Washington Report: U.S. launches aerospace commission

 - May 29, 2008, 10:20 AM

Although the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry was created by Congress long before September 11, a Bush Administration official said the terrorist attacks served to highlight previously existing deficiencies in the U.S. aerospace industry.

John Marburger, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said the events of that day turned “a dramatic spotlight on weaknesses in our aerospace and air transportation systems” and require a national response “similar to that following the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957.”

The Aerospace Commission was established in the 2001 defense authorization act to study the future of the U.S. aerospace industry in the world economy, particularly in relation to national security, and to assess the future importance of the domestic aerospace industry for the economic and national security of the country.

The commission was given a broad mandate by Congress to study federal aerospace budgets for R&D and procurement across all departments and agencies; the procurement and timely deployment of new technology; laws governing international trade and the export of technology; the effect of current tax laws on international competitiveness; programs for the national space launch infrastructure; and support of science and engineering education.

“There is a tremendous synergy between civil aviation and space technology that has not been exploited,” said Marburger. “The President wants to make sure that U.S. aerospace leadership continues in the 21st century.”

Even before September 11, he said, the U.S. faced an air traffic system that was approaching gridlock; ever-tightening environmental requirements on noise and emissions that–while needed–were limiting worldwide flight operations and creating international conflict; an aerospace market leadership that was being challenged as an explicit goal of foreign competitors; and rapidly shrinking investments in long-term aeronautics and space R&D, which in turn threatened the industry’s ability to attract trained and talented human capital.

Picking up on the threat from overseas competition, Joseph Bogosian, deputy assistant secretary of commerce for transportation and machinery, said that many foreign governments support their domestic industries with measures such as non-tariff barriers and subsidies.

Some foreign regulatory and certification standards appear designed to advance their commercial interests at the expense of U.S. aerospace, he argued, adding that last year the U.S. exported 41 percent of its aerospace output. He said that non-tariff barriers have a growing effect on international trade as foreign governments use standards and regulations for altering the competitive balance. (For example, Gulfstream has spent about $20 million and still has not received European JAA “validation” for its GV, which the FAA certified in 1997.)

“Some key examples include the European Union hush-kit regulation targeted at aircraft engine noise and pending EU legislation to create a pan-European aviation safety authority (EASA) that links aircraft safety to trade considerations,” Bogosian said. “We encourage the commission to review the impact of national and global standards and regulations on the competitiveness of U.S. industry and to recommend how the U.S. government should respond.”

He also urged the commission to review the impact of foreign government subsidies to determine if any changes in U.S. policies are needed. “Massive foreign government resources have been dedicated toward helping Europe’s manufacturer of large civil aircraft, Airbus, become a formidable competitor to Boeing,” he said.

Although Airbus has captured more than half of the orders for new aircraft so far this year, Bogosian asserted that European governments still feel it necessary to provide Airbus with huge “loans” to develop the A380 super jumbo. “These loans distort free trade because Airbus has to make payments only when, or if, it sells aircraft,” he claimed.

In the regional jet sector, Bombardier of Canada, Embraer of Brazil and Fairchild Dornier of Germany have received financial assistance from their respective governments, Bogosian said.

Six members of the commission were appointed by the President and the other six by congressional leaders. Serving as chairman is Robert Walker, former Pennsylvania congressman and currently chairman and CEO of the Washington-based Wexler Group consulting firm. The commission is to issue a report to Bush and Congress one year from its first public meeting, which was held on November 27.

General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) president Ed Bolen, a presidential appointee, warned that in the area of R&D, testing and evaluation, currently there is poor use of resources and duplication of effort. With facilities that are relatively old and expensive to operate, the country is becoming dependent on foreign facilities.

“How do we take our processes and architecture to get the most out of what we have?” he asked. Decrying the fact that one general aviation airport is being lost every week, Bolen reminded the commission that GA is part of the solution to a revitalized aerospace industry.

The aerospace commission has divided itself into six issue areas, with Bolen teaming with former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, currently president of Starcraft Enterprises, on aerospace infrastructure. The others will concentrate on technology, investment, global issues, workforce and those concerns that cut across several subject areas, as well as a vision for the future.

Bolen said that the areas of focus for infrastructure will include aviation operations, space operations and R&D. Aviation will be broken down into airports; communications, navigation and surveillance (CNS); and air traffic management. Space operations would cover such topics as spaceports; payload processing and launch facilities; and tracking data relay. Under R&D, testing and evaluation, the group will look at scale model and component test facilities, and flight-test centers.