GAMA prepares for FAA budget strife

 - October 4, 2006, 8:21 AM

Pete Bunce’s love of aviation comes through five-by-five.

“I am just ecstatic to be here,” he said during a recent interview in his office at the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) in Washington, D.C. “This was something that, when I heard about it, I knew I really wanted to do.”

The new president and CEO of GAMA had been on the job barely two months when he sat down to talk with AIN. “I just love aviation and I have always loved general aviation,” he said.

Before he joined GAMA, Bunce was director of the Air Force Congressional Budget and Appropriations Liaison, working closely with staff and members of the House and Senate, experiences that will no doubt serve him in good stead for the upcoming FAA funding battles on Capitol Hill.

A career aviator, he graduated from the Air Force Academy and flew numerous types of airplanes, including F-15s and A-10s, during his military career. He also holds an FAA commercial pilot certificate with multi-engine and instrument ratings.

User-fee Rumblings

Although the FAA’s reauthorization act doesn’t expire until the end of Fiscal Year 2007 (Sept. 30, 2007), the opening salvos have been lobbed, with verbal sparring about the health of the Airport and Airways Trust Fund, which currently provides most of the agency’s funds.

“I think that obviously [FAA Administrator Marion Blakey] is doing what she should be doing, which is trying to figure out a way that [the FAA] will be funded properly in the years ahead,” Bunce said. “She is exploring a lot of options and trying to see where there might be consensus to meet the budget challenges that the FAA has.”

Meanwhile, he said that the cash-strapped airlines are looking for ways to improve their profits or reduce the amount they have to pay.

“I think you have a situation here in which the airlines are basically trying to stimulate argument about user fees early in this process,” he explained. “And it’s a marriage of convenience, actually, in that the FAA is looking at itself as being in a situation in which it doesn’t have enough money.”  

He said it is important for all members of the general aviation community to look at what the airlines are proposing and look for justification for these proposals. The FAA has a modernization challenge ahead of it, and it is going to have to develop a plan about how the airspace is going to look in the future.

“Once they decide what that structure is going to look like, they can figure out how much it is going to cost and what kind of savings it will have at the end,” said Bunce. “Because if you are going to make an investment in infrastructure that increases capacity, then you are going to have more of a capability on the back side of this to produce efficiencies.”

If the FAA is able to move away from labor-intensive infrastructure in the future, he said, it will save itself money and run more efficiently.

“So there is a tremendous amount of visionary work that I think the FAA can do and that we can be partners with it on,” Bunce said. “Right now we have an efficient system for collecting revenue from general aviation, and that is through the fuel tax.”

Asked to speculate on whether the FAA might eventually institute a user-fee plan, Bunce pointed out that there are people in Congress who realize that there are multiple sides to the story and that GAMA hopes “that everyone will listen before they go off and react.”

AIN asked Bunce what he thinks will happen when the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) takes over the functions previously handled by the European Joint Aviation Authorities.

“There are a lot of benefits to having the EASA have a prominent role,” he said, “in that we’ve got–instead of multiple countries to work with–one agency that is somewhat parallel to what the FAA does, and there are great people over there that we are working with very closely.”

He said that GAMA’s senior vice president of international affairs is devoted solely to ensuring that the U.S. is involved in foreign negotiations and actions.

While the majority of the discussion focused on Europe, GAMA also deals with Latin America and Asia as well.

Acknowledging that the European Union has a stated goal of replacing U.S. dominance in aerospace in Asia, he said it is important to keep dialogue going with the Europeans.

“Fractionals are a huge issue to be able to work over there,” he continued. “There are some minority views over there–I would say ultra cautious or conservative–on the part of some of the countries that really hurt our ability to try to let fractional ownership have the same potential in Europe as it does in the U.S.”

There are multiple issues in Europe, not the least of which is security. “The importance of the security issue is that we make sure that the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security stay engaged on the general aviation level just as they are at the airline level,” said Bunce. “It is extremely important that we have an avenue to express some of the things that we learn, when we go over to talk to the Europeans, back to agencies like Homeland Security so that you’ve got multiple levels of information flow.”

Legislative Battles

According to Bunce, GAMA is also hard at work on Capitol Hill. After successful campaigns for the accelerated bonus-depreciation allowance for new airplane purchases and the subsequent extension of the deadline, the association is concentrating on the FAA’s cutbacks of certification services.

“Our major issue on Capitol Hill right now is a bread-and-butter issue, and that’s with FAA certification,” he explained. “We have found that the folks on Capitol Hill are interested in this issue from the standpoint of what I would call good government, in that they do not want to see, through any kind of unintended circumstance, roadblocks put in the way of industry getting its products to market.”

In a time when general aviation has experienced some healthy growth, GAMA wants to make Congress and the FAA aware that reducing the number of people in the certification branch will hurt the aviation industry’s ability to get safety-related products to market.

“Our companies have been told that basically for every three projects completed, only two [new ones] will be started,” Bunce said. “That brings everybody’s antennas up, everybody in industry and everybody on Capitol Hill.” He added that all of the members of Congress with whom GAMA has talked have been concerned about the certification issue.

GAMA is working with the FAA to find ways to allow manufacturers to be certified to do some of this work, Bunce said.