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New boss brings new depth and perspective to GAMA.
In April of this year the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) brought in only its fourth president in its 35-year history- retired Air Force Col. Pete Bunce.
Bunce’s background brings to the organization new depth and perspective – as well as the experiences and skills the post inherently demands. Although he is not the first retired military officer to head the organization- he does bring more hands-on lobbying and congressional experience than the last former officer tapped.
Prior to his retirement- Bunce served as Director of the Air Force Congressional Budget and Appropriation Liaison. In that capacity- he provided Capitol Hill a focal point for Air Force matters associated with the annual Defense Appropriations Bills. Through daily contact with Members of Congress and their staff- he similarly advised Air Force senior staff on committee actions and pending legislation. Bunce’s office also planned and executed worldwide fact-finding missions for Members of Congress and their staff. All GAMA presidents have been pilots in their own right and Bunce is no exception – far from it. Bunce brings the depth and perspective as a 3-000-hour Air Force command pilot on fighter and training aircraft. He also commanded several active flying units during his Air Force career. And Bunce also brings the invaluable perspective of an active general aviation pilot. With commercial- multi-engine and instrument ratings- he has long flown in the same environment as the customers who buy GAMA-members’ products.
Pete Bunce hails from a general aviation background. He grew up in Milwaukee and an aunt ran a small airport. Early in his flying life- Bunce owned a Piper Cub. The 'small piston' end of aviation is- in his words- his 'first love.' He has further general aviation exposure from five years as the Department of Defense Representative to the board of the International Council of Air Shows- the trade association for the air-show community.
Bunce began his Air Force career as a 1979 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. Along the way he continued to expand his education- first when he received a Master's degree in international affairs at Troy State University in 1988; and then in the 1996-1997 term- Bunce was an International Affairs Fellow at Harvard University. Today- Bunce lives with his family in Centreville- Virginia: his wife- Patty; son Marine Lance Cpl. Justin Bunce- 22- who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom; and twin daughters Megan and Ashley- 18.
World Aircraft Sales Magazine caught up with Bunce visiting a member company in Cedar Rapids before he headed to Oshkosh- Wisconsin- for EAA AirVenture- and asked him to give us his time for 10 questions.
WAS: You’re the fourth president of GAMA in its 35 years of existence but your background is balanced more between military and general aviation and your adult career to date is in the military. Being a fresh face in the industry as well as the organization- do you see anything about GAMA that warrants a fresh approach?
PB: I don’t know if a fresh approach is the right way to describe it. I’ve come to know my predecessor Ed Bolen quite well and we’re already very closely working together. He’s been very helpful in getting me up to speed. And Ed Stimpson is an icon in the aviation industry who has been very generous in sharing history and information.
I originally come from the piston end of aviation- but one thing I think I do bring from my military fighter pilot background is experience in the use of modern avionics systems that bring tremendous information to the cockpit. I hope I can help the industry with that background.
Leveraging this technology can help us build ATC system capacity- which is absolutely critical for our future. But how we do that is important in terms of training people in the use of cockpit technology to maximize situational awareness.
WAS: How do you see general aviation’s position with the public and public officials in relation to the position of commercial and military aviation?
PB: General aviation is the most diverse part of aviation and an area where the public can easily get both involved and excited. More and more people are also recognizing the utility that general aviation provides for them both in their personal life and for business.
However- at the same time we face segments of the public who have a negative opinion about 'small aircraft'. We often find that someone’s negative opinion is the result of not understanding that general aviation is an important part of both the U.S. economy and our modern society. They have flown on commercial aircraft- but never had the opportunity to experience the joy of flight in a piston- turboprop or business jet.
As association representatives- one of our important tasks is to educate the general public and government officials about our industry and how it fits in with the world’s air transportation system.
WAS: What do you view as the biggest challenges looming for general aviation in the next decade?
PB: Overcoming the sometimes negative perception of private aviation by some segments of the public; both from a safety and a security perspective. In safety- general aviation manufacturers have made great strides over the past several years to make our products more user friendly and to dramatically increase a pilot’s ability to navigate- communicate- and know what is around and ahead of him or her.
We are still dealing with close to 550 fatalities in GA annually. Compared to other transportation modes those are great statistics. But any life lost is one too many. We need to continue to work across the community and with the government to improve the margin of safety. Security remains an ever present issue. Government restrictions such as those around Washington and Berlin have a specific- intended purpose- but – if restrictions like these were to proliferate nationwide they would be a great impediment to air transportation because they restrict access to many airports. GAMA believes a risk-based approach to security is the right answer to long-term work on aviation security issues.
We are also seeing a resurgence of litigation against manufacturers and their suppliers. More and more plaintiffs issue blanket lawsuits to multiple manufacturers after an accident in the hope that they will settle and not choose to go to court. In most cases the company product was not even a factor in the accident and in some it was not even aboard the airplanes. This is hurting our industry and GAMA believes that additional legal reform will be important for the future health of the general aviation industry. Right now- some companies are choosing to leave the industry or in some cases are reluctant to bring new- safer products to market due to their inability to make a business case that involves unmanageable liability.
WAS: What do you consider general aviation’s best asset in meeting these challenges?
PB: As an industry we are known for working proactively and in partnership with federal agencies. As an industry we have numerous safety programs that deal with everything from improving the process used for certifying airplanes to the continuing education of pilots. Both the development and implementation of these programs rely on our close partnership with FAA and EASA.
We see similar relationships developing with the agencies that regulate security. As an example- early on the TSA formed a government-industry group that looked at security at general aviation airports building on a number of existing industry initiatives.
WAS: What do you consider the most difficult part of meeting these challenges?
PB: The general public’s perception of the industry. Many do not understand general aviation and in some cases they are afraid of small planes. Public education will continue to be a key ingredient in gaining public acceptance. Also- the high end of business aviation is occasionally subject to a 'privileged few' image making it a target of a number of groups. What is often not understood is that two-thirds of the hours flown in general aviation is for the furtherance of business. As an industry- we need to work to get that message out to the general public so that they better understand the importance of general aviation to the economy.
WAS: For the large part- GAMA members and their customers concur on most issues concerning general aviation. On what issues do the manufacturing and user communities diverge?
PB: General aviation is a close-knit industry and we do recognize the truth in [Benjamin] Franklin’s statement; 'We must… all hang together or… we shall all hang separately.' Over the years we have found numerous issues to rally industry wide support around including things like GARA [General Aviation Revitalization Act] and funding for the FAA. Since GAMA makes products for a cross-section of the market- we are comfortable in saying that we consider the interest of all of general aviation including pilots- suppliers- and airports. They have found that we work well with most segments of the industry. While we have disagreements within the industry- I have found that there are many more issues that bind us together than try to pull us apart.
WAS: Does the general aviation manufacturing community face any issues on which the community could be more helpful?
PB: I think we have a great relationship with our user community- as represented by great associations such as NBAA and NATA or AOPA and EAA. We receive great feedback from our users. We also have a good relationship with some of the other groups like the AEA (Aircraft Electronics Association) and HAI (Helicopter Association International).
Certainly- the more feedback we get the better off we are. There’s a great synergism that comes from us working together with all these groups as we debate issues such as FAA reauthorization. So I think we’re doing pretty well here already.
WAS: How has GAMA’s expansion to overseas members helped the association in its work?
PB: With our current membership we can provide a single voice for the worldwide GA manufacturing community- which is something that both U.S. regulators and international organizations such as EASA and ICAO find beneficial. The FAA can come to GAMA and ask us to proactively address issues by working them out as an industry and develop de-facto worldwide standards in areas such as certification and operations. At the same time- our international membership enables us to truly work toward a level playing field internationally. Anything that we can standardize around the world helps reduce costs.
WAS: In its 103 years- aviation has continued to expand in opposite directions. At the top end- the business aviation community looks ahead to the prospect of SSBJs (Super Sonic Business Jet) further shrinking the world. At the opposite end- the general pilot population begins to embrace light-sport aircraft for more casual flying. And in between government and industry are advancing technologies supporting the Next General Air Transportation System (or NGATS)- which holds promise to expand the practical use- access and appeal to general aviation. Where do you see general aviation when the time comes for you to put down your wings?
PB: The trend is toward more utility for general aviation aircraft that were at one time considered more in the recreational category. With the improved safety features- our manufacturers are building into their aircraft and with the quantum leaps in avionics technology you have higher confidence in the reliability of general aviation.
You’re going to use airplanes more often to travel both from point A to Point B for pleasure or business. Before- we were so much at the mercy of long range weather forecasting- with more limitations on speed and range and it made utility use of a personal airplane less reliable. There’s always going to be an element of recreational flying – and thankfully the government adopted Light Sport Aircraft. You’ll see more use of small airplanes for business and personal travel. And the increase in different price points makes aviation more accessible and more attractive to a lot of our mobile society. Light Sport opens up recreational flying at one end and the VLJ opens up jet aviation at a totally new price point.
The increase in reliability also makes the airplane more attractive as it helps improve the safety of instrument flight. It all goes toward making the airplane a more useful tool for utility travel- and I see that as a market driver.
WAS: Personally- what are you flying these days and how do you use general aviation for your own travel?
PB: Well- I’m trying to get some aerobatic certification because I’m a partner in a Super Decathlon. I’m also trying to get up to speed on the airspace around Washington- D.C. and I’m flying in some of our members’ aircraft.