Aeronautics is a major contributor to the U.S. economy. It is the single largest positive industrial contributor to the international trade balance and provides significant benefits to the United States in terms of economic prosperity, transportation, employment, advanced technology products, and commercial spinoffs. The U.S. aircraft industry recorded more than $139 billion in sales in 1991, contributing $29.5 billion to our balance of trade and employing hundreds of thousands of people in high-quality jobs.[Endnote 1] Long range prospects for the industry are good, with analysts projecting a global civil aircraft market to be worth more than $328 billion through 2000 and approximately $815 billion through 2010.[Endnote 2]
The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 mandates the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to pursue "the improvement of the usefulness, performance, speed, safety, and efficiency of aeronautical and space vehicles," as well as "the preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology and the application thereof . . ." [Endnote 3] The growth of the U.S. industry has benefited from this mandate and a strong partnership with NASA and other government agencies. However, the environment in which the U.S. aeronautics industry exists has changed dramatically over the past 20 years due to increased foreign competition, the divergence of civil and military technologies, and the end of the Cold War. Furthermore, aeronautics is now a global industry with a global infrastructure. These changes have created significant challenges that must be recognized and addressed through increased government-industry cooperation if the U.S. civil aircraft industry is to remain not only viable but a world leader.
Both Europe and the Pacific Rim nations have recognized the benefit of a strong civil aeronautics industry. Europe's Airbus has been an economic success due, in part, to the direct support of European governments. Through 1969, the United States maintained 91 percent of the world market share for transport aircraft.[Endnote 4] By 1991, U.S. market share had dropped to 67 percent, with Airbus capturing over 30 percent of the global market.[Endnote 5] Japan, though having less experience and infrastructure in civil aeronautics, has been steadily building up its experience base and has targeted this industry for growth.
The United States, both government and industry, has failed to address adequately these challenges or adjust to the significant changes that have occurred in this global industry. NASA development programs have not kept pace with the demand for technologies with commercial benefit to the U.S. aeronautics industry. Conversely, industry must strengthen its partnership with government, including making the appropriate private investments, to ensure that the highest-payoff research activities are pursued.
In recognition of the need to protect and increase U.S. competitiveness in civil aeronautics, NASA has begun planning an expanded aeronautics program. It includes augmentation of its subsonic research program to focus on highest-payoff technologies, such as aircraft efficiency and environmental concerns, as well as upgrading current facilities and infrastructure needs. The program stresses a strong commitment to dual-use technology programs conducted in cooperation with the Department of Defense and research in high-speed civil transport technologies. However, NASA must do more to meet the challenges facing the U.S. aerospace industry today if the United States is to remain competitive in the global market.
NASA should develop a closer relationship with the U.S. civil aviation industry and government partners to ensure that industry needs are addressed early and throughout the technology development process and to maximize investment through fast and efficient technology transfer activities. In pursuing this objective, NASA should:
--ensure that promising technologies are fully developed, through validation where necessary, to reduce the risk to industry of commercialization efforts;
--increase industry participation and involvement in all phases of the research and development process, from planning to implementation as well as in the evaluation of results; and
--improve its responsiveness to specific industry needs through increased flexibility of services and resources (facilities and people) and programmatic objectives. In pursuing the above recommendations, NASA will need to increase its efforts to effectively communicate with industry through contacts with trade associations and professional organizations. However, NASA must also increase its dialogue with industry at the laboratory level where the most significant technology transfer activities often occur. NASA should also consider increasing the number of symposia and workshops it conducts to ensure it has an adequate understanding of industry concerns and current market forces.
Greater industry involvement in the development and implementation of NASA research projects will ensure more focused agency programs and research objectives. This should result in a more integrated NASA aeronautics program among government agencies, industry, and academia. Increased attention should also be given to the protection of critical technologies to ensure a strong U.S. industry position in international leadership and partnering.
This recommendation will have no significant fiscal impact. Only NASA program and research priorities may change as a result of increased coordination and cooperation with industry.
1. Aerospace Industries Association, Aerospace, Facts and Figures 1992-1993 (Washington, D.C., 1992).
2. The Boeing Company, Current Market Outlook: World Market Demand and Airplane Supply Requirements (Seattle, 1993).
3. Public Law 85-568 sub. chap. 102 (d)(2), (5).
4. Morgan Stanley and Company, Inc., Research Memorandum: Commercial Jet Transport Annual Unit Orders (New York, 1993).
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