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