The former FAA administrator, now chief executive of the Aerospace Industries Association (chalet S1500), is hopeful that the air show will see industry leaders unite against the threat of protectionism

How do you think the mood is going to be in Paris this year given the economic issues?

I think you've got two things going. One of the things that I particularly like is that this is the 100th anniversary of the Paris air show - which is pretty strong resilience when you think about industry and its capabilities.

I would suggest that the show is probably going to be about as strong this year as most in recent memory. When you think about what that signals about resilience and strength and the ability to weather some choppy turbulence from time to time I think everybody would feel very confident about putting their money with us.

Marion Blakey
 © AIA

Now, are people going to be comparing notes about the immediate market forces and what's going on with the current economic downturn and how this will affect the next couple of years? Absolutely. I think that one of the strengths of something like Paris - that everyone gets to sort of take the temperature and compare notes with their counterparts in the global mix.

Another thing I think is going to be a discussion point - and I think you're going to see discussion on the military side too about acquisition reform - is how can we improve the system of procurement and the way we approach using and getting the best for the resources that are there. And that's very important to our industry.

In 2003 and 2005, the Paris air show was really the setting for the World Trade Organisation disputes. Is that something you want to bring up - the subsidy and fair competition issue?

I think we're waiting to see what the WTO does. Unless you know something I haven't heard, I don't think we're going to be seeing any shoe drop on that in advance. It's in the hands of the courts right now, and we're all looking to see what transpires there.

What I do think you're going to see, however, is again this group of transatlantic chief executives making a strong push on free trade because we're seeing protectionism in our markets in a variety of places. And as an industry, we do not believe that allowing those kinds of sentiments to ferment and all of a sudden to become trade barriers are in the interest of our economies or in the interest of our industry.

This Obama administration is looking at a lot of different issues all at once. From your perspective, how do you get your message out there, and how do you get it heard and addressed?

We are very much focusing on the commercial side. The imperative is to get the NextGen air traffic management system on a fast track. We think this is something this administration shows an interest in, and so we are going to be very keen on working with Congress to show, through the Federal Aviation Administration's re­authorisation and appropriations process, that we need to make capital investments. These will accelerate the deployment of a system that is going to bring tremendous economic benefit, and bring it to the "Now-Gen" stage.

We think that is one of the best and most important things we can do.

I've been up on the Hill testifying more than I did when I was working at the FAA. A certain amount of this is direct to the Congress, direct to the administration discussions, and a certain amount of it is advocacy among our counterparts in aviation to have the kind of consensus and coalition that says "look, for the first time we're all pulled together on this and have great clarity about what needs to happen and how fast".

How satisfied are you with how NextGen is in the reauthorisation bill proposed by the House?

I think that's the point here, that the funding levels in the House authorisation, which of course is always different than appropriating, reach respectable levels. It does not provide the funding or the impetus to accelerate that programme and that's what we think is missing there.

The time has come to really make a push. In this climate of trying to stimulate our economy and make major investments in infrastructure, we think that so far aviation infrastructure has been short-changed, so we want to see that improve. The reauthorisation is certainly one of the major ways in which that can change.

Beyond what I said is our major objective, we also have a major concern that we have been pointing out and opposing vigorously - that is the requirement in the House bill that foreign repair stations be inspected by the FAA twice-over every year.

It is a very costly scenario for not only our manufacturers, but for all the operators in the system if in fact we go to negate the system now of reciprocity.

Last year, AIA had a series of briefings advocating a 4% baseline level for the defence budget. How do you think this administration has responded to that?

I think that the administration's budget figures so far have certainly been ones that we believe are indicative of support for defence requirements.

But we have concerns because we believe that there needs to be more robust spending when it comes to procurement and research and development.

The topline there does not cover what we think is the need for both modernisation and recapitalisation. We are looking of course to the quadrennial review and the assessment there as part of this discussion.

We are going to be bringing out a major report in June on the issues of the industrial base because debate goes to specific programmes. There's a bigger underlying question that we think is very critical to address, and that is: will the USA be able to maintain the capabilities to continue to advance technologically because our battlefield advantage has always been a technological one?

We're not out there trying to overwhelm with brute force. We're trying to ensure that our warfighters have the finest and the best technologies, which have greatly ensured a great deal of the US military success over time.

Source: Flight Daily News