General aviation faces a plethora of issues, but as evidenced by a keynote session at the National Business Aviation Association annual convention in Las Vegas, a united front by the aviation associations can bring about positive change.
NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen kicked off the session that featured a discussion with the leaders of nine major aviation associations covering everything from those out to protect backcountry airports to those representing helicopter operators.
As Bolen noted, one of the biggest issues facing aviation is the cost of new airplanes and the challenge of upgrading older models. For that he turned to Pete Bunce, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. According to Bunce, in the 1980s some 200 new rules regarding aircraft certification were promulgated in just 18 months. The effect was to require that a simple single-engine piston airplane meet the same certification standards of a pressurized twin turboprop. Predictably, development of new models quickly halted because of the cost to comply with the new regulations, a situation that haunts us today, three decades later.
To address the issue, GAMA launched an initiative supported by other associations, including AOPA, and the FAA to streamline certification through industry consensus and standards—on an international front. An industry rulemaking committee sent to FAA an outline of how the change might occur, but soon the FAA attorneys got wind of the situation and wanted a slower pace and modifications, Bunce said, a change that promised to drag out the process for a decade or more.
The industry turned to friends in Congress who drafted the Small Aircraft Revitalization Act, which ultimately passed the House and Senate with no opposition. Small differences between the two versions are being hammered out in committee and the legislation is soon to be sent to the president. If signed, it will force the FAA to act quickly on the changes and hopefully help meet the industry’s goal of doubling safety while halving costs—an effort that will go a long way toward spurring development of new aircraft and infusing new technology into the legacy fleet.
Meanwhile, EAA Chairman Jack Pelton, a member of the FAA Management Advisory Committee, warned that the airlines, which dominate the committee, are beginning to bolster support among their own ranks to recommend privatization of air traffic control and modernization of the system to meet their own needs. With Pelton the only GA voice at the table—and his seat expiring in January—he warned that GA leaders must be vigilant to the move that would create an ATC system with no place for aircraft from Cubs to TBMs.
One bit of leverage GA has over the FAA is Congress, as AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker pointed out. But FAA funding continues to be challenged. To assure that only appropriate cuts are made as the agency battles with sequester-mandated reductions, AOPA and other GA organizations are working together to present the FAA with reasonable solutions that do not affect GA safety or access. Looking at the FAA’s $16 billion budget, we need to say, “These are the things that matter,” Baker said.
Others participating in the panel included Matt Zuccaro of the Helicopter Association International, Paula Derks from the Aircraft Electronics Association, Henry Ogrodzinski of the National Association of State Aviation Officials, John McKenna of the Recreational Aviation Foundation, and Tom Hendricks of the National Air Transportation Association.