In your Editor’s Log in the July 2022 issue, “Gangbusters,” you comment on remarks made by Pete Bunce of GAMA on GA aircraft sales growth this year. You state that “Bunce attributes at least some of his industry’s sales growth to ‘regulatory reforms…that enable new technology and new aircraft and entrants.” You then proceed to discount Pete’s analysis, claiming that “there really haven’t been any ‘recent’ changes” and, inconsistently, that “even if there were, it takes time for such upheavals to ripple through the certification and production process.”
As one who was there, let me assure you that you’re wrong.
I recently retired from a 25-year career in avionics development and certification. As a result of my company work, I was made a Working Group leader (one of three) on the FAA’s Part 23 Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) that led to a complete rewrite of the regulations by which small airplanes are certified both here and abroad. My working group, with the support of both the FAA and EASA, introduced recommendations and philosophies directed at simplified approval of safety-related systems. Similar work targeting airframes and powerplants was done in other working groups. I was a member of ASTM committees that developed industry standards in support of these new regulations and philosophies, leading to such safety-related innovations as inexpensive AOA indicators and new-generation digital autopilots. I’ve also been a member of various RTCA standards development committees, informal FAA working groups and GAMA subcommittees on both avionics and accident investigation. Lastly, I am an FAA Systems & Equipment DER.
All of this work has contributed to improvements in affordable safety-related cockpit systems, both in the aftermarket and on new production airplanes. This is in no small part the result of philosophical changes at the FAA and EASA, where processes and procedures have been simplified in order to make such systems more readily available. A prime example is the FAA’s innovative policy on Non-Required Safety Enhancing Equipment (NORSEE). It’s no exaggeration to say that we’re in the midst of the greatest period of avionics innovation in GA history.
To be sure, the larger the aircraft, the less impact these changes have made—by design, since larger aircraft are typically professionally flown and smaller ones, owner-flown. It’s in the latter category where the need for safety improvement has been the greatest, so that’s where the bulk of this work has been focused. And this, from GAMA’s numbers, also seems to be where the greatest sales increase is happening.
I don’t have the numbers to prove it, but I believe there is a synergistic relationship between new aircraft sales, used aircraft sales and upgrades to existing aircraft. That is, activity in one area parallels and reinforces activity in the others, with existing pilots migrating to, or making, more capable aircraft, and new pilots entering the fold. Recent (in aviation terms) improvements in certification practice have absolutely contributed to this activity. Pete’s comments are smack on.
None of this, in my opinion, is particularly predictive of broader market trends. Macroeconomic factors dominate big movements in the numbers, while secondary factors like regulatory reform contribute to a lesser extent. It remains to be seen whether AAM/UAM will prove to be revolutionary or a flash in the pan, or how soon.
Fred Barber – Via email
Thanks for your comments, Fred. That said, we’re always bemused and confounded by reflexive “regulation is bad; free market is good” statements by anyone in any industry. Recent evidence includes the FAA’s certification of the Boeing 737 MAX as a case in point. And while it’s still relatively early in its life-cycle, so is the ADS-B mandate, which has aided accident investigation and improved situational awareness. It’s also possible to point to ADS-B In as having a direct impact on recent reductions in accidents and accident rates.