Union Tribune

February 26, 2004

More money sought for aerospace research


WASHINGTON With a warning that U.S. leadership in aerospace and the capacity of the air transportation system are threatened, the Aerospace Industry Association yesterday called for an additional $38 billion in research and development funds over the next five years.

The industry's proposed increase would come on top of the $48 billion boost in aerospace-related research in President Bush's proposed budgets.

While pleased with the substantial increases in defense research and encouraged by the president's recently announced space exploration vision, the industry group was concerned by lack of funds for advances in aviation and for improvements to the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control system.

Those shortfalls are particularly troublesome to the industry because of international competition in aerospace production and predictions for growth in U.S. airline traffic this year.

Clayton Jones, Rockwell Collins chief executive and chairman of the AIA's board of governors, noted that Europe-based Airbus recently claimed Boeing's traditional lead in the global sale of airliners.

"The real issue is, will the United States be able to maintain its leadership in aerospace and the economic benefits that accrue from that," Jones said.

The industry association released its five-year aerospace research plan in an effort to influence this year's election debate and congressional budget action.

Association president John Douglas recalled that AIA had presented its first five-year plan in 1999, calling for a $50 billion increase in aerospace research. Total federal aerospace research spending in that period actually went up $89 billion, he noted.

But $69 billion of that increase went to the Pentagon after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, while gains in NASA and FAA research funding fell far below the industry's goals.

Bush's proposed budget would continue to increase defense research funding and would provide a $1 billion boost in NASA's space exploration programs. But it would make small reductions in NASA's aviation research efforts and in the FAA's research and its facilities and equipment improvement funding.

Jones said the slowdown in work to modernize the nation's air transportation system was acceptable during the sharp drop in air travel after the Sept. 11 attacks, but airline bookings are growing and should exceed 2001 levels this year, he said.

Without improvements in the air traffic system's ability to expedite the flow of aircraft, travelers could again suffer long waits for takeoff, Jones said.

Jones acknowledged that the AIA's funding requests come at a difficult time because of the soaring federal deficit. But he argued that the increases are necessary to protect the U.S. leadership in aerospace.