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Ten Questions for Pete Bunce Reauthorization- pilot numbers and family flying    Pete Bunce has long since stopped being “the new guy” running the General Aviation Manufacturers Association thanks to the way in which he’s lead the assembly of companies supplying the general aviation community.    In his two years as president- Bunce has not only expanded GAMA’s collaborative efforts with other aviation groups- he’s also helmed the association as it increased its ...

Dave Higdon   |   1st June 2007
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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Ten Questions for Pete Bunce

Reauthorization- pilot numbers and family flying

   Pete Bunce has long since stopped being “the new guy” running the General Aviation Manufacturers Association thanks to the way in which he’s lead the assembly of companies supplying the general aviation community.

   In his two years as president- Bunce has not only expanded GAMA’s collaborative efforts with other aviation groups- he’s also helmed the association as it increased its presence beyond U.S. shores. But at no time has GAMA backed off or slowed down in its primary mission- representing the myriad manufacturers that make up its membership – and most of the general aviation business base.

   Much of his time in grade has overlapped with the advance run-up to the FAA reauthorization proposal floated in February – to the united opposition of general aviation interests- to mention only the obvious – and he’s kept this fight squarely in his sights.

   At the same time- GAMA’s members seem to be enjoying a surge in their businesses as represented by strong sales of private aircraft across the board. While piston sales show no signs of returning to the heady days of three decades ago – back when investment-tax credits helped spur years of five-digit factory deliveries – piston sales have been part of a rebound that’s also shown up in the sales of turboprops and business jets.

   Last year GAMA members set records for jets and total billings. Things look good for continued growth over most of the next 10 years- according to virtually all forecasts. But some grey skies could pass- some in the form of a shrinking pilot population- some in the onerous nature of the FAA reauthorization proposal and planned- but as-yet undefined- security proposals for business aviation.

   With an agenda already booked with events like EBACE- Oshkosh and the NBAA convention- we caught up with Bunce just ahead of the summer rush season for a World Aircraft Sales Magazine ‘Ten Questions Interview’.

WAS: Firstly- GAMA changed its face considerably by opening membership to non-domestic companies. Can you enlighten us on how else beyond expanding its membership GAMA is applying itself to international issues and the global expansion of general aviation?

Bunce: As you point out- GAMA today is very much an international trade association; of our 18 airframe manufacturers- seven are non-US manufacturers based in Europe- Canada and Brazil. Of our eight engine manufacturers- two are non-US. and two others are subsidiaries of non-U.S. firms- or have their manufacturing facilities outside the US.
   GAMA has recognized the growing importance to its membership of the international marketplace and has stepped up its international activities and presence. We have hired an experienced consultant to leverage our presence in the all-important European market- where the European Union (EU) is consolidating its authority over all aspects of aviation for its 27 member states. 
   GAMA staff members are also frequent participants in meetings with the EU in Brussels and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal. We continue to work with our member companies and sister organizations around the world- particularly in China and India- to ensure that as those two huge emerging markets grow- general aviation is able to claim its rightful place as an integral part of their developing aviation systems.
   China and India- in particular- represent huge opportunities and challenges in seemingly equal measure. We are strengthening our relationships with civil aviation authorities and other stakeholders in both countries to urge the removal of trade- fiscal and technical barriers to the importation and operation of general aviation aircraft. There are many obstacles to overcome- including significant infrastructure deficiencies which will take time and much investment to overcome- but we believe we are making progress and are confident about the long term viability and prospects for GA in China and India.

WAS: Along the same lines GAMA’s collective numbers and the numbers of many individual members set new records for turbine deliveries and total billings last year. 2007 seems to be off to an equally strong start. How much of this success is due to growth in general aviation outside North America?

Bunce: Aviation manufacturing is a global industry and the general aviation market is increasingly global in nature.
   Let me give you an illustration: traditionally- the North America market has accounted for approximately 75 percent of business jet deliveries annually. A few years ago- however- we noticed a substantial shift towards increasing worldwide sales. While the North America market remains strong at 400 to 500 jets a year- markets outside North America are for the first time approaching half of company shipments. The record-breaking growth in the business jet segment is being driven by growth outside North America.
   Worldwide corporate profitability- improved transportation infrastructure- aircraft ownership programs- and limitations of airline service are all factors that will continue to affect the growth of general aviation around the world- and especially in Europe.

WAS: The weakest aspect of GAMA’s First Quarter numbers seemed to be the relatively flat numbers for piston aircraft deliveries. Notable but not alarming (see GAMA Shipment Analysis on p68). Perhaps more alarming is the continuing decline in student-pilot starts and the pilot population overall.
   Are GAMA members planning to renew outreach efforts with something like those in the past that helped grow pilot ranks and- thus- the ranks of customers? And if not- should they be- for the good of their own businesses?

Bunce: Despite the full order books and the positive shipment and billings figures- GAMA is closely monitoring the potential impact that a number of challenges could have on the industry’s continued competitiveness and vitality.
   While you hear most about funding debates and federal policies- you have asked about another looming issue that GAMA is intensely focused on: maintaining a qualified- steady workforce. Training and attracting a skilled workforce will be critical to maintaining the industry’s worldwide competitiveness in the coming decade.
   Attracting pilots- engineers- and mechanics is an issue that GAMA continues to work on with our member companies. It is critical that we continue to encourage awareness in our schools and universities of the tremendous career opportunities in aviation. GAMA will also continue to work in concert with our sister GA associations on projects like Be-A-Pilot- and we are very supportive of programs such as AOPA’s Project Pilot and EAA's Young Eagles.

WAS: Fewer pilots- fewer prospective customers for planemakers- FBOs- flight schools- and fewer candidates for the flying jobs that have helped support the surge in corporate aircraft sales. Is there a point at which the decline in the pilot population begins to be an alarm bell signaling the end of growth for GAMA sales- and a factor in filling the cockpits of all those business jets GAMA members predict they’ll be selling in the next decade?

Bunce: As industry determined before launching the Be-A-Pilot program- after the economy- the main driver for piston airplane sales is student starts.
   The Be-A-Pilot program was able to halt the decline and keep student pilot levels stable for the past decade. The drop in student pilots as well as private pilots in 2006 is quite concerning and as an industry we need to work to get more people interested in flying recreationally and for business.
   With developments in cockpit technologies- we expect to attract more young people who have grown up in the digital age. Similarly- the new piston engine airplane introductions continue to provide excitement in the market place. In fact- there will be several new models introduced this year. And- let's not forget about the light sport aircraft industry- which- in 2006- showed that it got a foothold as an important segment of the GA industry.

WAS: You just mentioned another area of growth in recent years- the early success of the Light Sport Aircraft category. According to the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association- 50 models have received approval under ASTM’s consensus standards and more than 1-000 have been delivered – in just two years. And Cessna is considering entry into the market.
   Do you see any potential for GAMA and LAMA to join forces in an effort to expand the pilot population for the benefits that would accrue to members of both groups?

Bunce: GAMA is well known around Washington for working with all segments of the aviation community and this is also true for the light sport aircraft manufacturing industry. This new segment is providing a less expensive point for both aircraft acquisition and learning how to fly- which will expand the overall size of the entire general aviation industry.
   GAMA is very supportive of the light sport segment and we will continue to work toward common goals with the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association (LAMA) and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA).

WAS: From GAMA’s perspective- give us an update on the ongoing efforts by the FAA and the Air Transport Association to revise how the FAA is funded- and how the ATS is overseen.

Bunce: I need to emphasize that we are still in the early stages of this ballgame. The Senate proposal has just come out- and as you know- we like much of it- particularly in strengthening many elements of NextGen.
   We strongly oppose the implementation of any type of user fee or surcharge and will work hard to inform Congress about the damage user fees would do to our industry. At the same time- we must also emphasize to lawmakers that any new funding for the FAA should come via the established and efficient system of aviation excise taxes.
   One thing is clear: Thanks to the combined efforts of the GA community- we have been successful in proving to the US Congress the shortcomings in the FAA’s proposal. Having the debate now center on the Senate proposal and not on the original FAA proposed funding scheme is a huge win for everyone. We must insure that the industry remains united against new user fees and is focused on maintaining the current funding mechanism that has worked for over three decades.

WAS: If you could create a reauthorization bill to the liking of GAMA members- one that takes into account the funding needs of an ATS system and infrastructure already in motion- how would that system and funding structure look?

Bunce: I would reiterate what we have been saying since the FAA kicked off the debate on reauthorization over two years ago. We need a concrete FAA modernization plan with timetables- deliverables- and annual costs.
   We then need to have industry support this plan and work with Congress to first adjust the General Fund contribution and then the current aviation excise taxes to pay for it in the years ahead.
   When I make this argument for reauthorization before members of Congress- I get strong support. We need the entire aerospace industry to work together on modernization and I believe Congress will force collaboration upon us because it has been missing since the FAA kicked off this debate with a focus on a new funding mechanism and not modernization.

WAS: Speaking of ATS and modernization- since the first of the year- the FAA has moved forward with more steps to begin the implementation of ADS-B as the foundation for the Next Generation Air Traffic System. How are GAMA and its members preparing for the coming implementation of ADS-B and NGATS that’s planned for the next five years?

Bunce: GAMA and our members are actively working to drive the FAA modernization program- including efforts within the NextGen process and near term projects like ADS-B.
   The FAA still has work to do when it comes to the ADS-B program- but industry is in strong agreement that ADS-B surveillance will be the first building block of the future system. Our members are pushing hard for the FAA to work with industry to define not only the plan for ADS-B surveillance implementation- but also the definition of the on-board aircraft equipment and how ADS-B will interact with other NextGen technologies and systems.
   A comprehensive modernization plan is still lacking and as a community we need to ensure that our representatives in government are pushing the FAA to work with industry to define the path toward our future airspace system.

WAS: Along with FAA Reauthorization- aviation security is another significant issue on the agenda of this Congress. Some lawmakers still seem to feel that general aviation should be treated proportionately to its threat – while other still argue for special screenings for passengers of corporate and charter aircraft. What would GAMA’s solution be for assuring the security of general aviation aircraft and airports?

Bunce: Security continues to generate much attention and scrutiny by members of Congress. When a member raises this issue- the general aviation community has worked together to get the facts on the table. When we discuss actual risk and threat- we can work with anyone.
   The problem we see from time to time are some politicians and the media using general aviation as a way to garner attention towards their agenda and not towards the actual risk or threat. Once the facts are known- we have been able to have rational discussions.
   I also have to thank the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in this area. They have been strong advocates of fact-based analysis and risk- and as such- have been good partners in promoting the changes made to GA security since 9-11 and helping our industry push back on GA security initiatives aimed at political expediency instead of actual risk.

WAS: What would be the profile of the ideal airplane for Pete Bunce and family- and how would they be using it?

Bunce: My family is happy when I’m happy- and if I can fly upside down- either fast or slow- I always have a big smile on my face that takes hours to wear off.

WAS: Thank you for your time Pete!

Pete Bunce and the rest of his staff can be contacted through GAMA offices in Washington- D.C. General Aviation Manufacturers Association 1400 K Street NW- Suite 801- Washington D.C. Tel: +1 202 393 1500

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