NBAA Convention News

NASA funding cuts draw rebuke

 - November 14, 2006, 5:48 AM

Proposed funding cuts that could affect NASA’s ability to conduct aeronautics research–including work on the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NGATS)–continue to draw fire from lawmakers, aerospace officials and academia.

This summer, Dr. Michael Romanowski, the Aerospace Industries Association’s vice president for civil aviation, told Congress that 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.”

NASA aeronautics funding has decreased more than 50 percent since Fiscal Year 1994, and Romanowski warned that while NASA continues to downsize and internalize its aeronautics program, the European Union is accelerating implementation of its R&D plan, Vision 2020.

In his testimony before the Aerospace States Association (ASA), Cessna chairman, president and CEO Jack Pelton pointed out that both Boeing and Gulfstream are using wind tunnels in Toulouse, France–the home of Airbus–to test new designs.

“The National Academies of Science, Aeronautics Decadal Study…provides an excellent roadmap for NASA to follow in making aeronautics research once again an important priority in government organizations, such as NASA and the FAA,” said Pelton, who is also chairman of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.

“The general aviation industry simply cannot undertake the basic, pre-competitive research done by government agencies in the past,” he said. “The risk is too great, and the cost for Cessna, Raytheon and other general aviation aircraft manufacturers is too high to do it on their own.”

Pelton explained that converting the results of NASA research into marketable products often requires that a manufacturer invest more than 10 times the amount spent by NASA. This research introduces advanced technologies to GA aircraft for decades, enhancing efficiency and improving the margin of safety.

ASA, composed of elected officials, industry experts, academics and others representing states with an interest in all aspects of the industry, drew other GA officials to its hearing on national aeronautics R&D policy.

Preston Henne, Gulfstream senior v-p of programs, engineering and test, said that foreign countries and businesses “recognize the huge value associated with a strong aeronautics enterprise and are clearly willing to invest national as well as corporate treasuries to [expand] it. The U.S., on the other hand, seems to take the aeronautics enterprise for granted.”

The U.S. now has only one large civil aircraft manufacturer and doesn’t participate in the regional jet market as a manufacturer.

In addition, while Gulfstream used to be alone in the market for large-cabin business jets, it now has two strong foreign competitors, with an announced third, “that are keen on capturing our market,” Henne noted. “More important, they are keen on capturing the engine for jobs and economic growth.”

The bill currently in Congress cuts almost $88 million in aeronautics funding from last year’s enhanced 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.