House Aerospace Caucus focuses on Vital Role of Government Investment

Progress in opening the national airspace to more unmanned aerial systems and supersonic aircraft, sending astronauts back into deep space and helping our armed forces defeat complex threats:  all are dependent on adequate national investment, effective interagency cooperation, and the development of a technologically capable workforce. These points were emphasized by three co-chairs of the House Aerospace Caucus and by FAA, NASA and Defense Department experts during the Caucus’s first 2018 meeting this week.

Organized by AIA, a leading advocate for resourcing and staffing our defense, space and aviation agencies to accomplish the goals our nation sets out for them, the Caucus event focusing on aerospace and defense investments featured remarks by Caucus co-Chairs Reps. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss), Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Steve Knight (R-Calif.) and presentations by Steve Bradford, the FAA’s Chief Scientist for Architecture and NextGen Development, Brennan Grignon, Director of Industry Outreach for the Under Secretary of Defense, Acquisition and Sustainment, and Dr. Janet Kavandi, Director of NASA’s John H. Glenn Research Center.

Guest Speakers from Left to Right: Dr. Janet Kavandi, NASA; Steve Bradford, FAA; Brennan Hogan Grignon, DoD.

Palazzo, who has co-chaired the caucus since 2016, applauded the bi-partisan cooperation he’s experienced on space program and defense matters, including his close work on space issues with then-Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), when he was chairman of the House subcommittee with NASA jurisdiction.

Noting his background in economic development, Kilmer urged fellow members of Congress to focus more on workforce development issues, including the need to continue federal support for student loans and other educational assistance. AIA has made it one of our top priorities this year to advocate for policies that drive recruiting and retaining an innovative 21st century workforce.

Knight, whose district includes Edwards Air Force Base, NASA’s Neil Armstrong Flight Research Center and the Mojave Air and Space Port, challenged the audience to imagine the progress that will be brought about if our nation embraces the potential of supersonic passenger flight. AIA has been out front on this issue, endorsing NASA’s ten-year New Aviation Horizons aeronautics research program, with major joint government-industry work targeted to developing the next generation of fuel efficient, low noise supersonic jet aircraft.

In his presentation, Steve Bradford commented on the rapid growth in drone ownership and operations, and said this growth gives the FAA “a great opportunity to innovate more,” in its management of airspace operations. He observed that the next phase in Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) integration will be to ensure that all drones outside the line of sight of the operator can identify themselves and thus avoid potential collisions. AIA is a partner in this effort, through our participation in numerous FAA Aviation Rulemaking Committees and other advisory bodies. The association has also pressed for effective regulations for UAS to reach the market potential detailed in the recent “Think Bigger” report.

Bradford also said the FAA is working collaboratively with the Defense Department and NOAA to replace legacy spectrum infrastructure with Spectrum Efficient National Surveillance Radar by 2024, and that FAA is aiming to propose regulatory changes to advance a new age of supersonic travel by 2028.

Responding to a question on the performance of the NextGen program to modernize the nation’s air transportation system, Bradford focused on many achievements based on investments made in the past ten years to improve precision navigation, data communications between pilots and controllers, and information sharing between the FAA, airlines and industry. While saying this is a good record for a “safety critical system,” Bradford added, “Could we do better with more stable funding? The answer is yes.” AIA has made advocacy for stable and sufficient funding for the FAA’s NextGen program a key component of our outreach to Congress.

Grignon reinforced the value of interagency cooperation, noting that the Defense Department works cooperatively with NASA and the National Reconnaissance Office to advance space innovation, “which is important from both an industrial base and warfighters’ perspective.” She emphasized the need for the defense enterprise to have “consistent budgets which allows us to make consistent plans and send consistent signals to industry about what our forces need.” Grignon also noted that it often takes 10 years or more to develop new technologies, which makes steady investment important to the workforce as well.  Observing the U.S. hasn’t done solid rocket motor design and integration work for 40 years, Grignon observed we still need these skills – even as we work to pinpoint the new skills that building advanced technology platforms will require. Identifying industry skill needs is a major AIA focus, one the association addresses through activities like the workforce summits we organize in states around the country and our annual student scholarship rocketry contest.

Carrying forward the theme of integration, NASA’s Kavandi said the Glenn Research Center works both on space and aeronautics projects.  She detailed the development of the Orion Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle, a power and propulsion element for NASA’s gateway to deep space that will launch in 2022, the Low Boom Flight Demonstration Experimental Airplane for future supersonic flight and Electrified Aircraft Propulsion as examples of projects across agencies. She was upbeat about the future of space exploration, noting NASA’s international partners are interested in joining with the space agency in the next steps of lunar exploration.

Next up, AIA looks forward to a Senate Aerospace Caucus meeting highlighting cutting-edge aerospace and defense research.