Elected on promises of change, president Barack Obama will arrive in the Oval Office to find the US commercial aviation and aerospace industry in a state of stagnation.

The lack of futurist aviation policy is palpable. Development of the next generation (NextGen) air traffic control system has been in limbo for years, a fact underscored by lack of agreement in Congress about how NextGen and its Federal Aviation Administration overseer should be funded.

Even on aviation matters, where the last administration made progress, such as transatlantic open skies, the hardest work awaits. During talks this spring, US negotiators will address the European Union's request that foreign ownership rules be eased. Stakes are high. Either side can withdraw rights developed in the first-phase open skies agreement if a second-stage pact remains elusive. That could put US carriers that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars for slots at London Heathrow in a precarious position.

Despite these challenges, industry players are under no illusion that Obama's initial focus will be on aviation. Such issues pale next to the new administration's priority of securing support for a $775 billion economic stimulus package to reverse the effects of a historic recession.

"It would be remiss of Obama to come and say 'aviation is one of my top priorities'. It shouldn't be. You've got to cut him some slack there," says Michael Boyd, president of Boyd Group International and a consultant on aviation issues. At the same time, he says, that "doesn't relieve the people involved from being competent". Boyd questions whether prospective transportation secretary, Ray LaHood - who, like his predecessors, has no background in aviation - will defer to the FAA for guidance. If he does, that means "nothing will get done - just like the last 20 years".

Source: Flight International