Members of Congress recently got an earful from members of the Aerospace Industries Assn.’s Supply Chain Council. In their “March to the Hill,” 55-60 industry executives met with about 80 lawmakers or staffers to drive home the point that federal funding, which is vital to much of the work being done by the aerospace industry, is at risk.
Only time will tell whether the economic messages were as well received as AIA seems to think they were, and whether delegates were successful in building credibility with lawmakers representing districts where there is significant aerospace work being done. That raises a question that I have long found perplexing: why doesn’t aerospace have more legislative champions on Capitol Hill? It’s not as though AIA and its sister organizations concerned with aerospace and defense are not lobbying representatives and senators.
My own sense is that aerospace is taken largely for granted, as though the industry is immune from economic shocks and foot-dragging on important legislative initiatives. One of the most egregious examples is NextGen, which continues to be treated more like an after thought than a program critical to the country’s future competitiveness in commercial aviation.
To understand why most members of Congress do not seem terribly concerned about the health of the industry or its future, regardless of funding levels and misguided policies, look no further than public perception. AIA had good reason to be concerned following a series of focus groups and public opinion polling that the association itself conducted earlier this year. A substantial percentage of the people involved did not believe the U.S. can afford to spend money on space, and many of them do not believe the nation’s current air transportation system is broken and requires no overhaul (read NextGen).
AIA and other aerospace and defense-oriented groups in Washington, of course, will continue their outreach to lawmakers; in fact, they probably ought to step it up. But that is a near-term priority. If the industry really wants to make a difference long term in federal funding of essential aerospace activities, they will develop a strategy in parallel that puts at least as much emphasis on educating the public about the national asset the country has in its aerospace industry.
As it stands, it’s probably safe to say the public has little grasp.