Press Release

NASA Aeronautics Program Faces Challenges to Future Airtravel Demands

By SpaceRef Editor
May 1, 2008
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Washington D.C. – Today the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing to examine NASA’s current aeronautics research and development (R&D) program, and to discuss what needs to be done to make it as relevant as possible to address the nation’s airline woes.

“There are very few federal enterprises over the past one hundred years that have contributed so powerfully to America’s economy and enhanced our nation’s quality of life – and our security – than NASA’s aeronautics research and development program,” said Ranking Member Tom Feeney (R-FL). “As should be expected, this industry and aerospace technology has evolved over time, especially over the last three decades.”

Feeney continued, “Aeronautics is not a mature industry, and therefore, any number of new technologies that enable cleaner, quieter, more fuel efficient aircraft will make a telling difference between success and failure. We cannot afford to cede our leadership to foreign suppliers.”

NASA has long been a major source of the nation’s aeronautical R&D that has found application in both civil and military systems. In 2005, NASA began restructuring its aeronautics program to move towards a program focused on more fundamental research. These changes are at a time when the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is being developed.

NextGen is intended to transform the existing air traffic control system in order to accommodate projected growth in air passenger rates over the next decade. The development of NextGen is being overseen by the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO), a joint initiative of the Department of Transportation, NASA, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

However, funding for NASA’s aeronautics program has been in decline for a major portion of the decade, in spite of congressional efforts to reverse that negative trend.

Representing NASA at today’s hearing, Dr. Jaiwon Shin, Associate Administrator of the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, emphasized the growing importance of finding technological solutions to help facilitate NextGen and smooth the way for increased global demand for air travel. “Growth in the air transportation system is vital to the well being of our nation,” Shin said. “In order to realize the revolutionary changes required to meet forecasted capacity increases, a number of significant challenges must be overcome such as protecting the environment, ensuring safety, dramatically improving efficiency and revolutionizing the ways we manage the flow of aircraft.

Shin continued, “In the next two decades we must find ways to make advances that improve aircraft and system efficiency, reduce aviation’s impact on the environment and allow more people to utilize air travel in ways that are more significant than all the gains realized over the last three decades.”

Dr. Ilan Kroo, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University, praised the work NASA is currently doing in aeronautics, given their current funding levels. “In the past few years NASA has done a good job in defining a strong, fundamental research program within severely-limiting budget constraints,” Kroo said. “It has focused R&D activities on the kind of fundamental research that will be important for longer-term solutions.”

However, Kroo highlighted the need for a more efficient transition of technologies from the lab to the marketplace, saying, “The next step is to understand how some of the most promising technologies can be integrated at the system level and transitioned from the lab to the user. These critical integration and validation projects will require close collaboration with industry and it is difficult to see how they can be undertaken with NASA’s current level of investment in aeronautics.”

Also testifying at today’s hearing were: Carl J. Meade, Co-Chair of the Committee for the Assessment of NASA’s Aeronautics Research Program, National Research Council, National Academies; and Preston A. Henne, Senior Vice President of Programs, Engineering and Test, Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation.

SpaceRef staff editor.