- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 31, 2000

Another airplane crash this one in Bahrain. Last month it was the Concorde accident. I am saddened every

time I hear such news, which lately seems to happen more often.

How can the safest way to travel result in so many accidents? The answer, of course, is volume. Air travel is growing so rapidly, researchers predict that by 2020 the number of passengers flying on domestic flights will increase more than 300 percent from the current 599 million per year to more than 1.8 billion per year.

Besides the obvious safety issues, air travel increases affect society in other ways. Our environment is being destroyed with the pollution from the excessive engine emissions airplanes produce. Our communities are being invaded by the constant, annoying loud sounds produced by airplanes flying above.

Yet unless something serious is done, it will only get worse.

The good news is that there are scientists and structures in place to solve these important aviation issues and they exist at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA has been instrumental in research and development of nearly every technological device found on most commercial and military planes today and throughout history.

Unfortunately, so many of the important programs aimed at addressing these needs are woefully underfunded. In fact, funding for NASA's aeronautics programs has been reduced by 30 percent in just the last two years.

Our airplanes are the safest in the world, but they are far from flawless. NASA is currently working on projects that will reduce the fatality rate by as much as 90 percent in the next 15 years. Programs such as Synthetic Vision Instrumentation are being developed that will give pilots clear visibility in any weather. Unfortunately for the American people, Congress doesn't find it necessary to invest enough funds for the safety of all American passengers.

NASA has done much to reduce the pollution of noise and engine emissions airplanes emit, but more needs to be done to combat predicted increases in the next few years. NASA has already developed the jet engine technology that enabled modern aircraft to meet the tougher Stage 3 jet noise standards. With increased funding, NASA hopes to reduce the noise exposure area around airports by 90 percent. Also, additional research by NASA would be able to reduce engine emissions of future aircraft by a factor of 5.

The problems of aviation extend beyond that of commercial flying. Our military has been threatened recently due to the collapse of our aeronautics research. Almost every U.S. military plane produced has been designed with the help of the NASA Research Centers.

Sadly, the reduction in funding for aeronautical technology has led the U.S. government to go overseas to test our military planes. This has threatened our national security, as military secrets are more prone to espionage. Many of the wind tunnels at NASA's Research Centers were built as far back as the 1940s, and the newest, most highly advanced wind tunnels now are located overseas.

Our nation has always dominated the aviation industry, directly employing 800,000 people and more than 2 million indirectly. Unfortunately, we are losing out to other nations with improved technology. England, France, Germany and Japan have all increased spending on aeronautics research as we have decreased funding.

We have the opportunity to improve aviation safety, environmental impact and efficiency. Over the next few years, our government is expecting a surplus in the budget, which will allow us to increase research in aeronautics. We must increase funding for aeronautics research and development immediately.

Susan V. Parsons is an aeronautical engineer with more than 20 years' experience in the commercial and military aerospace and aircraft industries. She is a fellow of the Institute for the Advancement of Engineering.

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