What is the Future of Aerospace?
From the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry
By Fred Workley
The Commission on the Future of the Aerospace Industry has issued a final report. The report outlines nine goals for aerospace reform and specifies several core competencies that the nation must address.
This year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of aviation. The aerospace industry has opened up new frontiers to the world, such as freedom of flight and access to space. It has provided products that have defended our nation, sustained our economic development, and safeguarded the freedoms we enjoy. It has helped forge new inroads in medicine and science, and fostered the growth of commercial products that have improved the quality of life.
With a commitment to engineering, scientific, and manufacturing expertise, there is the promise of still more innovations and new frontiers.
The contributions of aerospace to our global leadership have been so successful that U.S. preeminence in aerospace is taken for granted. Yet the evidence doesn't support this. The U.S. aerospace industry has consolidated from what was once more than 70 suppliers in 1980 down to five prime contractors today. Only one U.S. commercial prime aircraft manufacturer remains. Airlines absorbed historical losses of more than $7 billion in 2001. And the news is full of reports of wage concessions and bankruptcy filings that indicate the losses will continue to escalate.
The industry is confronted with a graying workforce, with an estimated 26 percent available for retirement within the next five years. New entrants to the industry have dropped to historical lows as the number of industry layoffs mount. Compounding the workforce crisis is the failure of the educational system to properly equip students with the math, science, and technological skills needed to advance the aerospace industry.
The Commission on the Future of the Aerospace Industry's purpose is to call attention to the underpinnings of this nation's aerospace industry and to focus on the areas that need support.
During the year that the Commission did individual and collective research, it visited and spoke with aerospace leaders in the United States, Europe, and Asia. It noted how other countries are directing attention and resources to foster an indigenous aerospace industry. This is in contrast to the attitude in the United States, which stands dangerously close to squandering the advantage bequeathed by prior generations of aerospace leaders.
Congress gave the Commission a broad mandate to study the health of the aerospace industry and to identify actions that the United States needs to take to ensure its health in the future. The Commission's report contains recommendations intended to catalyze action from leaders in government, industry, labor, and academia and assure this industry's continued prominence.
An aerospace vision
This nation needs a national vision to keep the hallmarks of aerospace alive - imagination and innovation. For inspiration, the Commission looked to what aerospace can do for the nation and the world. The vision the Commission used to guide its efforts is "Anyone, Anything, Anywhere, Anytime."
The Commissioners represent a broad cross section of the stakeholders responsible for the health of the industry and whose expertise represents the breadth and depth of aerospace issues. Drawing on their extensive experience, and on the hundreds of briefings and public testimony, the Commission has made nine recommendations that provide guidance to the nation's leaders on the future of the U.S. aerospace industry.