tation system (e.g., the air traffic control system) to improve operational efficiency

Urgent action is essential for several reasons:

  • Environmental issues are already interfering with the efficient operation of the U.S. air transportation system.

  • Air traffic is increasing.

  • Environmental standards are becoming more stringent.

  • Research and technology development takes a long time to change the face of commercial aviation.

New technology may take 10 years or more to be proven commercially acceptable and certified by the FAA for use on commercial aircraft. In addition, the production run on a successful aircraft may last for 15 to 20 years, and individual aircraft may have service lives of 25 to 35 years. As a result, it can take decades for a major technological improvement to show up in a majority of the commercial fleet unless it can be retrofitted into existing aircraft at reasonable cost.

Given the current funding available, the Committee on Aeronautics Research and Technology for Environmental Compatibility has concluded that federal research programs in noise reduction technology are focused appropriately. However, much remains to be done, and uncertainties persist in many areas. In collaboration with other stakeholders (such as manufacturers, airlines, airport authorities, local governments, nongovernmental organizations, and foreign regulatory bodies and researchers), NASA and the FAA should support research to resolve uncertainties in the following areas:

  • long-term atmospheric effects of aircraft emissions locally, regionally, and globally

  • reliable goals for noise and emissions reductions for each phase of flight

  • the optimum long-term strategy for improving the understanding of the many specific issues, including economic factors, associated with aircraft noise and emissions

Economic analyses must form a key element in much of the research in the above areas because economic incentives for providers and users of air transportation equipment and services are likely to be a key component of a successful long-term strategy.

NASA and other agencies should sustain promising research long enough to ensure that new technology developed by federal research programs is mature enough to warrant commercial development. This will require a balanced allocation of federal funds devoted to mitigating the environmental effects of aviation. In particular, federal expenditures to reduce noise should be balanced between abatement of noise at specific airports (e.g., through soundproofing of privately owned buildings located outside the airport perimeter) and the development of advanced aircraft technologies that will ultimately reduce aircraft noise globally.

Finding 1-2. Vigorous Action Required. Environmental concerns will increasingly limit the growth of air transportation in the 21st century unless vigorous action is taken to augment current research and technology related to the environmental impacts of aviation.

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