Business & GA, Commercial

Editor’s Note: Tail Wagging The Dog?

By David Jensen | November 1, 2004
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The 21st century, we are told, will be "the century of Asia." Just as Europe dominated economically in the 19th century, and North America prevailed in the 20th century, so it is Asia's turn to be the planet's economic powerhouse in the 21st century. That proclamation was mentioned at a Singapore Airshow about a decade ago. I forgot who made it but never forgot the words. The statement came to mind in late September, when I attended a roundtable in Washington, D.C. It was sponsored by the European Institute and featured Victor Aguado, Eurocontrol's director general. In addition to speaking at the event, Aguado crossed the Atlantic to sign a memorandum of cooperation (MoC) with FAA Administrator Marion Blakey.

The MoC's intent, according to an FAA release, is "to expand and promote cooperative air traffic management and research initiatives between the two organizations." Like cooperative research projects in the past between FAA and Eurocontrol -- representing the now dominant aviation markets--the planned initiatives are meant to achieve the much larger goal of seamless air operations around the world. This, even though the MoC fails to include other, very important parts of the world.

In tandem with trans-Atlantic cooperation is the Single European Sky initiative, which strives for seamless air operations in Europe, as we report in this issue (page 34). The commercial aviation community would welcome such an environment worldwide, as it would standardize operational procedures and allow standardization in flight deck equipage.

Aguado told roundtable attendees: "The first memorandum [between Eurocontrol and FAA] was signed in 1986. It has been updated since then and lots of additions [have been] made to it. But this one is a significant improvement in that it places clear emphasis on the importance of interoperability of global systems. If you imagine trans-Atlantic cooperation as a bridge over the ocean, this memorandum is one way of adding extra lanes to that bridge, speeding up and improving dialogue between the two continents."

The director general also fielded questions, many of which were preceded by praise for Eurocontrol's cooperative activity with FAA. One question, however, struck a provocative note. In essence, the questioner asked whether the focus on cooperation between Europe and the United States might cause FAA and Eurocontrol to ignore the importance of the rapidly growing air transportation market in China.

Aguado acknowledged not only China's growing economic prominence but that of India, Indonesia and other Asian countries. He also stressed the importance of FAA's and Eurocontrol's working within the framework of the International Civil Aviation Organization. But he added that the United States and Europe face similar challenges, not the least of which is combating air traffic congestion and delays. Indeed, the United States and Europe clearly dominate global aviation activity.

But will they always dominate? Consider China, alone. Its gross national product has grown annually by an average of 9 percent, more than three times the U.S. rate. It has close to five times more population than the U.S. and nearly three times more than Europe. And its land mass is as large as the United States' or Europe's, but it doesn't share their advanced highway and railway systems.

And so the economic advancement of China, as well as other nations in the Asia/Pacific region, must rely more on aviation. In its 20-year forecast, Boeing predicts the air travel market in the Asia/Pacific region will triple in size by 2022. Likewise, Airbus foresees 60 percent of the widebody fleet operating in the Asia/Pacific by that year.

And while Europe and America struggle to add a runway or two to existing hubs, China, reportedly, is building 50 new airports. Each one, of course, will be equipped with the latest ATM technology. This buildup is in addition to major ATM upgrade programs at China's major cities. China and other East Asian countries are eagerly exploring new technologies, too, such as satellite-based augmentation systems.

With these factors in mind, could we eventually see an example of "the tail wagging the dog?"--where the region that uses the latest ATM technology and has the fastest growing air travel industry may believe it has equal, if not greater, clout than the United States and Europe in determining how airspace should be made seamless?

These observations are not meant to diminish the importance of the FAA-Eurocontrol MoC. The document remains a vital link between the current dominant aviation markets. But it has become quite apparent that the bridge of cooperation Aguado mentioned should soon be expanded with spans to a region of the world that already has laid claim to this century.

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