Letter to the Editor: U.S. Aeronautics in Danger

I applaud your editorial that sounded the alarm on the decline of NASA aeronautics funding (AW&ST;Jan. 30, p. 66). However, I fear your warning will not rouse the policy makers responsible for one of the most dramatic program erosions in recent memory. The U.S. is surrendering its century-long leadership in aeronautics technology. The President’s Fiscal 2007 budget request would cut $205 million in R&D funding, confirming industry fears that the bleeding of NASA’s aeronautics programs–up until now a trickle–is in full hemorrhage. This request is in stark contrast to the 1994 outlay of $1.54 billion, and even less than the current fiscal year appropriated level of $912.3 million (a figure only reached after Congress added $60 million). As U.S. funding for aeronautics research continues to plummet, our European competitors are seizing the opportunity and increasing their investments. In his State of the Union address, the President stressed his belief that we must keep America competitive, especially in science and mathematics education. While I agree, I can’t help but wonder how it is possible to remain competitive while ceding leadership in an important industry such as ours. Aeronautics funding should be in addition to–not in place of–a full commitment to other important NASA programs, namely the national Vision for Space Exploration. Time is short if the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate is to be returned to prominence. We must develop a national aeronautics policy that clearly identifies the areas in most critical need of research and development. And, most importantly, we must pay for that research. Without these actions, the future of aeronautics will not rest in American hands. John W. Douglass, President and CEO Aerospace Industries Association Arlington, Va.