The US could lose its position at the forefront of aerospace innovation within the next 20 years unless it addresses the problems of an ageing workforce, declining infrastructure and a lack of inspiring flagship projects.

Those were the hard-hitting conclusions laid out by members of the Presidential Commission on the future of the US aerospace industry in a briefing at Farnborough.

Despite high-profile programmes such as the Joint Strike Fighter and Boeing's Sonic Cruiser, the commission believes much work has still to be done if the US industry is to preserve its pre-eminence in the market.



Five of the 12 commissioners appointed by the President and Congress were present at the show – chairman Bob Walker, Lockheed Martin chief operating officer Bob Stevens, former Air Force Secretary Whitten Peters, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and John Douglass, chief executive of the Aerospace Industries Association. Many of their findings will make uncomfortable reading for US aerospace chiefs.

Vice-chairman Whitten Peters points to the demographics of the industry – average age 51 – as posing a real problem for the future. "We face a struggle to attract bright young people into the industry and to pay for their training," he warns.

Addressing the demographics is just one issue though. The US domination of aerospace projects is being challenged consistently from Europe, which now has a much leaner and better consolidated array of businesses.

The rivalry between Airbus and Boeing is as fierce as ever and Airbus has reached one of its key goals in achieving a 50% share of the orders for commercial aircraft. This follows a decade in which it trailed Boeing year-on-year.

For John Douglass, regarded by many as the father of the Commission because of his efforts to win support for its creation, the major area of concern is the "precipitous decline" in industry access to R&D since the 1990s.

He notes some glimmers of progress with Congress looking to add significantly to the allocation for R&D in the latest Presidential budget request. But he has his reservations about the effectiveness of the way R&D funding is delivered to the companies on the ‘front line'.

He also points to the continuing failure to modernise the US air traffic control system, saying: "The problem is the disastrous financial condition of the US airlines" and the "shrinking and thinning" of the industrial base in certain areas.

Bob Walker, who served as senior adviser on science, space and technology to President Bush, says the commission will conduct a final hearing in August and the report will be published in November.

Source: Flight Daily News