Despite growing backlogs and strong demand, General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) president and CEO Pete Bunce expressed concern about the “tough times” manufacturers and maintenance organizations are facing given lengthy certification backlogs, supply chain issues, and workforce limits.
Bunce joined the heads of several aviation organizations who appeared before the House aviation subcommittee on Wednesday to discuss issues confronting the general aviation industry. Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association president and CEO Mark Baker warned of shortages of and years-long waiting lists for hangar space, NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen highlighted business aviation privacy concerns in the face of rapidly evolving technology, and National Air Transportation Association president and CEO Tim Obitts pointed to “warning indicators” from softening fuel sales to rapidly rising insurance rates.
Obitts echoed concerns about the supply chain, and the panel participants agreed that the workforce is a pressing concern. Bunce noted that if Congress had not passed the Aviation Manufacturing Jobs Protection Act, which provided a cost-sharing program to preserve at-risk jobs, “we would’ve lost a lot of our skilled workforce.” Even so, Bunce added, “We're down 20 percent in virtually every one of our factories,” including maintenance technicians, manufacturing workers, and engineers.
As for the supply chain, he acknowledged that it is a global problem, but aviation is a little different because the FAA is so immersed in the process. “It's very difficult to switch out things,” he remarked and cited as an example a manufacturer from Oregon that waited eight months to get a response from the FAA “just to switch out one light bulb for another. And then the FAA told them they were going to have to recertify the system.” While that situation was resolved, “that's what industry is facing right now.”
But adding to the “perfect storm” is something he has not seen in his experience before with the FAA: “The bureaucracy is grinding the industry to almost a halt.” He said the issue starts with a vast turnover in the ranks of engineers and technical specialists at the FAA.
“A lot..are brand new to their jobs; 40 percent have less than three years of regulating. Then they're working at home,” Bunce said. “Now when they're working at home, they can't collaborate together. They can't talk to one another. They're sending written notices to each other that just slows down the process, but worse than anything else is the funnel all goes now to FAA legal and that funnel is clogged.”
He called the situation “self-inflicted wounds,” adding policy and guidance have stopped coming out of the agency. That policy and guidance are key to developing safety-enhancing technologies, Bunce said.
Issue resolution also is a problem, and efforts to put an improved process in place have “virtually died” since the pandemic. “We have to have a process,” he said. “We have very good people that have been put in very responsible positions within the FAA, but we've got to allow them to make those decisions and feel confident that they can do that. “
Bunce questioned that with traditional aviation manufacturing being halted by FAA processes, “how are we ever going to have global leadership” on the advanced air mobility front. He noted that Europe is already taking a lead on AAM.