60 Minutes with Pete Bunce, President and CEO of GAMA
Last Fall at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) annual convention in Las Vegas, General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) President & CEO Pete Bunce sat down with ZRG Partners Managing Director, Craig Sabina to answer a few questions about the state of the industry today. Three months later, we asked for an update from Pete before publishing this interview. His original thoughts and relevant updates are as follows:
CS: Pete, GAMA industry numbers generally look solid. How do your members feel about the next 12 to 24 months?
PB: We look at multiple data sources to assess the future of the industry – Jetnet, Honeywell, Gulfstream, Dassault to name a few. Our members are quite optimistic about the next couple of years. The US and the international economy are the key variables. The caveat, of course, is any sort of serious economic downturn.
CS: The emerging sectors – drones, urban air mobility, private space travel – are bringing incredible new energy and investment to aviation. How do you and your members see these sectors influencing and integrating with GAMA going forward?
PB: We saw this coming 5 years ago. GAMA started looking at alternative propulsion systems. Technology is not the issue. Regulatory constraints are a significant challenge. We created a new member category to get electric powered aviation companies involved while working to get larger GAMA members interested in partnering with these companies. Type certification is a significant challenge. Production certification is a much higher hurdle. Our established members are well-positioned to partner and be of assistance.
Consider how long it took Tesla to get up and running with vehicles out on the road. The regulatory hurdles to operate in the National Airspace are significantly more challenging. That said, there is a ton of money chasing opportunity. It is going to happen. There are enough companies and again, the technology is there and evolving rapidly. It will be interesting to watch the capital flows and M&A activity. There is a lot of money to be made. Especially operating companies in the space. Infrastructure remains a significant challenge and a big opportunity. For example, there are so many under-utilized airports on the outskirts of major metropolitan centers that are well-positioned to benefit as the emerging sectors and their business models mature. Their parking capacity will be a tremendous asset. It is easy to see a variety of business models taking advantage of this capacity.
CS: You have a unique, industry-wide perspective on Aviation’s efforts to reduce our environmental impact – carbon, noise, etc. Can you share your thoughts on where we are headed?
PB: We attended every jet OEM press conference at the show this year. Everyone is talking about the subject. Jet-A will be a big part of the story. ASTM jet fuel standards, green biofuels are available now. The industry needs customers to start asking for it, demonstrating that there is a demand for the product. I have a friend in the industry who runs several FBOs. He is ready to subsidize his competitors to help get the new fuel to market.
We are also seeing significant advances in additive manufacturing techniques and technologies helping the industry build aircraft with fewer parts and less waste material as well as significant advances building strength into materials with less structure to save weight and fuel. And artificial intelligence is being used to help build stronger, lighter wing structures.
New business aircraft under development, will use far less wire, replacing it with node to node connectivity and further advances in fly by wire. It will take time to bring enough of these technologies and techniques to the fleet to have a bit impact, but they are coming.
Avionics today are so much better, allowing aircraft to fly more efficient routes, saving significant amounts of time and fuel. An interesting unintended side effect of this development is how people are reacting on the ground. Aircraft are able to fly with such precision that they fly over the exact same spot in space over and over, causing people on the ground to take notice and react.
Modern 5-blade propellers are much quieter then 2, 3 and 4 blade props we have seen in the marketplace for years. And modern jet engines offer greater power allowing steeper climbs to minimize noise along with dramatically better baffling for improved sound attenuation through all phases of flight. Aeron will soon bring a supersonic aircraft to the business aircraft fleet that will use a combination of shape and a new understanding of atmospheric conditions to minimize sonic boom impact.
The industry is advancing rapidly, and it will continue to do so in the years to come.
CS: You have been, by any measure, wildly successful leading GAMA? What do you believe have been the keys to your success? What might other industry associations learn from your approach?
PB: Very kind of you to make such an observation. I patterned my leadership style after mentors from my time in the military. I recognize that it is all about the team members around you. We have developed a great staff at GAMA. I let them run with it and do their jobs with considerable autonomy. And I work closely with the Board to make sure we are aligned with their vision for the organization.
Among other things, our staff has developed deep relationships with industry regulators, helping to resolved issues for our members. Regulatory challenges are not always the regulator's fault. Our team excels at working with them in a non-confrontational manner. We facilitate team training for regulators and industry, helping support and drive a collaborative working relationship. The result has been a steady trend from prescriptive to performance-based regulation.
There is a lot of talk about the Organization Designation Authority (ODA) program and its impact on our industry, especially since the 737 MAX tragedies. The program continues to evolve. Industry ODA teams and their FAA counterparts regularly rate each other to help each other continue to improve. The FAA regularly look at the aggregated data to see how the program is working and to evaluate its internal teams’ performance as well. It is important to understand that the regulators absolutely want the industry to succeed.
We are working closely to help Congress understand the ODA program and process and to see clearly the incredible safety record the industry has achieved as a result. We also work to help them understand what would happen to the industry and to our collective safety records if the program was ever scrapped.
CS: Anything else on your mind? Perhaps flying in the backcountry and how it will evolve in the years to come?
PB: The industry workforce is always on my mind. This is an incredible time to be a young pilot. Wages are up and the trend will continue because of the tremendous demand vs the available supply. We continue to work hard to get young people involved and engaged in aviation & aerospace.
Mechanically talented young people may want to consider an alternative pathway to direct college entry and move quickly into high paying industry jobs, often with company-supported training. In our own back yard in DC we are working with all sorts of community leaders to connect young people from all walks of life with companies and opportunities in our industry. Magic Johnson’s talk at the show this year was inspiring, encouraging us to redouble our efforts.
This is an amazing industry, full of incredible people. The industry’s tailwind, in the form of new investment in emerging and space technologies and business models, is particularly inspiring. I am blessed to be able to help it grow and prosper.