Aviation’s national economic impact does not stop with the air transport system. Aerospace exports made up approximately 27.5 percent of all 2003 U.S. exports in the category that the U.S. Department of Commerce labels “advanced technology products.” In that year, trade in airplanes and parts delivered a surplus to the United States of $21.1 billion, which significantly defrayed a deficit of $47.9 billion in all other advanced technology categories.6 As for its military significance, the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry, reporting to the President and to Congress in November 2002, declared a healthy U.S. aerospace industry to be “one of the primary national instruments through which [the U.S. Department of Defense] will develop and obtain the superior technologies and capabilities essential to … maintaining our position as the world’s preeminent military power.”7

For the Aerospace Commission and many other industrial and academic groups, recent signs that the nation’s preeminence in aviation may be imperiled have occasioned deep concern. At least 11 studies of U.S. activity in aeronautics published over the past half decade by the National Academies, as well as various industry and government bodies have repeatedly called attention to the vulnerability of the United States’ traditional leading position. In its final report, the Aerospace Commission stated that “the critical underpinnings of this nation’s aerospace industry are showing signs of faltering” and warned bluntly, “We stand dangerously close to squandering the advantage bequeathed to us by prior generations of aerospace leaders.”8 Most recently, 250 members and affiliates of the National Aerospace Institute, in a report commissioned by Congress, declared the center of technical and market leadership to be “shifting outside the United States” to Europe, with a loss of high-paying jobs and intellectual capital to the detriment of U.S. economic well-being.9

A consensus emerges in these reports that the United States must overcome a series of major challenges—to the capacity of its air transportation


Charles W. McMillion of MBG Information Services, analyses of U.S. Department of Commerce data.


Final Report of the Commission, p. 4-4. The Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry is hereafter referred to as the Aerospace Commission.


Final Report of the Commission, p. vi.


National Aerospace Institute, Responding to the Call: Aviation Plan for American Leadership. (2005).

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