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Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space Holds Hearing Aerospace Industry Research and Development

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

FDCH TRANSCRIPTS
Congressional Hearings
Feb. 27, 2003
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space Holds Hearing Aerospace Industry Research and Development

ALLEN:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. This hearing is very timely. And it's going to provide all of us, I think, a wonderful opportunity to discuss the current state of the U.S. aeronautics industry, as well as what will be necessary to ensure the U.S. continues to lead the world in all aspects of aeronautics technology.

I very much agree with your bottom line assessment. And I'm glad to see that there are some in the Senate who share the views of Senator Dodd and myself. And I will talk about the measure that Senator Dodd and I introduced last year and have reintroduced again, which we think goes a long way towards addressing our competitiveness, the importance of our military superiority, as well as how important it is for our economy that we make the proper investments in aeronautics research and development.

We have seen in the last five years that NASA's budget for aeronautics research and development have been literally cut in half, from $1 billion to its current level of $500 million. In making these cuts, the United States has been rendered more vulnerable to foreign competition in the field of aeronautics.

There is nothing wrong with competition. I am competitive. But if you're going to compete, you had better be investing right and making the right decisions; otherwise, you're going to get left behind.

The nations of Europe, they have moved in the exact opposite direction, dramatically increasing such funding in an effort to enhance their competitiveness in the world's aviation market. I do commend the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry for crafting a comprehensive and frank report on the state of the U.S. aerospace industry.

I do find it disturbing that our aerospace industry is still living off research and development initiatives that began during the Cold War. If the United States is going to continue to develop the stealth aircraft of the 21st century, it must make the commitment to research and development.

This country's ability to lead the world in innovation and technological breakthroughs are a direct result of our commitment in the past. And it's obviously essential that there needs to be significant investment in research and development on a sustained and strategic basis.

And to make the research and development initiatives as beneficial as possible, there must be consensus amongst all parties involved on priorities and goals and the best path to achieve those goals. A commitment to an integrated aerospace policy will also be necessary for the United States to remain the global leader in cutting edge aeronautic technology.

Senator Dodd and I have a great concern with the growing atrophy of the federal commitment to funding for aeronautics research. After reviewing the commission's research and discussing the pressing issues with many in the aeronautics community, I've joined with Senator Dodd to introduce this session again the Aeronautics Research and Development Revitalization Act.

This legislation will provide aggressive funding authorizations to provide NASA aeronautics program with the resources it needs to keep the United States on the cutting edge on all aspects of aeronautics and aviation. The United States' complacency must change now to prevent further damage to our competitiveness in aviation.

The bill that Senator Dodd and I have developed is aggressive. And it will require a commitment of significant funding for the next five years.

However, I believe this money will be well spent when considering the positive impact aeronautics research and development has on both the U.S. economy and on our military. We have received strong support for this initiative, Mr. Chairman. And I ask consent that the letters in support of the Allen-Dodd bill from the Aerospace Industries Association, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Boeing Company and Airbus be made part of the record.

BROWNBACK:

Without objection.

ALLEN:

Thank you.

I would advise my colleagues that the U.S. aviation industry is the largest contributor to the U.S. balance of trade and directly accounts for $343 billion to the U.S. economy and 4.2 million positions in our job market. These workers earn an average income that is 35 percent higher than the average income in this country. Continued reductions and stagnation in aeronautics funding would lead to a continued loss in highly-trained human resources to countries that are placing a greater emphasis on aeronautics.

We must also consider the impact aeronautics research has on our military. Every military aircraft design the United States military currently flies incorporates advanced technologies that were developed at NASA research centers. Aeronautics research has made the United States the dominant air power in the world, with technologies years in advance of our closest pursuers.

As a result of these advancements, U.S. troops are placed in far less harm and more precise in their strikes against enemy targets. And that's important as well, so that there is not as much collateral damage with less precision in the aeronautics.

Now in the future, our troops need to continue to have the most technologically advanced equipment and armaments for their safety when protecting our freedoms and our interests. Making the United States the clear leader in aeronautics research and development, in my view, is in the best interests of our military.

It's in the best interests of our civilian airline industry. It means a great deal for quality jobs and also, our balance of trade.

The aviation industry affects the lives of almost every American. And I'm hopeful that this hearing will highlight the importance—and I believe it will—the importance of aeronautics research and facilitate positive changes to our aeronautics policies.

So Mr. Chairman, I thank you very much for your leadership and your insight in organizing this important hearing. And I look forward to the testimony of our esteemed witnesses.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

ALLEN:

Love to follow up on some of these. Thank you both for your testimony.

In the event that the Chinese do get on the moon—whether it's three years or five years—and want to stay there, what are the implications of that? What are they going to be doing by being on the moon that we cannot presently do? It is generally not considered a habitable planet. They may have a lot of people and do not value human life anywhere as much as we do.

WALKER:

Well, for example, what we're . . .

ALLEN:

How would that affect us?

WALKER:

For example, in order to survive on the moon, you basically have to develop close-looped environmental systems.

ALLEN:

Right.

WALKER:

That could be a technology that would have a great deal of application here on Earth. And you know, the spin-offs of that could be very, very useful in a global marketplace. And so that's one thing I see.

There are apparently vast supplies of H3 on the moon. H3 allows you to have far more efficient fusion reactors. The ability to bring back H3 from the moon and utilize it inside fusion reactors may prove to be a huge benefit to the country that's there doing it.

So I mean, there are some things like that that you can imagine. I also think that there is a psychological impact that comes from it. I think the American people believe that we went to the moon, we planted our flag, it's ours. And nobody else should be able to go there.

And I think once it's realized, that we not only haven't gone back, but now someone else have gone there and our ability to go there in the near term is dramatically limited, that we simply would not be able to stand up a program and get there quickly in competition with that, would have a huge impact in this country. And I believe there are people inside our security programs who believe that a Chinese capability to go to the moon has vast security implications for this country as well.

ALLEN:

Okay, let me get a little bit closer to Earth here and the focus of this hearing, which has to do with aeronautics. Let me ask you this: as far as that competition is concerned—and this is maybe a more pointed question than the chairman's—is in international competition in aeronautics, is the United States winning? Or are we losing?

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

ALLEN:

My view is, if you look at all the trends, particularly in the commercial aviation market—you look at the jobs, you look at the investment—you can put a bright face on it and say it's not the end of the game. That's true. But all the trends are negative. That's the reason for this hearing.

And hopefully, we will be able to work on a bipartisan basis, not just here but also the private sector and the government, to reverse it. You talk about losing manufacturers and suppliers and so forth. It's not as if you can find people just like this to be involved in aeronautics.

We are losing—would you not both agree? -- losing the aeronautics engineers. It's an aging workforce. Because there is less research, less investment in it. There are fewer students coming out of universities in aeronautical engineering because there simply are not the jobs there.

Would you agree with that as well?

WALKER:

Well, we speak to the workforce issues pretty broadly in the commission report.

ALLEN:

Right.

WALKER:

We felt very strongly that there needs to be an investment in education to produce a more technologically competent society, out of which you can draw then more aerospace engineers. And there is no doubt that we need to do that in the future.

I will say to you honestly that the record is mixed, with regard to whether or not there are enough aerospace engineers available. The fact is, we are still graduating a significant number of aerospace engineers. The problem is, they're not able to find jobs in the industry and they move off into computer industry and other places.

But the fact is, if we made the industry healthy, we do have the ability to bring engineers into it. But they are not going to come for an industry where they think they're going to get laid off within a few months or where seniority rules guarantee that the last hired is the first gone, where the health of the industry is in question.

I mean, those are all things that affect young people's decisions about where they are going to go, both with education and with jobs.

ALLEN:

Employment.

WALKER:

With employment, that's right.

ALLEN:

You mentioned, Congressman Walker, the nanotechnology. That's something Senator Wyden, who is also a member of this committee, both of us worked on that, making sure—and it's very basic, broad science, everything from health to material sciences in a variety of ways.

So weren't able to get it through the Senate. Now we've got to get it through again this year. So we're working on that as well.
Dr. Creedon, let me ask you specifically, as far as the NASA budget—and I understand your role and your answer to our chairman's question. And you're a good, loyal leader and understand that funds are allocated to NASA. You make those priorities. And I understand that.

I was governor. I wanted all my agency heads to say these are the approaches and also did respect the fact that the legislative branch also could have their own priorities in that area.

The NASA budget, the way I see it, the way it's being presented, that you have changed the way that you address your aeronautics budget. It's not just unique to aeronautics. You have done it across the board.

That makes it harder for some of us to track what's actually going on. So could you tell me whether the research and development programs will receive more funding in the coming years? And can you tell me—and tell us—how much of the $559 million contained in the president's budget has been allocated for research specifically?

CREEDON:

Okay, there are several questions in there.

ALLEN:

Right, understood. And I understand your role and responsibility.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

ALLEN:

I'm sorry. I've exceeded my time. If I may?

On the SATS program for general aviation, I want to commend you and what you all are doing there, working with the FAA, as far as for small airports, for general aviation. I've seen it.

I was there at the unveiling of it in Danville. And I think that that has a great deal of potential, a great deal of potential for not only general aviation, it's great for those communities to have access—much easier access.

I even like the idea because I always like to look at what the price of fuel is. It even gives you information as to what the price of fuel is. And that does change from facility to facility. And it's, I think, an outstanding program that will really be beneficial to many smaller markets and rural areas. So I want to commend you on that.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

ALLEN:

All right. And Wichita. But regardless, it's a heck of a good company. I visited when they were in Canada. But glad they're Jayhawks as well as Quebecois.

The question though is it's a sustained effort. And that is absolutely essential. We need to educate the American public on the importance of it.

The one area—and since everything is so positive here, generally speaking, the one thing I was looking at in NASA's budget was in the use of nuclear as an engine. It may make great physics sense for all those reasons.

After the Columbia disaster, people just are going to easily imagine some problem on a takeoff, such as what happened on 0the Challenger or in the event that that was a nuclear-powered plane coming in, that the Columbia was nuclear-powered, what would have been the impact? Would that have—the pattern of debris that we saw, would that be a pattern of radioactive waste?

That's something, in so far as nuclear, is something that people, I think, are going to have some concerns with. If you are able to address it here, you can.

But that's just one that's just a gut reaction that I think would be—it's not just viscerally felt by me. But I think that, as that goes forward, I think there will be a lot of people in this country saying, "Well, that was debris coming down. It was tragic. If that were nuclear-powered, what would have been the impact of it?"

And that probably—whether you want to address it right now or in the future?

WALKER:

Well, I'm not a technologist, but I'll simply tell you what we heard in terms of some of those issues. First of all, I mean, you would not have an active nuclear reactor at launch. And what you would have is a reactor that would be activated once you got on orbit.

You would shield it very, very heavily so that any kind of tragedy and so on would not take any of the nuclear materials that were being launched into orbit out of containment.

ALLEN:

You'd have it in such a container that it would be safe?

WALKER:

That's exactly right. And those things all seem to be well inside the box of technological feasibility at the present time. I don't think we feel as though we have to do much in the way of breakthrough.

A lot of what we have learned in shielding of nuclear submarines, for example, to give you a pretty good base of experience for doing some of those kinds of missions. So I think that we can address some of those things. Whether there will still be people who will have concerns about it, sure.

ALLEN:

Well, it's logical.

WALKER:

Sure.

ALLEN:

Because you see an explosion in the sky.

WALKER:

Sure.

CREEDON:

Exactly. I agree totally with the chairman's answer. People will be concerned. But Project Prometheus is intended to provide nuclear for one point in space to another, not in getting us from Earth to space.

ALLEN:

Nevertheless, you are carrying radioactive materials.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

ALLEN:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, all three gentlemen, for your insightful testimony. It's great to hear the various perspectives.

And Mr. Dietz, thank you for your support of the measure that Senator Dodd and I are introducing. And it is good to hear your views.

There's different aspects of this. It's not just funding, just across the board. There is focus on aircraft noise, fuel efficiency, emissions, research and development for civil supersonic transport, which will necessarily be a function of propulsion. If you're going to get supersonic, sure you can do the aeronautic aspect of it or the avionics and so forth, but you need to have the engine, whatever the propulsion system is.

We do have rudder craft research and development as well, not something brought up here, scholarships for those who are studying at master's degree programs in aeronautical engineering, weather, air traffic management. It's very important.

I've seen at NASA-Langley how some of the ideas on noise and better air traffic management and how they're working. They take O'Hare Airport, it's that theory of how the noise pattern or the amount of noise, areas affected by noise, would be reduced, as well as better air traffic management because it is getting more and more crowded.

It's not just commercial aviation. It is general aviation as well.

And all of these, I think, are very important. We have to increase our funding there, and work in collaboration with the private sector, with colleges and universities as well as a variety of governmental organizations, whether it's NASA, whether it's FAA, whether it's Department of Defense.

Dr. Tomblin, let me ask you this question. You summarized your remarks in your written testimony that I was reading before. And you alluded to it that the aviation industry today competes internationally. We've been talking about that and competition and how that's important and that it's different than it was in the past.

Could you share with us or discuss with us the differences that you see as far as that competition? And also, in doing so, could you share with us any observations you may have where others outside of the United States do a better job, somehow, than we do?

And can we learn from that? Or does it really matter?

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

ALLEN:

Is that a function of corporate strategy? As you see it, you say, well, we look at it for five years. They look at 100 years. Is that governmental? Is that corporate?

TOMBLIN:

Personally, I see it as corporate. I mean, they have the money to throw into the research and development, where our companies do not put that much basic research funding in, not as much as like you see from the automobile industry.

ALLEN:

Well, I can't recollect which one of you I was going through their testimony. Maybe it was Mr. Bolen or maybe you, yourself, pointing out where NASA's value is the basic research. And then the private sector comes in and figures out how to adapt that research to some commercial value.

Now it's not as it what NASA's research would not have any application. Much of it will. But sometimes you get adaptations or utilization of that research, basic research, which may be in something that has nothing to do at all with aeronautics.

But nevertheless, if you have that predictability and stability in research and development funding and it's not going to be a year to year fight—businesses will say, oh gosh, they worry about their quarterly shareholders' report or annual report, let's say—if we have a plan that is clear and here are goals—and the supersonic is going to be not five years, that's 20 years.

But regardless, if we have that credibility and stability of funding, rather than just fussing and fighting every appropriations year, would you all think that could help in the private sector in your long-term vision, as opposed to saying, "Gosh, we've done this.
We've got to turn around and get some bang for this research?"

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

ALLEN:

Well, I think you all have given us the insight we need. What we need to do, Mr. Chairman, is not just listen to a journal report or read it. We need to take action on the variety of comments that have been made here, all very insightful.

And I'm one who is competitive. But this competition is not just business competition. This is important for the jobs of the future, for national security. The same applies to nanotechnology where, if we don't make the proper long-term investments there, the Europeans and the Japanese will be ahead of us. And that's a $1 trillion economic benefit there, which has applications across all sorts of disciplines and fields.

So count me as one of your allies. But mostly, count me as an admirer of each and every one of you all and all our witnesses today. And we're going to work hard together for the future, which is important for our jobs, for our economy and our security.

And Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you. Thank goodness we have your leadership, making sure that this Congress pays attention to this vital issue for our country. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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