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NRC Report: Decadal Survey of Civil Aeronautics: Foundation for the Future

Status Report From: National Research Council
Posted: Monday, June 5, 2006

Steering Committee for the Decadal Survey of Civil Aeronautics, National Research Council

Full Report

The air transportation system is important to the economic vitality, public well-being, and national security of the United States. The aerospace industry has historically made a large contribution to the positive balance of trade for the U.S. economy. In 2005, it had a $37 billion positive balance of trade, of which $29 billion was for civil aeronautics. In addition, the United States has had a long history as the unchallenged world leader in civil and military aeronautics, though this position is now in jeopardy in areas such as research capability, technological expertise, and the performance of civil aircraft and air traffic management systems.

With leadership comes opportunity, particularly with regard to setting international standards for aircraft certification and operations. A position of continued leadership would allow the United States to ensure that viable, global standards continue to be established for the application of emerging technologies and operational concepts. Without such standards the global aviation market and the global transportation system will be fractured into separate fiefdoms ruled by national and regional aviation authorities acting independently. This would impede the ability of passengers and cargo to move seamlessly—and safely—from country to country. The United States needs "world-class science and engineering—not simply as an end in itself, but as the principal means of creating new jobs for its citizenry as a whole as it seeks to prosper in the global marketplace of the 21st century." Strong action is needed to ensure that U.S. leadership continues to assure the future of the domestic and global air transportation systems.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is explicitly chartered to preserve the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautics technology. To pursue that goal, NASA contracted with the National Research Council's Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) to complete a decadal survey of civil aeronautics, to prioritize research projects to be undertaken in the next 10 years. For the last 50 years, the National Research Council has conducted decadal surveys in astronomy. The idea of conducting a decadal survey of aeronautics originated in discussions among the ASEB, the Office of Management and Budget, and congressional committees with an interest in civil aviation. Although this study takes special note of NASA's priorities for civil aeronautics research, it also identifies national priorities for non- NASA researchers. Additionally, the study points out synergies between civil aeronautics research and research objectives associated with national defense, homeland security, and the space program.

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