aviation element, they do not include primacy of the U.S. aeronautics industry as a goal. Competitiveness is so central to the European vision, by contrast, 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.

The vision for the U.S. air transportation system should be supported by research and technology goals leading to improved system performance. Measurable long-term targets should be established to assess progress toward those goals. Ideally, goals should be

  • Ambitious enough to be challenging, without going beyond the limits of what is practical given likely constraints imposed by the current and future state of scientific and engineering knowledge, economics, and other nontechnical factors.

  • Linked to specific benefits—for example, noise goals that will end the exposure of communities near airports to a day-night average sound level greater than 55 dB.

  • Focused on areas in which government research can have a direct impact.

  • Supported by research that demonstrates that the goals will result in the intended outcome—for example, that noise will be substantially eliminated as a constraint on airport operations.

  • Time-phased, with different levels of performance established over different periods of time where appropriate.

Organizational goals should be dynamic to respond to a changing world and changing requirements. NASA recently replaced time-phased, quantitative goals for aeronautics research and technology (e.g., “double the aviation system capacity within 10 years, and triple it within 25 years”) with open-ended, qualitative goals (e.g., “enable more people and goods to travel faster and farther, anywhere, anytime, with fewer delays”). Quantifiable goals may be difficult to establish for research leading to improved understanding and for research related to customer satisfaction, competitiveness, and improving human-computer interactions. However, limiting research to areas with easily quantifiable goals would reduce the scope of research to a subset of the overall problem. Furthermore, quantifiable goals could be readily established in many areas, and even as NASA moves away from quantitative research goals, the report of the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry (2002) recommends the adoption of specific, quantifiable aerospace technology demonstration goals for capacity, safety, mobility, and environmental effects as a national priority.

In considering how research could improve the performance of the air transportation system, the committee took a broad view of performance that considers the particular needs of customers, airlines, and manufacturers. This broad view includes the following parameters (listed alphabetically):

  • Comfort en route

    • en route accommodations

    • transfer activities, including airport amenities

  • Convenience of passenger travel and air freight service

    • availability of service at times desired by customers

    • availability of service to desired departure and destination locations

    • ease of passenger ingress and egress, cargo handling, and aircraft handling, especially as it relates to customer satisfaction and capacity constraints

    • total travel time

  • Cost of moving passengers and cargo

    • cost of developing and manufacturing new aircraft and aircraft systems

    • cost of passenger and freight operations

    • ticket prices for passenger travel and prices paid for freight services

  • Societal impact

    • consumption of nonrenewable fuels

    • effects on the national economy (employment, etc.)

    • emissions

    • land use

    • noise

    • reduced congestion in other modes of transportation

    • safety and security

Airline economics are complex, and the relationship between technology and some of the above parameters is indirect and difficult to quantify. For example, technological efficiencies will not be able to compensate for the economic inefficiencies that occur when reduced demand (or a poorly structured route system) produces low load factors, resulting in high costs per passenger-mile (or cargo-ton-mile). Furthermore, in the short term, ticket prices are often driven more by competitive pressures and the laws of supply and demand than by the productivity and efficiency of the aircraft used to provide transportation services. Ultimately, however, improved performance (that results in lower costs) is necessary because prices that fall below the service providers’ average total costs are economically unsustainable without external subsidies.

Recommendation 1-1. Goals. The future vision for the air transportation system should be supported by research and technology goals leading to improved performance. 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.

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