On March 9, 2023, National Air Transportation Association (NATA) President and CEO Curt Castagna testified before the House Aviation Subcommittee to discuss solution-focused proposals that secure a vibrant future for general aviation. In the testimony, NATA highlights the critical importance of FAA Reauthorization legislation that will maintain the security and increase the resiliency of the National Airspace System while refining the focus and improving the efficiency of its regulatory agency.
“The title of today’s hearing, ‘Securing the Future of General Aviation,’ is particularly apt for the current state of our vital industry, as high activity levels coupled with rapid innovation in aircraft design, safety systems, and alternative fuel sources signal an ever evolving, growing, and relevant general aviation sector,” said Castagna.
Castagna testified that FAA Reauthorization is coming at a critical juncture for both the agency and industry, with evidence of FAA inefficiency and inconsistency increasing even as the aviation industry experiences a period of unprecedented growth and innovation.
“I want to begin by expressing NATA’s appreciation of the existing FAA workforce. Tasked with maintaining the gold standard of aviation safety for the world’s most complex airspace system, the Agency presides over almost every facet of the general aviation industry. NATA finds FAA leaders at all levels within the organization to be competent, committed, and collaborative, yet the Agency’s understaffed workforce is shackled by antiquated methods and lack of permanent leadership in key positions,” said Castagna.
NATA attributes the growing backlogs of critical FAA certification, rulemaking, and oversight functions as evidence that the agency is struggling to meet current industry needs, much less prepare for growth spurred by emerging technologies. Currently, FAA’s certification queue contains over 680 applications—a number that has tripled over the past twelve months.
During today’s testimony, Castagna asked Congress to mandate FAA stakeholder and industry engagement through collaborative FAA/industry working groups to study methods for modernizing the part 135 certification process and to recommend long-term solutions for effective management of FAA resources. Further, NATA requested a Congressional directive requiring FAA to engage with stakeholders to evaluate why check pilot approval continues to lag and determine further actions to increase the number of carrier check pilots.
Along with other industry partners, NATA is an active supporter of efforts to accelerate production and adoption of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) as well as development of a commercially viable, fleet authorization, unleaded alternative to 100LL. NATA supports funding to accelerate required testing and regulatory approval for the implementation of an unleaded avgas, as well as investments in infrastructure to make alternative unleaded fuel more widely available.
As an industry, we must collectively take creative steps to increase production of alternative unleaded fuels and expand existing fuel infrastructure, according to Castagna. “NATA strongly believes that short-term tax credits for refiners, blenders, and distributors of approved unleaded fuels–modeled after SAF-specific tax incentives– would promote increased production and accelerated deployment to airports. In addition to AIP funding, NATA believes the development of a short-term grant program available to both public and private entities could be used to support unleaded fuel infrastructure for airports and FBOs, incentivize flight school adoption of alternative fuels, and subsidize supplemental type certificates (STCs) or other end-user costs that could affect fuel adoption.”
Castagna emphasized the need for modernizing the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) in consideration of today’s operating environment as airports require both federal investment and increased public/private partnership opportunities to meet demand, create well-paying jobs, and support aviation technology and sustainability.
“Much in our industry has changed since Congress set the $150,000 general aviation AIP entitlement more than twenty years ago. It is time for this Congress to take action to not only account for inflation but also for the changing needs of general aviation airports by adjusting the entitlement for all GA airports and by introducing a formula to further increase grants for larger GA airports based on flight activity,” said Castagna.
As our industry continues to be challenged by workforce shortages across all levels and lines of business, NATA thanked T&I Committee Ranking Member Rick Larsen (D-WA) for his introduction of the Aviation WORKS Act to reauthorize section 625 workforce grants, extend them to other aviation sectors, and increase funding levels to $20 million annually.
“The 625 grants have enormous potential to affect change by bolstering the aviation workforce, but they are inadequately funded to meet even a fraction of the demand,” said Castagna. “We ask the Subcommittee to include similar provisions in this year’s Reauthorization and encourage Congress to allocate sufficient funding and resources for FAA to administer the grants more efficiently and effectively.”
Further, Castagna called for the expansion of federal student loans to aspiring pilots and aircraft mechanics, the establishment of a National Center for the Advancement of Aviation, and the consideration of recommendations made by the Women in Aviation Advisory Board and Youth in Aviation Taskforce as means to help our industry develop and recruit a diverse, resilient workforce.
Also critical to the future of general aviation is Advanced Air Mobility (AAM), which holds enormous promise to reduce aircraft emissions and noise impacts, to speed up cargo and medical transport in rural areas, and to facilitate multi-modal urban mobility. NATA and its membership see a natural nexus between existing part 135 on-demand carrier operations, existing general aviation airports, existing FBO infrastructure, and emerging AAM innovation.
“We must swiftly prepare for AAM adoption if we hope to fully harness its potential to reduce the aviation industry’s environmental impact and maintain U.S. global aviation leadership,” said Castagna. “We ask Congress to take action to ensure FAA development of a sound regulatory framework for AAM operations, as well as guidance for and investment in the physical infrastructure necessary to support them. NATA looks forward to further facilitating discussions between industry, Congress, and the agencies to advance this technology and help stakeholders prepare for its implementation.”
Following oral testimony, the panelists engaged in a substantive discussion with Aviation Subcommittee members. Castagna fielded questions from lawmakers on a wide range of topics, including FAA regulatory reform, preparation for advanced air mobility deployment, common sense solution to accelerate the safe transition to unleaded fuels, recruiting a diverse workforce, and broadening the on-ramp to a wide array of industry jobs.
“Together, we will secure a sustainable, safe, and successful future for our nation’s general aviation industry and the countless communities it serves,” concluded Castagna.
Hearing Recording: FAA Reauthorization: Securing the Future of General Aviation