The Testimony of
Mr. Ed Bolen
President and Chief Executive Officer, General Aviation Manufacturers Association
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, my name is Edward M. Bolen and I am President and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA). Recently, I have also had the privilege to serve as one of the presidential appointees to the Commission of the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry.
As everyone on this subcommittee knows, general aviation is technically defined as all aviation other than commercial airlines and military aviation. Our aircraft range from small, single-engine planes to mid-size turboprops to the larger turbofans capable of flying non-stop from New York to Tokyo. These planes are used for business purposes and recreation, as well as everything from emergency medical evacuations to border patrols and fire fighting. General aviation aircraft are also used by individuals, companies, state governments, universities and other interests to quickly and efficiently reach the more than 5,000 small and rural communities in the United States that are not served by commercial airlines.
General aviation is the backbone of our air transportation system and the primary training ground for the commercial airline industry. The U.S. general aviation fleet consists of over 214,000 aircraft that fly more than 29 million hours per year and carry more than 166 million passengers. According to a recent study by Global Insight, general aviation contributes more than $41 billion to our nation's GDP each year and generates over a half million jobs.
Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry
Mr. Chairman, serving on the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry was an honor and a tremendous educational experience. Unlike previous commissions, this one looked at the totality of the aerospace industry-not just one of its individual segments like civil aviation or space or military. As a result, the Commission was not limited to viewing the industry through the prism of a single federal agency like NASA, the FAA or the DOD. Instead, we had the opportunity to see how the federal government as a whole treated aerospace.
What we found was that the United States did not have a unifying aerospace vision or a coordinated aerospace policy. Instead, our nation's aerospace programs, including research efforts, were the result of ad hoc decisions made by a patchwork of federal agencies.
The Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry believes this situation needs to change if our nation is to continue to be the world leader in aerospace. We can no longer afford to have redundant federal research programs. We can no longer afford for one federal agency to keep taxpayer funded technology from another. We can no longer afford to have research programs that industry does not value. And, we can no longer afford to work on technologies that have no chance of being certified for use in the national airspace system.
To remedy this situation, we need better coordination between Congressional Committees, government agencies and industry. There is some coordination today but it is generally fragmented and tactical. We need to be more strategic. We also need to start looking at federally funded facilities and capabilities as national assets rather than as proprietary assets of the civil aviation system or the space program or the military.
Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.
Recently, the Air Force announced that it would close its one-of-a-kind Climatic-test Center at Eglin Air Force Base because it was no longer serving an Air Force function. The problem with that decision is that the Climatic Center, which is a technologically advanced hangar that can simulate harsh environmental conditions, is used by more than just the Air Force. Domestic manufacturers of civil aviation products use the facility to test their products in extreme heat or extreme cold so that they can determine the environmental operating envelope for their products and obtain FAA certification.
The Climatic Center is an extremely valuable facility but one that would be too expensive for a single manufacturer to maintain. Its imminent closure represents the lost of an important national aerospace asset. The closure may be a good decision for the Air Force, but it is clearly not in the best interest of the U.S. aerospace industry and the U.S. taxpayer.
Situations like the one at Eglin Air Force Base can only be remedied with better coordination and cooperation between the various parts of the federal government. I urge this subcommittee to use its power to facilitate that coordination and cooperation.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
As everyone knows, one of our nation's foremost aerospace agencies is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA. I would like to focus the remainder of my remarks today on NASA's aeronautics research programs.
Let me begin by saying that NASA's research is fundamental to achieving significant breakthroughs in aeronautics. That is partially because NASA has many unique core competencies, but also because its research horizon is long term, very high risk, and not the kind of research that could be justified by a commercial enterprise.
NASA research is focused at the "pre-competitive" stage, well before commercial products are developed. In fact, experience has shown that a company may still need to invest hundreds of million of dollars to bring to the marketplace a technology NASA has designated as ready for commercialization.
NASA'S AERONAUTICS PROGRAMS
Today NASA is involved in a number of important research programs that have the potential to benefits the entire aviation industry, including general aviation. I would like to highlight some of these programs.
Historically, propulsion has been a key aerospace technology. Dramatic advances in airplane capabilities are often the result of breakthroughs in engine technology, such as when went from heavy radial engines, to light weight piston engines, to turbojets and then to fuel-efficient turbofans.
Today, the environmental impact of aviation operations is a significant constraint on aviation growth because many communities are concerned about aircraft noise and emissions. These concerns prevent the expansion of airport infrastructures that could reduce or eliminate delays. They also force our federal government to spend hundreds of millions of dollars per year soundproofing individual homes around large airports. This kind of federal approach to noise mitigation is a little like responding to a water problem by buying mops rather than fixing the leak. As a country, we need to spend more on NASA Quiet Aircraft Technology and Ultra-Efficient Engine programs. The NASA Advanced Subsonic Technology (AST) Noise Reduction Program has resulted in technologies that are already being used on today's airplanes to lower noise at the source. This includes engine noise reduction from advanced inlet liners and exit nozzles and airplane noise reduction from advancements in aerodynamic wing design and reduced-weight composite materials. The Quiet Aircraft Technology (QAT) Program will build upon the AST research into the next decade in support of NASA's goal to significantly reducing the environmental impact of aircraft noise on the community. In 2002, NASA and FAA initiated a new memorandum of agreement (MOA) to coordinate research activities and increase funding in support of the QAT program to speed up the introduction of lower noise aircraft technologies. GAMA strongly supports the coordination of FAA's Research Engineering & Development Program for Environment and Energy and NASA's noise and emissions research programs to remove barriers to the growth of the aviation industry and accelerate environmental benefits to the community.
VEHICLE PROGRAM NASA has envisioned expanding their Vehicles Program to develop technologies that will remove roadblocks to a vast range of aircraft, bring significant new capabilities and benefits to our air transportation system. But unless NASA is authorized to spend significantly more to develop these vehicle-enabling technologies, we will continue to lose our technology edge.
NAS TRANSFORMATION While the FAA has done an admirable job of planning upgrades to the NAS for the next ten years, NASA should undertake the types of research that will meet the needs of our air transportation system beyond the FAA's planning horizon. Key to this process would be establishing a joint program office to coordinate the aviation-related research activities of NASA, FAA, DOT, DOD and other government agencies.
AIR TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT
No where is the need for a coordinated national vision for aerospace more apparent than in the work NASA does in the air traffic control area. The Multi-Center Traffic Management Area is an example where common goals and objectives have resulted in excellent products that can be rapidly implemented by the FAA. But other areas, such as airspace modeling, the lack of coordination and a shared vision is quite apparent. We are especially concerned that the Virtual Airspace Modeling and Simulation Project, known as VAMS, will consume an inordinate amount of NASA's resources, and many of these resources seem to duplicate those within the FAA.
Clearly, NASA has capabilities and facilities that FAA does not have, and it makes no sense to duplicate these capabilities and facilities within our government. In the area of air traffic control, NASA is essentially a longer-term research agency for the FAA. But FAA's horizon is, and should be much shorter-term than NASA's. So it is essential that NASA's role should include "pushing the envelope" in air traffic control technologies, often beyond what can been seen from today's perspectives. This role is often difficult for the FAA.
Without a single, clear roadmap for aeronautics that cuts across all parts of our government, resources will be wasted and time lost.
In addition to the current NASA programs, we believe there is additional NASA research which would be extremely beneficial to the aeronautics industry. SOFTWARE CERTIFICATION
One new area where NASA's expertise would be especially useful is development of software tools that could be used by the FAA and avionics manufacturers to test avionics and other computer software used in the NAS to ascertain that it meets appropriate certification levels of reliability and integrity. NASA research in this area should be greatly accelerated and closely coordinated with the FAA, which is the organization that determines the minimum performance standards.
Another area where NASA research has great value is advanced weather sensors that can measure temperature and dew point from satellites at altitudes not typically traveled by airline aircraft. At lower altitudes, specially-equipped balloons are used to gather this data. And above 29,000 feet, many airline aircraft are equipped with sensors and automatic datalink of temperature, dew point and other data. But between approximately 10,000 to 29,000 feet, weather data is very sparse.
It is not economically feasible to equip smaller general aviation aircraft that normally fly between 10,000 and 29,000 feet altitudes with sensors and data link, and balloons are not feasible at these altitudes. And although the weather forecast models employed by the National Weather Service have greatly improved, they are still impaired by the fact that measurements of temperature and dew point in the middle altitudes are sparse. Forecasts derived from these models would be greatly enhanced if more accurate, real-time temperature and dew point data was available. Nearly all of the weather products produced by the National Weather Service would be enhanced, including many for non-aviation purposes. But most importantly to GAMA, general aviation safety would be improved.
NASA'S GENERAL AVIATION RESEARCH
As a representative of the general aviation industry, I would also like to take the opportunity today to mention some of the NASA programs which have been specifically focused on general aviation.
The Advanced General Aviation Transport Experiment (AGATE) was a NASA cost sharing partnership with industry to recreate and speed-up the technological basis for revitalization of the U.S. general aviation industry. The goal of the program was to develop affordable new technology, as well as the industry standards and certification methods for airframe, cockpit and flight training systems for next generation, single pilot, 4-6 place, near all-weather light airplanes.
AGATE focused attention on moving technology that had been available only to commercial air carriers into general aviation aircraft. NASA and industry worked closely with FAA to bring electronic display regulations into line with current technology. As a result of this government-industry partnership, many new technologies were either brought to the market, or they were commercialized much sooner than would have been the case without AGATE. For a detailed discussion of how effectively this research was commercialized, I have attached a copy of the "AGATE Alliance Commercialization Impact Report". Perhaps the biggest lesson learned from AGATE was that NASA can be an effective research partner with industry.
Another success was NASA's General Aviation Propulsion (GAP) program aimed at developing revolutionary new propulsion systems for general aviation. Historically, it is new engines that have brought about the greatest changes in aircraft design and performance. At the entry level of general aviation, some very exciting new engines are on the verge of reaching the market.
NASA's GAP program is an excellent example of how NASA research brings technologies to the point where industry can later refine NASA breakthrough technologies and develop commercially-viable products.
SMALL AIRCRAFT TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM
NASA's Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) initiative is a program to demonstrate how the integration of many next-generation technologies can improve air access to small communities. This program envisions travel between remote communities and urban areas by utilizing a new generation of single-pilot light aircraft for personal and business transportation between the nation's 5,400 public use general aviation airports.
Current NASA investments in aircraft technologies are enabling industry to bring affordable, safe, and easy-to-use technologies to the marketplace, including advanced flight controls, innovative avionics, crashworthy composite airframes, more efficient IFR flight training, and revolutionary engines.
The SATS program is focusing on four key operating capabilities, which we fully support:
· Safe, high-volume operations at airports without control towers or terminal radar facilities; · Lower adverse weather landing minimums at minimally-equipped landing facilities; · Integration of advanced general aviation aircraft into a higher en route capacity air traffic control system, with complex flows that can safely and efficiently accommodate a wide range of aircraft with diverse performance characteristics; · Improved single-pilot ability to function safely and competently in complex airspace in the evolving National Airspace System.
It should go without saying that NASA's technical expertise is an essential element of the SATS initiative. Only NASA can cut across traditional technical boundaries and integrate research benefiting general aviation vehicles, air traffic control procedures, airspace design and safety. And more than any other government agency, NASA has already demonstrated an ability to implement an effective consortium of government and industry that can produce results. This ability is due in large part to various collaborative research structures that are uniquely at NASA's disposal.
We believe that at the conclusion of the SATS program in FY05, many of these technologies will be mature enough to be handed-off to the FAA for final development and deployment, and we are working with the FAA to develop such a program. Technologies that result from the SATS program will greatly enhance the capacity of the National Airspace system.
Mr. Chairman, NASA is a preeminent research agency with much to contribute to the future of the aerospace industry. The challenge for all of us as stakeholders, including this subcommittee, will be to make sure NASA programs fit into a broad national aerospace plan and are of value to the industry.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.
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