Magazine article National Defense

Hard Landing: Challenges Ahead for U.S. Aircraft Manufacturers

Magazine article National Defense

Hard Landing: Challenges Ahead for U.S. Aircraft Manufacturers

Article excerpt

* The U.S. aviation industry plays a key role in today's global economy. It makes up about 9 percent of the country's gross domestic product and generates more than 11 million U.S. jobs.

But the industry must prepare to face several major challenges, according to a recent study by a group of military officers and civilians from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

The ICAF team identified six major issues that, if unaddressed, could threaten the aircraft industry's long-term health. These include: the aging and declining workforce; restrictive regulations and complicated export control processes; defense acquisition instability; declining aerospace research funding; and an overtaxed air-traffic management system that must triple in size to accommodate projected aircraft growth.

The aerospace industry employs more than 635,000 personnel, of whom 380,000 are in the aircraft sector. Labor represents one of the highest costs in aircraft manufacturing. Aircraft industry labor skills are highly transferable and sought after by other industries.

Workforce aging is a significant issue affecting the industry. In 2005, approximately 55 percent of the aerospace workforce were older than 45 and 27 percent of the aerospace manufacturing workforce will be eligible for retirement by 2008. Students in the United States rank near the bottom of the leading industrialized countries of the world in mathematics and science test performance, which limits the pool of qualified students to pursue degrees and careers in science and engineering.

Studies also find that aerospace now ranks last among almost all of the high-tech industries in providing desirable employment. The foreign students, who receive more than half the science and engineering graduate degrees in the United States, are less likely to stay here because of job opportunities in their home countries, as well as the expensive and time-consuming visa process and security clearance restrictions that limit access to defense jobs.

U.S. government regulation of the aircraft industry is a challenge to the entire market, and can be broadly classified into two categories--export controls that seek to protect critical technologies and promote national security and protectionist policies over items such as specialty metals that seek to ensure the health of the U.S. industrial base.

Yet, with increasing international partnerships and global supply chains for components and parts, these policies have unintended consequences such as lost cost-saving opportunities, reduced competitive ness for U.S. companies, and strained international relations.


Under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), export controls of defense-related items and services provide safeguards against critical technologies falling into the hands of potential adversaries. Defense acquisition directives promote foreign collaboration in development and sales of U.S. defense equipment, but this has little impact on the processing or outcome of export license applications. While there is a valid need to control and protect vital U.S. technologies, the ITAR coordination and approval process for technology release is highly bureaucratic, involving multiple agencies, each with the authority to deny a request.

The levels of review within each coordinating agency and the number of agencies involved combine to make the process inefficient, unpredictable, and lacking in transparency. An expert advocate is required simply to navigate through the agencies and their complex decision-making hierarchies. While independent review of technological transfers may be prudent, the layers of oversight is representative of a system fraught with obstacles and barriers that detract from the acquisition credo of simplifying the processes and streamlining operational delivery of essential systems.

Export delays and prohibitions are perceived by international partners and allies as distrust, and failure to approve transfers is frequently viewed as protectionist, undermining U. …

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