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White House panel calls for more airports and runways, faster certificationWhite House panel calls for more airports and runways, faster certification

A high-powered White House commission on aerospace last week told President Bush that the United States needs to make a substantial commitment to improving air transportation, including building new airports and runways. The commission also called for a new certification process that will make it easier for companies to bring new and needed products to market faster.

The Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry reviewed everything from general aviation to the space program.

"AOPA is encouraged to read that they identified issues important to general aviation," commented AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We are hopeful that, coming from such a prestigious panel reporting directly to the White House, the commission's findings will prompt both the administration and Congress to act on these crucial issues."

Transforming the U.S. air transportation system must become a national priority, the panel members found. They told the White House that the FAA must continue to move forward with its Operational Evolution Plan (OEP), but at the same time look beyond the plan's horizon to develop a new, highly automated, extremely efficient air traffic management system. The commissioners also recognized that all the improvements in the air would matter little without improvements on the ground. "The FAA and other agencies should expedite new runway and airport development as a national priority," they said.

The report also recognized the archaic nature of product certification process, which does not keep up with the rapid advances in technology. It recommends changing from a system that requires each new product to be certified individually to one that certifies aircraft and equipment designers and manufacturers, making sure they have safety built into their design, testing, and quality assurance programs. Certifying the process, rather than each product separately, would allow companies to bring new technology to market faster.

But getting products to market faster would mean little until a "critical mass" of pilots install the new technology. Many pilots wait to buy newly developed equipment until economies of scale drive prices down, delaying the widespread use of the new technology. So the commission urges the government to develop some sort of economic incentive to motivate early adopters, whether that incentive is full federal funding of system-critical airborne equipment, or some sort of voucher system to help defray the cost.

"Any report as broad and far-reaching as this one is bound to include some commentary and suggestions we don't agree with, and this one does," said AOPA Senior Vice President of Government and Technical Affairs Andy Cebula. "For instance, there is little acknowledgment in this report that general aviation is a major component of the aerospace industry. But taken as a whole, and at face value, AOPA is pleased with the way such important aviation concerns have been put before the President of the United States. The real test will be in the months and years ahead, to see whether the government will act on the suggestions, and whether it has a positive effect on the concerns constantly voiced by AOPA on behalf of more than 388,000 members."

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