Aerospace Industry Calls for More R&D

 - October 16, 2006, 1:18 PM

The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) said that unless the U.S. is willing to concede aerospace dominance to Europe and the rest of the world the nation has to invest more money now in technical advancements.

AIA president and CEO John Douglass said a recent comprehensive report on U.S. aeronautics research and development is “a stark signal” that elected officials must provide more funding before Europe gets too far ahead in new technologies.

“This report is a wake-up call that the warnings we have been sounding are not just talk,” Douglass said. “Our elected leaders in Congress should heed the conclusions in this report and consider that their constituents are in danger of losing their jobs, if not their security.”

The National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) prepared the report, titled Responding to the Call: Aviation Plan for American Leadership, for NASA to document the consequences of reduced funding for aeronautics research.

Aeronautics Research Dangerously Underfunded

The report calls for annual increases averaging $885.5 million to NASA’s budget for the next five years to return research and development to where it was in 1998 constant dollars. The total aeronautics R&D budget for Fiscal Year 2005 is $906 million, and the Bush Administration’s proposed budget for FY2006 (which begins October 1) asks for $54 million less. AIA and other aerospace leaders have been warning Congress that aeronautics research is dangerously underfunded.

Douglass noted that the NIA report is consistent with the recommendations in the final report of the 2003 Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry, of which Douglass was a member.

Douglass acknowledged that Congress is grappling with budget constraints, but he said it is vital that the U.S. invest more in aerospace, which has the largest foreign trade surplus in the U.S. economy, with the nation exporting $31 billion more than it imports.

Congress asked the NIA to lead the development of a five-year aeronautics research plan and budget for NASA. It determined that portions of the U.S. civil manufacturing industry are number two behind Europe, which wants to transform itself into “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world.”

Because of Europe’s committed investment to R&D the continent now boasts the number-one company for civil aircraft sales (Airbus) and the manufacturer of the helicopter that will carry the U.S. President (AgustaWestland). “Nations rather than companies are now competing in aviation,” said the NIA.

The general aviation and corporate aircraft sector must have affordable access to the equipment required for operating in the aviation system of the future, said the NIA, but these sectors will not drive technology development. Instead, they rely on NASA technology developed for the subsonic sector to provide affordable application to GA and corporate aircraft.

According to the NIA, the air transportation system cannot be transformed until all aircraft can operate within the system, and creating affordable avionics and other aircraft systems is the key to this transformation. It said the budget plan contains a detailed description of the technologies that must be adapted for general and corporate aviation use.

The report, said the NIA, teamed industry and academia to craft a nonpartisan research plan for the sole purpose of outlining the initial steps the nation must take to regain its position as the world leader in civil aviation. Projects and technologies were considered based strictly on the merits of their potential effect on six national needs.

“The result is an aggressive five-year research plan and budget focused on maturing high-risk, potentially high-payoff technologies that build on [Fiscal Year 2005] NASA aeronautics investments,” the report said. “Therefore, as a first step in implementing this research plan and budget, it is critical that the proposed FY2006 budget cuts be restored.”