submitted comments to the FAA on this NPRM by stating we are in agreement with the extension of a two-year renewal cycle for IAs. But- quite frankly- AEA is perplexed on why the FAA regulates return-to-service differently between IAs and repair stations.
In our comments approving of the FAA’s proposed two-Year Renewal for IAs- we did ask a simple question: Why should a Part 145 business with a quality system- a reviewed and accepted business plan- and an approved employee training program be regulated when 60-000 IAs without a quality system- a reviewed and accepted business plan- and an approved employee training program have unlimited authority for return-to-service of aircraft- engines and accessories?

WAS: A major thrust of AEA is in education for its members; Do the technological advances make it more difficult for AEA to keep pace with its training offerings?

Derks: Actually- I take great pride in the training opportunities my training staff has offered and is continually developing for our membership. Recognizing the need of high-quality- low-cost training for our members- several years ago we began creating more and more training opportunities at our regional meetings- our annual convention- and through a CD-based training library available exclusively to AEA members free of charge.
We work closely with our associate members—the OEMs—to provide technical training on new products as they are introduced to the industry. Nearly all of our training programs are recognized by the FAA and many are accepted for IA training requirements. We also have established our own training recognition program that honors members pursuing a certain amount of training— ‘the AEA Training Excellence Award’.

WAS: Many of the technological advances coming into aircraft cockpits seem to lend themselves more to fixing with Line Replaceable Units less subject to shop repair. If this is true- from where does the modern shop get business to replace the repair work that’s going away?

Derks: That concept certainly is true and becoming more and more apparent as new aircraft come off the assembly line fully outfitted with the latest systems designed to be line replaceable. As an organization we are concerned about this change in store for our repair station members.
The livelihood of some of our smaller shops is at stake and we realize that. Through closer communication and cooperation with the avionics and airframe manufacturers- AEA hopes to explore new business opportunities for this lost segment of business. There is no easy answer.

WAS: Are avionics shops finding it difficult to meet their needs for qualified technicians?

Derks: The demand for a skilled avionics technician certainly continues to challenge our industry. AEA has a strong academic membership and we consistently work with them to establish a pipeline between the schools and our industry.
We are a partner with the National Center for Aircraft Technician Training (NCATT)- a consortium of industry schools and businesses focused on developing an industry standard for training and certifying aircraft technicians- a curriculum that supports the national standards- an industry developed and recognized certification program for aircraft and aerospace technicians- and an accreditation for programs meeting industry established standards.

WAS: Orders and deliveries of new aircraft continued to grow last year and appears headed for another few years of expansion. Are your members benefiting from this boom?

Derks: Well- we see it as the “trickle-down” effect: our members will benefit from these new aircraft sales down the road. Since most of these new aircraft are fully equipped when delivered to their owner- it may take a while for our repair stations to have them parked in their hangars for repair and maintenance. However- that day will arrive and- of course- we will welcome it.

WAS: Finally- what do you expect to be the foremost topic of conversation among AEA members when they come together for the association’s 50th annual convention in late March?

Derks: No doubt- three issues: the Part 145 rewrite- user fees- and- of course- celebrating AEA’s 50-Year anniversary! Our tag line is: ‘Come for the training… Indulge in the birthday cake!’

WAS: We hope you have AEA’s best convention ever. And thanks for your time!

You can contact Paula and her staff at AEA’s headquarters based at: 4217 S. Hocker- Independence- MO 64056; Tel: +1 816 373 6565; Fax: +1 816 478 3100; Email: info@aea.net; Website: www.aea.net


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