• a strategy for overcoming transitional issues

  • consumer satisfaction

  • primacy of the U.S. aeronautics industry

Securing the future of the air transportation system requires that change within the system be accelerated quickly enough and directed with enough agility to avoid problems and achieve future goals while managing (1) the influence of increased demand and other external pressures and (2) conflicts between different goals and stakeholders. The process of achieving the long-term vision must be robust enough to prevent the system from changing too slowly, drifting, or going in the wrong direction.

The process of improving the long-term performance of the air transportation system—and organizing a corresponding long-term research and technology program—should start with a unified, widely endorsed national vision that specifies goals in each key area of interest to the commercial aviation community. The continued success of aviation and the benefits that it provides will require changes to accommodate increased demand. The committee found this to be the most critical long-term issue facing all aspects of the air transportation system. Issues associated with safety, security, and environmental compatibility are also exacerbated by greater demand, and the effectiveness of currently envisioned near-term solutions in each of these areas would be diminished if demand for air travel in the United States doubles over the next 10 to 35 years, as currently projected. Increasing passenger throughput enough to keep up with increased demand requires eliminating constraints and improving the flexibility of the system enough to overcome localized capacity problems while accommodating the full range of authorized users (commercial, private, and military). For example, eliminating the effects of adverse weather is not enough; in many areas, the baseline capacity of the system (in good weather) must also be greatly increased to accommodate a deregulated airline industry as it strives to meet user demands for convenient service. This requires research leading to improvements in every element of the air transportation system.

The future vision of the air transportation system should be supported by research and technology goals leading to improved performance in terms of en route comfort of passengers, the convenience of passenger travel and air freight service (including travel time), the cost of moving passengers and cargo (including the cost of developing and manufacturing new aircraft and aircraft systems), and the societal impact of aviation (in terms of the consumption of nonrenewable fuels, emissions, land use, noise, safety, security, reduced congestion in other modes of transportation, employment, and other effects on the national economy). Measurable long-term targets supported by sound analyses should be established to assess progress toward the goals. Research should support the establishment of quantifiable goals in areas where progress is difficult to measure.

The air transportation system is supported by a core of dedicated government and industry personnel who are developing new operational concepts, architectures, and modernization plans. Yet no single organization has the responsibility and authority for developing a comprehensive solution to the challenges faced by the U.S. air transportation system. Business as usual, in the form of continued, evolutionary improvements to existing technologies, aircraft, air traffic control systems, and operational concepts, is unlikely to meet the needs of air transportation over the next 25 to 50 years. The disparity between (1) the rate at which demand is increasing and (2) the rate at which technology is reducing aircraft noise and emissions is becoming increasingly difficult to overcome because technical advances are becoming increasingly difficult to achieve. Without strong, focused leadership, the likely result will be an air transportation system where growth in demand has been greatly curtailed by undercapacity; the environmental effects of aviation; customer dissatisfaction with available levels of comfort, convenience, and cost; and/or factors related to safety and security.

The committee believes that strong action by a federal agency or office to provide such leadership, with the broad support of the administration and the Congress, would do more to improve the ability of national aeronautical research and development programs to achieve their goals than any other change in the management or content of the programs themselves. The designated office should have (1) the responsibility, authority, and financial resources necessary for defining air transportation system architectures through a centralized planning function, (2) an understanding of the interactions among system performance parameters, demand, and economic factors, such as the methods used to fund federal activities in support of the air transportation system, and (3) the credibility and objectivity to garner the active support of other air transportation stakeholders in government, industry, and the general public. This will require, among other things, a leadership group composed of individuals with a broad aviation perspective and a willingness to accept the risks of looking ahead and allowing others to help define the future.5


The aviation system is unique in that it has one federal agency (NASA) responsible for long-range research and development and another agency (FAA) that supplies traffic management systems and services and regulates the carriers and manufacturers. The cultures, missions, and operating practices of NASA’s aeronautics enterprise and the FAA are


Assessing the organization and role of specific government agencies was beyond the scope of this study (see Appendix A), so no recommendation is made regarding which federal office or agency should be designated to provide the required leadership.

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