Convention Talk: Microjets, charter, and maintenance regs among hot topics as NATA meets in Vegas

May 8, 2004

Convention Talk

Microjets, charter, and maintenance regs among hot topics as NATA meets in Vegas

By Jodi Richards

May 2004

The National Air Transportation Association will hold its annual convention in tandem with Aviation Industry Week, May 18-20, in Las Vegas. AIRPORT BUSINESS recently spoke with NATA president James Coyne and director of government and industry affairs Eric Byer for their take on hot buttons affecting general aviation. Both say sessions and discussion at the show will center around several issues including the emergence of microjets, rising cost of insurance, Part 135 rewrite, Part 145 Final Rule, and access to and capacity at airports, among others.

According to Coyne, one of the most common items of discussion in the industry today, and a session topic at the convention, is microjets. “We’ve got an exciting panel planned with folks from most of the microjet manufacturers,” he says. Issues affecting the use of the new aircraft, including insurance, FAA certification, and ATC operation are also on the agenda. Officials from Eclipse, Cessna, Adam Aircraft, and USAIG are scheduled to speak.

To the dismay of much of the industry, Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. is still closed to general aviation traffic. Says Coyne, “I hope our members won’t be shy about asking the various elected officials at the convention why it has taken so long after 9/11 for our government to realize what we’ve been saying all along: The other transportation modes are being ignored while they’re punishing aviation -— especially general aviation, which has never been a terrorist threat within the U.S.”

Coyne has met with more than 150 House and Senate members to discuss reopening National to general aviation, and firmly believes progress is being made. “TSA [Transportation Security Administration] is submitting a proposal which we think, we haven’t seen it, involves reopening the airport. Obviously whatever the proposal is, it’s not going to reopen it to everybody all at once, but it’s clearly going to be a first step. All we need now is for the leadership of Homeland Security to have the political resolve to make it happen.”

Part 135 Rewrite
And as for where the industry is with the Part 135 rewrite, Coyne says, “We’re about maybe the third pitch of the first inning of a long ball game.” He adds that he’s satisfied that it’s taking time, particularly because of the inevitable changes with the emergence of the microjet. “I think it’s going to take at least five years to be completed — it may take longer.”

Aviation Industry Week

Aviation Industry Week will be held in Las Vegas, May 18-20. The event is host to AS3 Aviation Services and Suppliers Supershow), GSE International Expo, the National Air Transportation Association’s 2004 Annual Convention, and the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association’s 33rd Annual Aviation Maintenance Symposium. Attendees will find general aviation aftermarket services for aviation companies, aircraft manufactur-ers, and airport-based businesses; ground sup-port equipment, services, and solutions; and, aviation maintenance training and education;

GA Traffic Increase
General aviation traffic is expected to increase in the coming years, possibly impacting congestion at commercial airports. Coyne says part of the solution to congestion problems will be found in technology and encouraging FAA to support more automated air traffic control procedures.

“I’ve been flying for 30 years,” he says. “The skies are not crowded. The only thing that’s crowded is the antiquated technological air separation system that we have, which does not accommodate modern technology.
“We’re using 60-year old separation technology, radar-based, which is very inaccurate, and I think the sooner the FAA completely overhauls the air traffic structure, the sooner we’ll be able to meet the demand.”

Coyne expects the number of turbine-powered small aircraft to more than double in the next ten years, from some 10,000 to some 25,000. He adds that the number of airliners will only increase by a little more than 1,000; and the number of piston airlines “probably won’t increase percentagewise by even 5 or 10 percent. We’re clearly the most robust segment of aviation in terms of market growth. The thing that’s holding us back more than anything else is the FAA and the airspace and the restrictions. We’ve got to redesign a new air traffic management paradigm to really recognize, what I call, the three-dimensional world of aviation, versus the old two-dimensional version.”

Part 145 Final Rule
Eric Byer, NATA director of government and industry affairs, says a session devoted to the Part 145 Final Rule will address a major concern brought up by the industry. “Some of the bigger repair stations that met the letter of the rule,” he explains, “are finding that some of the smaller repair stations are dropping the certificate and going out and making offers that are lower than what the certificated 145 repair stations can offer.”

One reason he offers that the smaller outfits are dropping the certificate is because of implementation costs. He adds that much of the solution falls on the FAA. “It shouldn’t be an issue. I think it’s an indirect and unintended consequence of the final rule at this point. Maybe something will come out of this session that the industry can work with the FAA on to make sure everybody is on an even playing ground.”

9/11 Losses Reimbursement
Byer also foresees some skepticism concerning the reimbursement to general aviation businesses for losses since 9/11 — $100 million was authorized for general aviation in last year’s reauthorization bill.

“We have four years to get that money,” says Byer. “We’re going to launch meetings with appropriators in both the House and Senate. We feel justified in asking for $100 million to help out the thousands of aviation businesses that have been really hurt and impacted since September 11. Now, is it going to be $100 million? I don’t know. But we have four years and we’re just hoping we can get in the door and get some money and get it rolling so we can get people back up on their feet.”

Byer expects there will be an application process administered by the Department of Transportation which will weigh revenues from past years and match it up to what happened post-9/11. “We hope to play an integral part in that,” he says. “But first we have to get the money appropriated.”

Insurance Issues
According to Coyne, insurance costs are continuing to be a difficult issue for many operators. “Part of it relates to the fundamental liability structure in our country,” he says. Additionally, he says, many insurance industry decisions have been driven by an effort to recover losses due to 9/11, and insurance carriers trying to build up their capital in a world without much competition. “I think [we need] more competition in the insurance industry — more underwriters, more supply, if you will. It’s fundamentally a supply and demand issue, and if there’s more supply, I think the prices will come down,” Coyne says.

NATA will also be hosting its regular Washington regulatory and security update session, which will feature FAA flight standard service director Jim Ballough, and Randy Null, TSA deputy undersecretary of security for aviation operations.