This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.
While 2020 was an “epically challenging year” for the industry as a result of Covid-19, NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen stressed to lawmakers on Tuesday that the aviation community must press forward on issues such as infrastructure for emerging technologies, workforce, and sustainability to be on a stronger footing once the pandemic eases. Bolen joined General Aviation Manufacturers Association president and CEO Pete Bunce and four other panelists before the House aviation subcommittee during a hearing on the ramifications and recovery from Covid-19.
“[The] severe and unprecedented reduction in flight activity had devastating consequences from fixed-based operators to maintenance shops, charter operators, and GA airports,” he said. U.S. general aviation has seen steep declines in traffic, he added, noting that traffic at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey still remains down by 50 percent. The maintenance industry lost 50,000 jobs, and thousands of small and midsize businesses, the backbone of business aviation, faced unprecedented challenges.
Bunce painted a similar picture, noting the 20.4 percent decline in business jet shipments in 2020 and citing responses to a survey of its membership finding 70 percent had to take workforce actions, 50 percent had to limit or shut down operations at some point, and 86 percent reported losses. He emphasized that supply chain issues linger due to a reduction of airline cargo capacity and international constraints, forcing manufacturers to continue to stretch out their deliveries.
Bunce praised aviation subcommittee chairman Rick Larsen (D-Washington) and other lawmakers for their support to include a 50/50 payroll support cost-share program for manufacturers and MROs in the latest aviation relief bill, saying this remains a critical initiative to keeping highly trained and skilled workers in the industry. With the layoffs and furloughs that have ensued since the pandemic, it has made the industry vulnerable to losing those workers permanently to other industries, he said.
Bolen agreed that workforce issues must remain at the forefront, especially to be prepared for when the industry rebounds after the pandemic. He highlighted a need for the industry to take steps to ensure it is diverse and inclusive.
Bunce further expressed concerns about a need for better guidance surrounding National Interest Exception waivers to facilitate foreign nationals to enter the U.S. for training and for aircraft deliveries.
“Clear and workable guidance will help reverse a growing concern about the lack of proficiency training for foreign pilots operating in the U.S. and global airspace, supporting the safety of U.S. state of design aircraft, and avoiding further economic damage to the U.S. aviation industry and its highly skilled workforce,” he said in his testimony.
Both Bolen and Bunce further urged lawmakers to support the industry’s efforts toward sustainability on multiple fronts. They are asking for a “blender's” credit. “NBAA and a broad coalition of airlines, fuel producers, and industry groups believe that a $2.00 per gallon SAF [sustainable alternative fuel] blender’s tax credit over 10 years would spur increased production,” he said in his testimony. “This credit would encourage fuel producers to invest in additional capacity, increasing the supply of SAF and driving down costs for operators.” Bolen noted that an existing $1.00 per gallon biodiesel tax credit does apply to some SAF pathways, but that it will expire next year.
Bolen pointed to other avenues of sustainability, including research on hybrid and electric aircraft. But he said the country needs to prepare for these emerging technologies with infrastructure at airports to accommodate them.
Praising the extension of the payroll support program for air carriers, Bolen said this has brought critical relief to the industry. Others at the hearing, including House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Pete DeFazio (D-Oregon), agreed. DeFazio called this support the most successful part of the CARES act.
However, despite the assistance, Bolen and Bunce agreed that the industry still faces challenges. “The ongoing reductions in business travel and the potential for additional Covid-related [impacts] create significant uncertainty for our community, and we appreciate your consideration of future GA relief needs,” Bolen said.