…While NASA Cuts Hurt NGATS

 - September 14, 2006, 4:44 AM

Reductions to NASA’s aeronautics budgets are undermining critical research for the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NGATS), according to Dr. Michael Romanowski, Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) vice president for civil aviation.

“If NASA is to remain at the forefront of aeronautics research, it is critical that significant changes are made to the proposed aeronautics funding levels and research plans,” said Romanowski. NASA aeronautics funding has decreased more than 50 percent since Fiscal Year 1994.

The bill currently in Congress cuts almost $88 million in aeronautics funding from last year’s enacted level. Since 1994, NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate budget has been reduced from $1.54 billion to the $724.4 million that is proposed for FY07.

“While NASA is sustaining cuts,” Romanowski told the House space and aeronautics subcommittee, “critical research for the [NGATS] is unfunded and missing from the work plans of any governmental agency. It is estimated that an additional $200 to $300 million of transitional research is needed each year in vital areas such as air traffic modernization, environment and safety to implement this important multi-agency system.”

He said that additional budget cuts should not be considered before the National Aerospace Policy is completed in November. He encouraged additional collaboration with academia, users and manufacturers in the development of the National Aerospace Policy, which was mandated in the 2006 NASA Reauthorization Act.

Romanowski told the lawmakers that the new NASA research direction largely eliminates cutting-edge demonstration or validation activities, such as the X-1 project, which resulted in breaking of the sound barrier in 1947.

Romanowski warned that while NASA continues to downsize and internalize its aeronautics program, implementation of the European Union’s R&D plan Vision 2020 is accelerating. “The new policy must ensure continued U.S. leadership and set the vision that lays the foundation for a healthy research enterprise and drives stable budget decisions across all federal aeronautics R&D,” he said.

The AIA official testified that Congress “took the first step in reversing the detrimental decline” in aeronautics funding in FY2006 by providing $60 million more than the Bush Administration requested.

“We respectfully request that Congress continue to show leadership on this issue by providing at least level funding of $912.3 million in the FY2007 NASA aeronautics budget,” Romanowski told the subcommittee. “NASA must step up by using restored funds exclusively on transitional R&D programs with an emphasis on the prototypes and demonstrations needed to develop and implement NGATS.”