The National Business Aviation Association and National Air Transportation Association have presented to US Congress specific ideas and policies for strengthening the general aviation sector in the U.S. and around the world.
In testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee, NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen urged lawmakers to facilitate access for emerging technologies, including advanced air mobility, in order to maintain America's leadership in global aviation, partner with the industry to protect the privacy of flight and advance aviation sustainability, and help address workforce challenges as Congress prepares to tackle a five-year Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorisation bill next year.
Bolen commended Congress for passing several laws during the COVID-19 pandemic that enabled business aviation to continue to support 5,000 communities across the U.S. with 1.2 million jobs and $247 billion in annual economic output.
“Congressional action in a crisis moment helped put general aviation on a flight path for recovery; there is strong demand for new employees, and our industry is serving small towns and communities across the country,” Bolen said. “Aviation workers are back on the job, and in some cases, we are even seeing a return of worker shortages among pilots, maintenance workers and other aviation professionals.”
Among NBAA's recommendations for Congress were:
- Build on the successful implementation of the next-generation air traffic control (ATC) system and maintain congressional oversight, along with the current tax structure to support the Aviation Funding Stability Act and Airport and Airway Trust Fund (AATF).
- Ensure that the FAA takes steps to protect business aviation from 5G telecommunications interference and the privacy of general aviation travellers who are easily tracked by cyber-stalkers.
- Enact the blender's tax credit as proposed in the Sustainable Skies Act (H.R. 3440) to increase the production, availability and use of sustainable aviation fuel, which can reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80% compared to conventional jet fuel.
- Support transformative technologies so that aircraft can be powered by electric, hybrid and hydrogen propulsion, with legislation such as the Advanced Aviation Infrastructure Modernization Act (H.R. 6270), which would expand advanced air mobility (AAM) infrastructure, and by clarifying tax rules to allow electric aircraft charging stations to qualify for an existing tax credit applicable to ground vehicles.
- Enact policy changes and recruitment efforts to help the industry meet its need for 600,000 new pilots, technicians and other professionals in the next 20 years.
Reflecting on the importance of the FAA reauthorisation for the many technology advancements coming out of business aviation today, Bolen said: “Our industry looks forward to continuing engagement with the committee and Congress as we develop policy solutions that safely embrace new aviation technologies and maintain the United States as the world leader in aerospace.”
National Air Transportation Association (NATA) president and CEO Timothy Obitts also testified. He highlighted challenges facing the industry as well as opportunities to ensure the country maintain a healthy, thriving aviation ecosystem, one that meets today's needs and is prepared to embrace tomorrow's innovation.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, general aviation proved its national value by continuing to deliver vital essential services when commercial aviation shut down,” said Obitts. “Part 135 air carriers and general aviation airports provided critical medical transport, supported essential law enforcement and firefighting services, transported testing and vaccine supplies, facilitated business travel to maintain economic growth and kept remote communities safely connected.”
After a devastating dip in private air travel during the first few months of the pandemic, Part 135 business jet operators matched 2019 activity by early summer of 2020 and eventually surpassed the previous year's pace, a trend that continued throughout 2021 as the pandemic persisted. Currently, private flying activity continues to exceed expectations in the post-pandemic economy.
Obitts testified that this increased flight activity presents great opportunity for general aviation and aviation businesses. But its combination with a significant number of new entrants into the Part 135 market, an economic downturn and substantial workforce challenges across the industry has led to a dangerous uptick in illegal charter activity.
NATA also attributes its concerns about the pervasiveness of this problem to inconsistent investigation and enforcement by Flight Standards District Offices, as well as the backlog of appeals to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
“The lack of data on outcomes of reported suspicion of illegal charter activity makes it difficult to gauge the scope of issues contributing to this problem; therefore, we believe the release of annual data breaking down reports by source and aggregating outcomes would assist both the FAA and industry in combatting illegal charter activity,” said Obitts. “In addition, FAA needs increased resources to consistently investigate and expand enforcement, while NTSB needs resources to adjudicate the backlog of appeals once charges have been made.”
During the testimony, Obitts confirmed NATA's commitment to working with Congress and FAA to tackle challenges that are currently deterring legitimate new entrants to the industry and increasing the risk of regulatory noncompliance.
“While the tempo of business aviation activity continues to trend upward, the lack of skilled laboru and meager supplies of aircraft parts, coupled with the FAA's struggles to process a backlog of certification applications, is causing severe operational challenges for our members,” added Obitts.
Currently, FAA's certification queue numbers are over 500 applications; in recent years, that number has risen above 1,000. As a result, it can take up to two years for a prospective operator to obtain a Part 135 certificate.
“NATA believes it is important that FAA emphasises prioritising its certification, accident investigation and safety oversight resources,” said Obitts. “Further, NATA strongly recommends the FAA also partner with industry to conduct a thorough assessment of the current certification process and average length of time from application to certification. Analysis of such data will allow the agency to more effectively allocate resources and streamline the certification process without compromising safety.”
Along with other industry partners, Obitts also emphasised the threat of the environmental impact of 100 low lead (100LL) fuel to general aviation. NATA and other leading general aviation organisations are partnering with FAA on the EAGLE initiative to find an unleaded fuel solution for the entire piston aircraft fleet by 2030 and to ensure the availability of leaded Avgas until an alternative is widely available.
“NATA is committed first and foremost to safety, so we are in the process of developing training to avoid misfuelling, as well as publishing a white paper on safe fueling with alternative fuels,” said Obitts.
Other aviation business priorities highlighted in NATA's testimony include meeting the industry's sustainability goals through the proliferation and adoption of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), ensuring aviation businesses are prepared for AAM implementation, needed focus on maintaining and modernising crucial airport infrastructure that supports essential services and the importance of streamlining the process of removing unnecessary foam fire suppression systems in aircraft storage hangars, as well as working toward FAA approval of a fluorine free alternative in cases where foam is necessary.
“NATA strongly believes in collaboration between industry and governmental stakeholders in achieving our ultimate goal of empowering the safety and success of the national airspace system, one that is accessible and for the betterment of all,” concluded Obitts.