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THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine National Academy of Sciences National Academy of Engineering Institute of Medicine National Research Council Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board/Transportation Research Board Committee on Aerospace Research and Technology for Vision 2050 August 14, 2002 The Honorable John H.Marburger, III Director Office of Science and Technology Policy Executive Office of the President Washington, DC 20502 Subj: Aeronautics Research and Technology for 2050: Assessing Visions and Goals Dear Dr. Marburger: At the request of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Research Council recently established the Committee on Aeronautics Research and Technology for Vision 2050. The membership of the committee includes a cross section of senior executives, engineers, researchers, and other aviation professionals. The purpose of the committee is to assess the long-term visions and goals for U.S. civil aviation, as described in five key documents produced by the federal government. The committee’s initial assessment, which is summarized in this letter, is based on its collective wisdom as well as inputs from other experts who participated in this phase of the committee’s work. The attachments provide additional supporting information: a comparative assessment of the vision and goals documents examined by the committee, the committee’s statement of task, and a list of committee members and other study participants. The work of the committee is ongoing, and late next year it will issue a much more detailed assessment of long-term technology goals. Current U.S. visions for civil aviation correctly point out the importance of civil aviation. For example, NASA’s recent Aeronautics Blueprint notes that the United States and the world are becoming “more dependent on the ability to move goods and people faster and more efficiently by air…. Over the last century, aviation has evolved to become an integral part of our economy, a cornerstone of our national defense, and an essential component of our way of life. Aviation generates more than $1 trillion of economic activity in the United States every year,…Americans per capita use aviation more than any other country in the world,…[and] personal travel accounts for more than 50 percent of commercial air transportation.” To sustain our ability to reap the benefits that aviation provides, the U.S. visions consistently identify three main thrusts that long-term aeronautics research should address: safety and security, capacity of the air transportation system, and environmental compatibility (noise and emissions). The committee concluded, however, that U.S. visions and goals consistently overlook several key items: a description of the overall process, a clear set of guiding principles, and a strategy for overcoming transitional issues. The process of organizing a long-term research and technology program for civil aviation should start with a systematic statement of the underlying problems and a unified national vision to ensure that efforts by individual departments and agencies of the federal government respond to these problems in a synergistic fashion. Currently, however, most of the five vision documents examined by the committee have not been endorsed by the heads of the agencies who chartered them, and they 500 Fifth St. N.W., Room TNA-1002A, Washington, DC 20001 Telephone: (202) 334–2855 Fax: (202) 334–2482 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org www.national-academies.org/aseb
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contain goals that are inconsistent with the research and acquisition budgets of the responsible federal agencies. The situation raises questions about the relevancy of existing visions and demonstrates the need for federal agencies involved in civil aeronautics research and technology to support and implement a unified national vision. The committee believes that the most critical long-term issue facing all aspects of the air transportation system is growth in demand for air travel. Safety, security, capacity, and environmental compatibility issues are all exacerbated by greater demand, and the effectiveness of near-term solutions in each of these areas will be diminished as demand for air travel in the United States doubles and triples in the decades ahead. New technologies and the resulting operational concepts should be assessed in terms of their ability to solve the key problems that the air transportation system of the future must overcome. For example, in the next 50 years it will probably become technologically feasible to replace pilots and air traffic controllers with automated systems. But to what extent would such systems solve the key problems of today, and what new problems might they introduce? The guiding principle here should be to design synergistic partnerships between humans and automation that result in better performance than either could achieve alone, rather than simply replacing humans with computers. Long-term goals and visions should support the development of technological solutions using a top-down approach that views the air transportation system as one element of a multimodal national transportation system. The desired future state of the air transportation system should be defined using a comprehensive architecture that combines process elements for each component (operational, system, technical, and economic) of the transportation system. The future vision should also consider transitional issues, such as the need for (1) an environment that is conducive to the introduction of new technologies (in terms of regulations, regulatory approval processes, the certification process, operational procedures, and the perceptions of system operators, the traveling public, and society at large), (2) interim improvements to the air transportation system along the way to the future, and (3) incentives that motivate government agencies and private industry to cooperate in defining and achieving a common vision. Achieving the vision may also be facilitated by designating an organization to serve as the federal advocate for air transportation now that that the Federal Aviation Administration no longer has the legislative charge to promote aviation. Visions should also be recognized as dynamic, changing over time as societal needs and priorities change and as advances in technology alter our perception of what is possible. In assessing the U.S. goals and visions, the committee also examined a comparable vision of civil aeronautics in Europe. The European vision highlighted two key areas that are missing from the U.S. visions. The latter do not include the satisfaction of consumer needs, in terms of the quality and affordability of air transportation, as a goal, perhaps because consumers do not seem to have been consulted when the U.S. visions were formulated. Also, although the U.S. visions as a whole recognize that national well-being depends on a national transportation system with a strong aviation element, they do not include primacy of the U.S. aeronautics industry as a goal. Competitiveness is so central to the European vision, however, that it appears in the title of the document that defines this vision: European Aeronautics: A Vision for 2020—Meeting Society’s Needs and Winning Global Leadership. Developing a comprehensive, unified vision for the future of the U.S. air transportation system—and generating widespread support to achieve the vision—will be a tremendous challenge. Fortunately, sometimes the flow of history leads to a confluence of events that creates an opportunity to meet great challenges. The 100th anniversary of powered flight, which will take place in 2003, may be an opportunity both to create a bold new vision for air transportation and to initiate vigorous action by government agencies and private organizations to pursue that vision. However, even with this opportunity, little is likely to happen without air transportation being clearly established as a
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national priority with strong, focused leadership. In fact, the committee believes that providing such leadership is more important to the future of the air transportation system than any new technology. Sincerely, Ronald R.Fogleman Chairman cc: Fenton Carey, Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry Charles Huettner, Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry Robert Pearce, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Carl McCullough, Office of Science and Technology Policy Herm Rediess, Federal Aviation Administration Andres Zellweger, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
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