The future of the U.S. air transportation system is not necessarily tied to the future of the U.S. aeronautics manufacturing industry. Advanced aircraft and ATM systems could be procured from foreign suppliers if U.S. manufacturers fail to remain competitive. However, the supremacy of the U.S. aeronautics industry provides important national security and economic benefits. A U.S. aeronautics vision and research program that does not explicitly consider the importance of U.S. leadership in aeronautics could make it easier for the Europeans to achieve their vision of global leadership and market dominance.
One of the ways that the European vision foresees achieving global primacy is through greater cooperation and harmony among various elements of the aeronautics community throughout the European Union. Similarly, improved coordination and cooperation in this country would benefit the United States. Close cooperation is needed between NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), for example, to establish requirements for NASA research that are relevant to the ATM systems the FAA is likely to procure in the future. The FAA’s ability to support long-term systems analysis and requirements definition is limited, however, because so much effort is expended to solve more immediate problems and keep the air transportation system operating.
Commercialization of technology only shows up in NASA’s goals and objectives. This is an important goal for a research agency like NASA, because the value of its aeronautics research is closely linked to its ability to transfer research results to other organizations that are directly involved in the development or production of aircraft, ATM systems, and other aviation products.
Two of the visions include independence from foreign sources of energy. The committee questions the wisdom of giving much consideration to this goal when formulating a national aeronautics research program because it does not believe that freeing one segment of the economy, such as air transportation, from foreign sources of energy would produce significant benefits if the economy as a whole remained dependent on foreign energy. Before diverting significant resources to research intended to free air transportation from foreign energy, the federal government should conduct a comprehensive, economywide assessment of various options for reducing U.S. dependence on foreign energy. Such a study might well conclude that the optimum strategy for reducing U.S. dependence on foreign energy should focus on nonaviation uses of petroleum products. A large reduction in the demand for jet fuel would not greatly reduce overall demand for petroleum products. In 2000, jet fuel accounted for less than 9 percent of U.S. consumption of petroleum products.2 In addition, design requirements are more stringent for aircraft engines, especially in terms of reliability and power density, than for virtually any other large-scale user of petroleum. New types of engines are unlikely to be adopted by the aviation industry unless they are first proven in other applications.
Energy Information Administration, 2002, “Energy Consumption by Source, 1949–2000,” available online at <www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/aer/txt/tab0511.htm>.