ATM Modernization, Business & GA, Commercial, Military

Editor’s Note: Industry, Magazine Transformations

By David Jensen | January 1, 2003
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In our annual outlook story (page 24), we describe an aviation industry in transition. Air travel is becoming more point-to-point, less hub-and-spoke. A wider range of aircraft types, including ultralight jets and highly advanced personal craft, is emerging. And military aircraft are becoming as often unmanned as manned.

In tandem with such changes, we are updating Avionics Magazine. As you thumb through the pages, you will note a more modular look– perhaps paralleling industry trends.

Credit for our new look goes to our senior graphic designer, Heather Koczur. As a behind-the-scenes member of the Avionics Magazine team, she receives little recognition; yet the fruits of her work and talent appear on every page. For some three years, Heather has been designing Avionics Magazine, applying the graphic format created by her predecessor. Now she can express her own vision of the magazine. We think you will find it more contemporary and reader-friendly.

However, we have changed more than the magazine’s appearance. On page 54 you will discover a new column, called "Perspectives." This regular feature will present the issues and activities of the many associations, government agencies and quasi-governmental organizations involved in aviation and aircraft electronics, written by staff members. We have launched the section with comments from Aeronautical Radio Inc. and plan to proceed with columns from RTCA, Mitre Group, Eurocontrol, Volpe Center, the European Organization for Civil Aviation Equipment (EUROCAE), Federal Aviation Administration, National Air Transport Association, International Civil Aviation Organization, NASA and others.

Trouble in America

On a more solemn note, it is surprising, if not ironic, that the country that first demonstrated powered flight a century ago now is struggling to maintain its aerospace dominance, despite U.S. global preeminence, both militarily and economically.

In Washington, D.C.–about 200 miles (322 km) north of powered flight’s birthplace, Kitty Hawk, N.C.–the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry issued in late November what it describes as the "first-ever comprehensive examination of America’s aerospace and aviation industries." The report ( has been submitted to members of the U.S. Congress and to the White House. It is a wakeup call.

Noting the industry’s key role in national defense, economic growth, science and quality of life, the report aims "to call attention to how the critical underpinnings of this nation’s aerospace industry are showing signs of faltering–and to raise the alarm."

It lists nine recommendations, virtually all of which call for a more activist federal role in export control, investment opportunities and critical infrastructure. The Bush administration now faces little congressional opposition, so an activist role seems possible. It is a matter of priorities.

Two ideas stand out as especially relevant to avionics and air traffic control. One calls for the United States to "exploit the aviation mobility advantage." This would mean a highly automated air traffic management [ATM] system in which "all classes of aircraft" can operate "safely, securely and efficiently." The report also proposes an "interstate skyway system"–like the Eisenhower highway program– using high-bandwidth digital communications, precision surveillance and navigation, accurate databases and high-resolution weather forecasts.

The recommendation also would shift from product to process certification. "Instead of a focus on rules and regulations that dictate the design and approval of each particular piece of hardware or software, the FAA should focus on certifying that design organizations have safety built into their processes for designing, testing and assuring the performance of an overall system," says the report.

The other recommendation would reverse the decline of the U.S. aerospace work force. The United States "has lost over 600,000 scientific and technical aerospace jobs in the past 13 years," the report notes. Over a quarter of the aerospace workers in the United States will be eligible for retirement during the next six years. NASA has three times as many technicians over the age of 60 as under the age of 30.

Building a modern ATM infrastructure would be comparatively easy, relying largely on new technology. A new certification process would be much more problematic, involving cultural change. And so, too, the work force challenge, for which aerospace must somehow regain the spirit and dreams of the two brothers in Kitty Hawk 100 years ago.

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