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Suggested Citation:"5. Process for Change." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2003. Securing the Future of U.S. Air Transportation: A System in Peril. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10815.
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5
Process for Change

As discussed in previous chapters, a national vision, clear technology goals, well-defined organizational roles, and strong, focused leadership are necessary to improve the national and international competitiveness of the U.S. aeronautics industry and enable the air transportation system to satisfy increased demands for air travel without degrading system safety, security, environmental compatibility, or consumer satisfaction.

The role of the federal government in air transportation, as in other modes of transportation, is played by various agencies with sometimes conflicting agendas; these agencies must deal with (1) an intensively competitive carrier industry that rarely earns the cost of capital and (2) public infrastructure (airports, in the case of aviation) that makes up a major part of the physical system and is provided by other units of government (state and local) that also compete among themselves for service and investment to meet their own needs.

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 quite distinct, as would be expected when comparing a research organization with an operational organization. Nonetheless, they are the federal government’s principal agents for operating and improving the technical capabilities of the air transportation system.

One role of government is to support research in areas related to the public good, such as aviation safety, security, environmental effects, and other areas where the performance of the air transportation system impacts society. The purpose of governmental involvement is to bring advanced concepts and technologies to the point where private investment can be justified by industry. Government can make its involvement more effective by supporting and participating in noncompetitive research collaborations (including international collaborations) related to aviation safety and environmental effects (e.g., collecting data and developing models).

Using a flexible approach to government-industry relationships, the federal government can also support precompetitive research by U.S. industry, where it can cost effectively advance the current state of research and technology in ways that are most likely to make the transition from the research laboratory to commercial development. This transition is often difficult because the technology goals of NASA research programs often leave technology in a state that industry considers too immature to justify commercial development. The federal government and the aeronautics industry both operate in cost-constrained environments that encourage managers to rely on other organizations to fund research whenever possible. Strong, inspired leadership—by government and industry—will be needed to overcome these problems.

Strong leadership will also be required to ensure that research and technology are planned and conducted in the context of a well-organized and broadly supported process that has a comprehensive strategy for overcoming key challenges and can achieve the national vision for commercial aviation. Research should be guided by a consistent set of system performance requirements, operational concepts, system architectures, and implementation plans. Any other approach, even if it produces breakthrough technologies in selected areas, is likely to have a difficult time making the systemic improvements that will be necessary to keep pace with the long-term growth in demand for air transportation.

The importance of establishing strong interagency leadership that establishes a long-term vision and goals, coordinates interagency research, and conducts periodic reviews of the national aeronautical research and development programs is highlighted in the final report of the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry (2002). The

Suggested Citation:"5. Process for Change." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2003. Securing the Future of U.S. Air Transportation: A System in Peril. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10815.
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federal government has also established a joint aviation system program office, motivated in part by the perception that

  • The demand for air transportation will exceed planned capacity improvements.

  • A strategic realignment of government resources is needed to enhance mobility and improve the benefits provided by aviation research.

  • Government leadership is needed to develop a unified national plan.

The joint program office will be guided by a policy committee chaired by the secretary of transportation and including the FAA and NASA administrators and senior executives from the Departments of Commerce, Defense, and Homeland Security.1

Developing a public-private consensus on a long-term vision and goals will be complicated by the different concerns of different stakeholders. Especially in times of financial difficulty, airlines understandably are highly cost sensitive and have a hard time looking past the immediate future. In addition, the FAA is forced by the nature of its close supervision by Congress, its own technical limitations, and intense pressure from the airlines to be conservative in the introduction of new technologies.

Many so-called scientific and engineering breakthroughs are the result of discoveries made 10 to 20 years earlier. Success often requires persistence, the willingness to challenge conventional wisdom, and/or a change in circumstances that significantly alters what is possible and practical. For example, the idea of the gas turbine reportedly is described in a British patent granted in 1791 (Moss, 1944), but use of the gas turbine for aircraft propulsion proved to be an elusive goal. As late as 1924, an investigator for the U.S. Bureau of Standards concluded that “jet propulsion would be impractical for either civilian or military purposes: The top speed of a jet-powered aircraft would be only 250 miles per hour and fuel consumption would be four times higher than piston engines” (Mandeles, 1998). Research continued nonetheless, but the first flight of a gas turbine propulsion system did not take place until 1941, when the imperative of war spurred massive aviation research and technological advances in materials and other fields made this achievement possible. World War II also laid the foundation for a greatly expanded air transportation system by training thousands of pilots, creating a huge inventory of surplus military aircraft and airports, and producing many other advances in the state of the art of aviation technology.

Action necessary for securing the future for the U.S. air transportation system is encapsulated in the process for change that is defined in the following summary recommendation:

Recommendation 5-1. Process for Change. Establish air transportation as a national priority with strong, focused leadership. Air transportation system technology planning and development should be done in the context of a process driven by the needs of system users and the nation as a whole.

  1. Implement a public/private process for change, as follows:

    • Designate a federal agency or office to provide strong leadership in overcoming the challenges faced by the U.S. air transportation system.

    • Establish an interagency process for developing and achieving a widely endorsed long-term vision of the air transportation system that includes a clear set of guiding principles and a strategy for overcoming transitional issues.

    • Document the process.

    • Coordinate action and resolve disputes among stakeholders in the aviation community with different concerns and priorities (e.g., manufacturers and operators; executives and employees; pilots, controllers, and passengers; local, federal, and state governments; regulators; the military; and general aviation).

    • Gather and analyze feedback on how well the process is working from the perspective of all interested parties, especially when conditions change, to identify problems before serious incidents or disruptions occur and to recognize new opportunities.

    • Formally review the process and process outputs at least every 4 years.

    • Update the process.

  1. The output of the process should include the following:

    • A better understanding of future demand for air transportation to make sure that changing trends will be detected as soon as possible.

    • A unified, long-term national vision endorsed and supported by the aeronautics community as a whole and cognizant federal agencies.

    • Broad public policies to support the vision.

    • Long-term operational concepts to meet the vision and to serve as a continuing resource for guiding change and coordinating action by different parties.

    • System architectures to realize the operational concepts.

    • An understanding of how the U.S. air transportation system of the future will fit into the national (intermodal) transportation system and international air transportation system.

    • Validated research and technology requirements.

1  

John Kern, Federal Aviation Administration, briefing to Alan Angleman, National Research Council, on April 11, 2003.

Suggested Citation:"5. Process for Change." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2003. Securing the Future of U.S. Air Transportation: A System in Peril. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10815.
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  • An implementation plan to achieve all of the above, including a clear understanding of government and industry roles in developing precompetitive and noncompetitive aeronautical research and transitioning the results of civil and military government research to commercial development.

  1. A comprehensive suite of system models should be developed, validated, and maintained to support informed decision making throughout the process. Models should encompass the following:

    • demand

    • economics

    • environmental effects

    • existing and new technologies

    • human performance

    • interactions with other modes of transportation

    • new operational concepts

    • organizational factors

    • security threats and preventive measures

    • system engineering

    • transition (from old to new technologies, systems, and organizational structures)

  1. A commitment should be made to support a stable long-term research program to provide the knowledge, tools, and technologies needed throughout the process. At a low level, the research program should investigate innovative research ideas that challenge accepted precepts.

The Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry issued a report in 2002 with recommendations for federal action to ensure that the United States would maintain a robust aerospace industry in the 21st century. The scope of the Aerospace Commission’s report is much broader than that of this report, and the Vision 2050 Committee was not chartered to validate the results of the Aerospace Commission. However, many of the findings and recommendations in this report are supported by the Aerospace Commission’s recommendations:

Recommendation #1. The integral role aerospace plays in our economy, our security, our mobility, and our values makes global leadership in aviation … a national imperative…. The Commission, therefore, recommends that the United States boldly pioneer new frontiers in aerospace technology….

Recommendation #2. The Commission recommends transformation of the U.S. air transportation system as a national priority….

Recommendation #9…. basic aerospace research … enhances U.S. national security, enables breakthrough capabilities, and fosters an efficient, secure and safe aerospace transportation system (Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry, 2002).

A final word on the current state of the air transportation industry in the United States. As recently as the summer of 2001, many travelers were dreading air transportation because of extensive delays associated with undercapacity of the system. That all changed on 9/11. Demand for air transportation has not yet returned to peak levels. Most U.S. airlines continue to struggle for survival, and some have filed for bankruptcy. The situation undermines the argument that strong action is urgently needed to avert a crisis of undercapacity in the air transportation system. Yet that remains the case. History shows that crises of confidence or international conflict can depress the demand for air transportation, but only over the short term. In every earlier situation, the long-term trend of increasing demand has reasserted itself. Assuming that current events have fundamentally and permanently changed public demand for transportation by air is not a sound basis for planning the long-term future of the air transportation system. Current events have provided an opportunity to get ahead of the problem; hopefully government and industry will be able to make the most of this opportunity.

REFERENCES

Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry. 2002. Final report of the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, Office of Aerospace. Available online at <www.aerospacecommission.gov/AeroCommissionFinalReport.pdf>.


Mandeles, M. 1998. The Development of the B-52 and Jet Propulsion. Maxwell Air Force Base, Al.: Air University Press. Available online at <www.maxwell.af.mil/au/aul/aupress/Books/Mandeles_B52/PDF/Mandeles.pdf>.

Moss, S., 1944. Gas turbines and superchargers. Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers 66:351–371. Cited in <http://www.asme.org/history/brochures/h100.pdf>.

Suggested Citation:"5. Process for Change." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2003. Securing the Future of U.S. Air Transportation: A System in Peril. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10815.
×
Page42
Suggested Citation:"5. Process for Change." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2003. Securing the Future of U.S. Air Transportation: A System in Peril. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10815.
×
Page43
Suggested Citation:"5. Process for Change." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2003. Securing the Future of U.S. Air Transportation: A System in Peril. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10815.
×
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As recently as the summer of 2001, many travelers were dreading air transportation because of extensive delays associated with undercapacity of the system. That all changed on 9/11, and demand for air transportation has not yet returned to peak levels. Most U.S. airlines continue to struggle for survival, and some have filed for bankruptcy. The situation makes it difficult to argue that strong action is urgently needed to avert a crisis of undercapacity in the air transportation system. This report assesses the visions and goals for U.S. civil aviation and technology goals for the year 2050.

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