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Looking up from the bottom of a trough is seldom comfortable - sometimes it’s painful. Down at the bottom it’s difficult to glimpse the way ahead. In many ways- that trough is exactly where the general aviation community sits today. That seems like a good thing; it feels like aviation business is no longer on a downhill slope descending toward an unknown bottom. Now we essentially know the bottom – or the “lower plateau-” in the words of some- and we’re waiting to begin the climb back up.

Dave Higdon   |   1st July 2010
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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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Recovery- Re-authorization- Renewal- Repeat:
GAMA working today’s continuing challenges.

Looking up from the bottom of a trough is seldom comfortable - sometimes it’s painful. Down at the bottom it’s difficult to glimpse the way ahead. In many ways- that trough is exactly where the general aviation community sits today. That seems like a good thing; it feels like aviation business is no longer on a downhill slope descending toward an unknown bottom. Now we essentially know the bottom – or the “lower plateau-” in the words of some- and we’re waiting to begin the climb back up.

Questions like “Up to what?” or “How high will things go?” remain frustratingly unanswerable- however. It’s not that no one floated their own ideas- observations- outlooks and opinions. It’s just that interpolations and interpretations vary on the sum meaning of the differing future-scene products put forth by aviation analysts- consultants and sundry other industry sages and seers.

Read closely enough and you may detect hints of optimism in some of the more-pessimistic outlooks- and hints of pessimism within some of the more-optimistic. Much of what helped precipitate a deep plunge in aviation business no longer exists- or at worst- influences the community as they did a couple of years back.

Gone- for example- are the agonizing petroleum pains of two years ago; domestic-market importance gave way to new growth in international markets; the Federal Aviation Administration seems closer than ever to full reauthorization – but is still in question. The FAA’s final ADS-B/NextGen equipage rule at last emerged from its 90-day review at the White House Office of Management and Budget as of this writing. Typically of the final hurdle before final publication of new regulations- it’s impossible to expect that the final rule will actually be the final word on the issue.

The Environmental Protection Agency wants to wean the part of general aviation still dependent on 100-octane Low-Lead gasoline from its tetraethyl lead dependence – but onto what still posses a puzzle.

The Transportation Security Administration – this year’s nominee for going longest as a leaderless agency – at least- at last- employs a general aviation specialist actually familiar with and knowledgeable about general aviation. But the nature and final form of TSA’s previous- universally maligned proposal for securing large aircraft remains in limbo while the agency awaits a confirmed administrator.

And with attention already on a series of widely watched- broadly debated advances in the source and production of alternative fuel- the public mood to divert away from petroleum and on to more carbon-neutral fuels is as high as ever thanks to a maritime environmental disaster still unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico at the time of print.

While this list reads much like an inventory of mostly U.S.-centric issues- many of them have close parallels in the rest of the world – Europe- in particular- but pretty much everywhere with one issue or another. Representing and responding to these political and regulatory challenges for the world’s private aviation suppliers falls to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) - and coordinating GAMA’s efforts falls to Pete Bunce- president of the association.

World Aircraft Sales Magazine sat down with Bunce a couple of months after he celebrated his fifth anniversary with the association (in April). An acknowledged expert influence within a Washington-world where lobbyists and trade association staff may bring more political credentials than practical- Bunce came to GAMA in 2005 after closing out a 26-year career in the U.S. Air Force.

Bunce’s Air Force career extended beyond the cockpits of the A-10 and F-15 combat aircraft he flew- and saw him serve the service as Director of the Air Force Congressional Budget and Appropriations Liaison. Positions of this nature provide an excellent place to learn the intricacies of legislating and the delicacies of working between Congress and an executive-branch agency. Bunce also brings an aviator’s perspective to his work as a multi-engine rated- landand seaplane pilot with an instrument rating and nearly 6-000 flight hours.

There was plenty new and old to tap when we met with Bunce for another Ten Questions Interview: to modify a sentence from our last interview back in 2009- Bunce continues to work in a challenging environment...

WAS: What does final publication of the FAA’s so-called ADS-B rule mean for the planemakers and avionics suppliers? Were there any surprises?

Bunce: Publication of the final rule governing the deployment of Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) Out avionics for operation provides the technical requirements required by manufacturers to develop and integrate this equipment into new and used aircraft.

GAMA was very pleased that the rule took into consideration the recommendations submitted by industry in 2008 through the ADS-B ARC Task 2 report. The FAA worked cooperatively with industry to address over 1-300 comments.

This rule demonstrates the best in successful collaboration between the FAA and industry. This cooperation is essential as we look to deploy other components of the NextGen program.

WAS: The FAA’s renewed emphasis on promoting the benefits of NextGen generated its own ripples of debate- some questioning whether any real benefit exist for operators… What do GAMA and its members see as potential benefits from NextGen?

Further- now that the final rule requirements for ADS-B Out are known- will planemakers and avionics makers begin to make ADS-B-compliant equipment standard?

Bunce: NextGen will provide much-needed capacity- environmental and efficiency benefits. As previously mentioned- GAMA is very pleased that the rule requirements have been established by the FAA; however- manufacturers will not begin to make the actual equipment until the demand from customers materializes.

GAMA is a great supporter of a strong government-industry partnership in order to incentivize equipage of aircraft with the ADS-B technology. This is essential in order to achieve the NextGen capacity- environmental and efficiency benefits at an earlier date.

Furthermore- we support an increase in the deployment of ADS-B ground stations- thereby allowing for an expanded network of airports that can benefit from having this vital capability.

WAS: The recent ripple of news about the EPA’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on eliminating lead from aviation fuel seems to have precipitated a boost in interest in available alternatives. And GAMA is a member of a group working toward a solution. Does GAMA or the working group see any real promise in some of the multiple alternatives being discussed and researched: 94UL- Swiftfuel- G100UL – or some other alternative?

Bunce: Operator- manufacturer and petroleum associations have formed a coalition to work together and develop a process to reduce lead emissions from GA aircraft- balancing environmental benefit with aviation safety- technical feasibility and impact upon the GA industry. The group wants to ensure that a stable aviation fuel supply exists in the near term while the long term solution is identified- certified- and implemented. At this stage- all potential solutions- including lower octane fuels- higher octane candidates- and chemical or bio additives- remain as possible options.

Currently- ultra-low-lead fuel is being considered as a possible near-term interim solution. This will provide aircraft and engine manufacturers’ time to further assess the technical- economic- safety and performance impacts associated with the possibility of moving to an unleaded fuel in the long term.

The aviation and petroleum industries have been working diligently for two decades to develop a seamless- high-octane replacement unleaded avgas that meets the requirements of the entire GA fleet. To date- no such fuel has been proven to be available or viable- but there are some potential alternatives currently in development that hold promise. The collaborative program being undertaken by this group will evaluate the body of research that has been conducted over the past twenty years and will further evaluate the work currently being performed in order to arrive at the best possible solution.

WAS: Even though the fuel-price extremes of 2008 now seem more of a bad nightmare than pressing problem- issues remain concerning price volatility- availability and the security of petroleum sources from which both Jet A and avgas are distilled. Does GAMA see any real promise in the many jet fuel alternatives being tested by air carriers- the Defense Department and GA aircraft and engine makers as a path to free general aviation from petroleum-based fuels and- at the same time- put operators on a good basis for meeting future carbon-emission rules?

Bunce: The business aviation community has developed an aggressive program to further improve its excellent environmental record. In fact- we have committed to three specific targets:

1. Carbon-neutral growth by 2020;
2. An improvement in fuel efficiency of an average of 2% per year from today until 2020; and
3. A reduction in total CO2 emissions of 50% by 2050 relative to 2005.

One of the ways in which we plan to achieve these objectives is through the development and deployment of commercially viable- sustainable alternative aviation fuels. Based on current research and the encouraging results already demonstrated in flight- business aviation anticipates a CO2 life cycle reduction of 40% in absolute terms from biofuels in 2050. GAMA believes that this is definitely an area that holds huge promise for significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

On the piston side- our work in conjunction with our sister associations is focused upon identifying an alternative to leaded avgas. The new fuel must have a distribution and pricing model that is similar to what we have with 100LL today. As an industry- we cannot find ourselves at the end of this process with a boutique fuel that is unaffordable.

WAS: Members of Congress have sounded an optimistic note about getting FAA reauthorization on the President’s desk by Independence Day- but conference committee leaks seem pointed the opposite way: What benefits go unrealized from funding the FAA through CRs? What programs stand to most benefit- in your view from actual reauthorization and a real budget?

Bunce: The FAA’s inability to complete long-term planning and lack of clear direction are the greatest burdens created by numerous continuing resolutions. The whole of FAA benefits from clear direction provided by Congress. In this specific reauthorization- it will provide a clearer path forward for NextGen. The Airport Improvement Program also stands to benefit from stable funding.

WAS: Since his appointment last year- the performance of Brian Delauter as the permanent head of the TSA’s general aviation division has tended toward the warm-and-fuzzy – particularly in contrast with the agency’s relationship with GA before. Concerns remain- though- regarding the TSA’s lack of a permanent administrator – Delauter’s boss.

What do you see the impact being on TSA and GA from the lack of a confirmed head? Does the issue go beyond the Large Aircraft Security Program – something Delauter seems to have people feeling will be infinitely better accepted than the disastrous proposal of 2008?

Bunce: A permanent leader appointed by the Obama administration and confirmed by Congress is an important component in moving TSA’s priorities forward- including completion of the Large Aircraft Security

Program (LASP) and foreign repair station security rules. The TSA is also working on a number of longer-term changes beyond the LASP that will address general aviation security and will benefit from stable leadership. The appointee- John Pistole- concluded his confirmation hearing on June 10. We’ve been closely watching the confirmation process play out.

Brian Delauter has brought invaluable knowledge of the GA industry to the agency and has aggressively worked on resolving a number of long-standing issues that stemmed from the attacks of September 11- 2001. We look forward to continued partnership with the TSA and working with a newly-appointed leader.

WAS: Business in general aviation has shown some small signs of recovery – or maybe its better put- signs of smaller declines and indications of the market hitting its low point. What needs to happen in the American economy for general aviation – particularly new aircraft manufacturing – to begin to grow once again?

Bunce: The inventory of used aircraft has peaked and is now declining- flying hours are on the rise- and inquiries for new orders are returning. Our manufacturers are looking for corporate profits to grow and for the availability of credit to improve.

For all manufacturers- the fastest-growing markets are outside North America. Europe – home to the world’s second largest business jet fleet – continues to be an important market. Sales teams are also concentrating on emerging markets in China- India and Brazil. The U.S. government can also play a role in assisting the manufacturers through granting a renewal of bonus depreciation and extending research and development tax credits.

WAS: The FAA has been working for several months now on a re-examination of Part 23 with a goal of changing how the agency categorizes and certificates light aircraft around performance rather than weight and horsepower: What would such a revised approach mean for GAMA’s members and- in turn- the people who buy and fly these airplanes?

Bunce: GAMA believes such an approach- if applied correctly- would simplify the job of certifying aircraft across a wide spectrum of products. With more complex aircraft such as light jets- this new initiative could eliminate repetitive special conditions. More importantly- however- this new structure could revitalize the light end of GA by simplifying applicable regulations for these products.

Additionally- the regulations could encourage the use of reliable turbine technology in simpler products. Because it has been so long since Part 23 has been under a complete review (1985) and so much has changed since that time- we have a great opportunity to shape the rules for the coming decades while revitalizing small airplane markets.

WAS: As is typical in a business loaded with many smart- informed and opinionated players- asking someone to name the community’s most-pressing issue generates a variety of responses. Debates and discussions notwithstanding- it’s difficult to get beyond the issue of participation- as in the number of pilots engaged in flying.

The number of pilots in the U.S. continues to decline- by itself impacting market potential – as much or more- some believe- as a downturn in corporate profits depresses the purchase of business aircraft during even stable economic times. Does Pete Bunce have any suggestions for reversing this decline – as an individual as well as an association executive?

Bunce: I sincerely believe that it is going to take several fronts to arrest the decline in the pilot population. The most promising of these is the light sport market that we hope will continue to flourish and bring a new segment of pilots into the industry.

The light sport aircraft industry is a bright spot for general aviation and we are looking forward to a number of these pilots stepping up into traditional pilot certificates and airplanes in the future.

WAS: Lastly- a question for Pete Bunce the pilot- as opposed to Pete Bunce the GAMA president: EAA’s annual AirVenture fly-in and convention is just a few weeks out and you’ll be there- as usual- meeting with other aviation group execs- discussing issues- spending time with FAA and other federal agency officials.

But in seeing you at Oshkosh in the past- it’s always pretty obvious you love going out on your own- checking out new gear- and roaming the aircraft and exhibits like most pilots who come solely for that purpose. Does Pete Bunce have a wish list he plans to seek out and maybe add to the flight bag this year? And what would you fly it with?

Bunce: I am getting the itch to get my helicopter rating in the next couple of years- so I suspect I’ll be spending more time down on the south end of the airfield looking at the latest technology in the rotorcraft world.

More information from www.gama.aero

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