of tax, even though passengers paying higher fares impose no more burden on the air transportation system than do discount passengers on the same flight. Weight-based landing fees exacerbate the distortions of the ticket tax. Large aircraft carrying many passengers impose essentially the same burden on system capacity as smaller aircraft. Large aircraft may require a larger investment in runways, but not in proportion to the higher fees they must pay. In fact, a small aircraft may place a larger burden on the air traffic management system if it has a low approach speed and must be merged into a landing stream of large aircraft with higher approach speeds.

The size, speed, fuel efficiency, environmental characteristics, and passenger comfort offered by future generations of aircraft, as well as the capabilities of the air traffic management system, will directly influence the cost and convenience of commercial air transportation and, hence, the aggregate level of demand for air transportation services. In order to appreciate the costs and benefits, understanding economic factors is especially important in small communities where the government subsidizes commercial air service because it cannot be justified based purely on market factors. Economic analyses should also be used to help assess different approaches for improving capacity—for example, by assessing the feasibility of various economic incentives or by comparing the cost of building more runways with the cost of developing a more capable air traffic management system that increases the capacity of existing runways. Improving safety and reducing environmental effects can reduce costs in terms of total, long-term costs and even, in many cases, of direct operating costs. Foresight, planning, and vision play an important role in determining the feasibility of achieving future goals; costs and consequences need to be recognized early on rather than waiting until after a system is deployed to recognize, for example, that it creates noise or air quality problems that will limit its implementation and benefits.

Finding 2-2. Nontechnological Impediments to Success. Technological research alone is insufficient to achieve the future vision. Research is also needed to (1) better understand the economic, environmental, political, institutional, and managerial factors involved in achieving key goals, (2) take advantage of synergies among these factors, and (3) overcome related impediments.

Recommendation 2-4. Research Needs Beyond Technology Development. The federal government should also support research to develop improved processes and methods in the following nontechnology areas:

  • Assessment of economic factors, such as taxes, fees, and subsidies established by the government, that influence (1) the demand for and the supply of air transportation services and (2) key decisions made by organizations and individuals involved in the provision and use of the air transportation system.

  • Modification of regulations, certification requirements, and operating procedures.

  • Prediction and resolution of conflicting objectives of different stakeholders in the air transportation system.

  • Understanding societal concerns about aircraft noise and emissions.


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