Steps to Prepare State for Potential Aviation Growth

Article excerpt

There's a dichotomy of signals coming out of the nation's aviation industry.

On the one hand airline companies are decrying their financial losses saying they can't afford to buy new airplanes and continue their same level of service.

This means that the nation's airplane builders can't sell airplanes. Not only are the United States carriers cutting back on their orders, but Airbus Industrie _ a European consortium _ is taking a big chunk of what orders there are.

Government reports, however, show that the airline travel will continue to grow at least for the next decade.

The Federal Aviation Administration predicts that air passenger traffic will double within the next 10 years while the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is sinking more money into research designed to strengthen America's aviation manufacturing industry.

As examples of this growth, passenger enplanements from both Oklahoma City's Will Rogers World Airport and Tulsa International Airport were at record levels in 1994 and have been up the first two months of this year.

Until the mid-1980s, aviation meant "made in America." The United States was the world's manufacturing leader in virtually all segments of the aerospace industry, except for space exploration, which was lead by the Soviet Union.

The General Aviation Recovery Act of 1994 gave the nation's small airplane makers repose from frivolous lawsuits and limited liability to 18 years after manufacture. That will become a major boost for these companies. In fact, Cessna Aircraft Co. of Wichita has started construction on a plant in Independence, Kan., to resume making single-engine airplanes.

Oklahoma workers and parts manufacturers are expected to be called upon in this effort to rebuild a company.

But it's not just the small airplanes where Oklahoma is expected to play a role in the recovery of the nation's aviation industry.

Demand for jet transport planes is expected to grow to $600 billion per year by 2005, according to projections by NASA, which has dedicated $860 million annually to aeronautics research and development. This program is designed to recapture the market share lost by United States manufacturers in recent years.

Oklahoma also could benefit from a state-level aviation and high technology research program, proposed by the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission, tapping into some of these research funds.

"To reach for the high ground in high-technology aeronautical research, Oklahoma needs to establish a coordinated effort of government, academia and business," said Dana Batey, aeronautics director. "The goal of this effort would be to target high-technology research opportunities and identify or develop the instate capability to conduct and compete for these research assignments."

A state program, in cooperation with the federal agencies, would be similar to the national Cooperative Highway Research Program and the Transit Cooperative Research Program created by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, Batey said.

These research programs receive a combined $8 million annually from highway and transit trust funds.

"Preliminary investigation reveals that aviation could also adopt a cooperative research for solving state and local problems," Batey said. "The proven success of (these highway programs) could be transferred to aviation through institutional mechanisms similar to those used by highways."

Oklahoma would not develop its research program in isolation, but rather would work with other states to encourage more federal research, not only into aviation manufacture but also into general aviation.

Already the FAA and NASA spend a combined $1.1 billion annually on aeronautics-related research, primarily air traffic control, airframes, propulsion, aero medicine and pavements for heavy aircraft, Batey said. …