The three biggest hurdles facing business aircraft manufacturers right now are workforce issues, supply-chain pinch points, and regulatory challenges, according to Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.
Speaking recently at Corporate Jet Investor Miami, he noted that despite the success of the Aviation Manufacturing Jobs Protection Act—which helped OEMs preserve more than 31,000 jobs during the Covid pandemic—his constituents are reporting being on average down 20 percent in terms of optimal engineering and factory-floor staff due to labor availability.
As for supply-chain issues, Bunce noted they are systemic and far-reaching. “What I don’t think people realize is it’s not only just raw materials,” he said, adding that in addition to situations such as a scarcity of helium (which is used in welding operations), value-added components such as extrusions and computer chips are also in short supply. “A lot of our companies are having to spend engineering resources instead of planning for future projects, actually redesigning boards to be able to use the chips that are out there,” he explained.
Having once embraced the lean “just-in-time” parts delivery approach in an effort to reduce inventory costs, most manufacturers are now finding themselves having to again commit to long-lead contracts with their suppliers to give them the confidence to increase staffing and invest in their facilities.
Lastly, Bunce expressed concern over the drain in experience at the FAA, with 40 percent of its current certification workforce having less than two years of experience. "When you try to analyze how debilitating that is for the industry right now, that is truly significant," he stated. "We’re throwing so much at the FAA with all of these new technologies coming on board but also in advancement of all our traditional manufacturers."
Among the factors contributing to the loss of institutional experience, Bunce opinioned that as department heads retire, the Covid-era paradigm of working from home has hindered smooth transfers of knowledge. "There is no office on-the-job-training out there...so it's bogged down," he said. "Productivity has decreased dramatically just by the fact that they are not able to collaborate."
As an example, he noted that simple documents sent to the agency's aircraft certification office or regional offices can now take up to 120 days for a response, up from 30 in the pre-pandemic era. "We can't do our jobs and we can't have our industry thrive with that kind of lack of responsiveness," Bunce stated.