(Washington, DC) In its first subcommittee hearing of the 110th Congress, the Science & Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics examined the fiscal year 2008 (FY08) budget request for the research and development (R&D) programs of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and whether it is sufficient to meet the agency’s priorities and the country’s aviation needs.  

The Administration has proposed an R&D budget of $259 million for FAA in FY08.

Among Members’ specific budget concerns were how the reduction in research and development funds at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) might affect FAA’s R&D programs.

“It needs to be noted that FAA’s research is intended to complement the aeronautics research carried out by NASA not substitute for it,” Subcommittee Chairman Mark Udall (D-CO) said.

Both NASA and FAA conduct civil aviation research. The two agencies have traditionally shared the research duties with NASA undertaking research that it may carry through the development and demonstration phases in key areas, before transitioning it to the FAA, which then focuses on systems integration and implementation of the technologies into the national airspace system. Because of that relationship, FAA could have fewer R&D options if NASA’s aeronautics program suffers from insufficient resources or fails to carry research to the point where it can be picked up by the FAA.

“I’m concerned that the changes NASA is making to its aeronautics program are ill-advised both in terms of the reduced funding commitment, and in retreating from R&D that has direct relevance to the public good and to our economic well-being,” added Chairman Udall.

“Commercial aviation is here to stay, and its role connecting the world’s markets is growing dramatically, both in the number of people carried and the amounts of value of cargo delivered,” added Subcommittee Ranking Member Ken Calvert (R-CA).  “There is no substitute for the services aviation provides, so it is incumbent on government and industry to research and develop safer, more efficient and environmentally benign aircraft to ensure uninterrupted growth in our economy.”

In addition to examining a range of FAA R&D projects, witnesses discussed the impact of aviation on climate change and told members of the research needs they have identified in that area.

Members also looked into R&D needs of the NextGeneration Air Transportation System (NextGen) initiative, an initiative being undertaken by the interagency Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO). The NextGen initiative will be the topic of an upcoming subcommittee hearing.

“We must transform the current [air transportation] system to…the Next Generation Air Transportation System or NextGen,” said Victoria Cox, a witness today and Vice President of Operations, Planning Services and Air Traffic Organization for FAA. “NextGen includes performance targets for the year 2025 that, if achieved, will reduce [air traffic] congestion by providing far greater capacity than our current system with higher efficiency levels, while maintaining safety.”

Congress is scheduled to reauthorize the FAA this year. Aviation and aerospace activities make up as much as nine percent of America’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and also represent the fastest growing source of technological exports.