ATM Modernization, Business & GA, Commercial, Military

Perspective: U.S. Aerospace in the 21st Century

By John W. Douglass | January 1, 2004
Send Feedback

At the beginning of the 21st century, the aerospace industry faced serious challenges. Air traffic control (ATC) was approaching gridlock, tighter rules on noise and emissions were causing problems, the Europeans were challenging the United States in the global aerospace marketplace, and we were beginning to have difficulty attracting and retaining the work force.

Our association and others in government and industry agreed we needed a thorough assessment of the current state of the U.S. aerospace industry and its future with respect to the nation’s economic health and national security. In March 2001, at the Aerospace Industries Association’s (AIA’s) urging, Congress chartered a commission to conduct a study, with commissioners to be appointed by Congress and the president. I had the great honor of being appointed a member of the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry by President George W. Bush.

After an intensive, year-long study, the commission in November 2002 issued a report to Congress and the administration, presenting a list of recommendations that would ensure U.S. aerospace leadership in the 21st century. The report framed the debate on aerospace issues and served as a reference point for policy makers. In the year since the report was issued, Congress has taken action on several commission recommendations. But a great deal more needs to be done.

Congress has agreed to:

  • Give the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authority to expedite airport improvement projects,

  • Fund a joint ATC modernization office,

  • Fund a scholarship program to provide federal matching funds for college and graduate studies in aerospace- related fields, and

  • Create the National Aerospace Initiative, a new program that coordinates the power and propulsion research and demonstration programs of NASA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Air Force to develop human space transportation alternatives beyond the Shuttle.

The State Department also is close to implementing a system that allows industry to electronically transmit license applications and supporting technical data.

But the commission recommends other initiatives that need to be implemented. They are:

  • To create a coordinated national aerospace policy by establishing a government-wide management structure. This would include a White House coordinating council, an aerospace management office in the Office of Management and Budget, and a joint committee in Congress.

  • To increase funding to modernize ATC. Even at FAA officials admit that our air traffic management system is years behind that of the Europeans and Canadians in making the system more efficient.

  • To increase the NASA research and development budget for clean and cost-efficient civil aviation and space transportation systems.

  • To establish policy to train the work force the aerospace industry needs for its future.

  • To further streamline export licensing and return commercial satellites and components to control by the Commerce Department, as opposed to treating them as military items.

We think these issues are important to the economy, and AIA plans to contact each of the 2004 presidential candidates with a specific request for them to support these recommendations in the course of their campaigns.

The aerospace industry enables millions of Americans to work, travel and communicate dailywith speed and reliability. Directly and indirectly, our industry and its products generate some 9 percent of the nation’s economic activity and employ about 11 million people. It deserves a focused, White House-driven policy to expand recruiting, accelerate research and lower production costs.

In December 2003, the nation celebrated the 100th anniversary of powered, controlled flight and the astonishing achievements made in aviation and space over the last century. Today we make plans for breakthrough technologies in hundreds of aviation fields: engine noise and emissions, advanced avionics, ATC, homeland security and supersonic flight, to name just a few. And we look forward to promising years ahead for our dynamic and broad-reaching industry.

John W. Douglass is president and chief executive officer of the Aerospace Industries Association.

Receive the latest avionics news right to your inbox