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The prognostications of today may become the historical perspectives of tomorrow.

The old saw that aviation has its ups and downs also applies to the industry, with its many cycles of inflation and depression. Its roller coaster nature shows no inclination to stabilize.

I recently attended a “state of the industry” presentation by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA). This group has been around since 1919, and boasts more than 100 major aerospace and defense companies as members and 175 more as associate members who build the machines and components that fly in the atmosphere and out of it.

 AIA President and CEO John Douglass gave a good news/bad news presentation, qualifying a picture of robust health with concerns about a less-than-healthy industrial base.

First the good news:

Aerospace sales hit a record level in 2005, as the industry’s three main sectors—civil aviation, defense and space— all showed strength. Sales increased by $14 billion to reach a record industry-wide level of $170 billion, an increase of 9.2 percent over the final 2004 sales number.

“This is good news for our economy, since aerospace provides a foreign trade surplus and is adding jobs,” Douglass said. “Our industry is also vitally important to national security, and the strong defense sales are a reflection of that fact.”

The association noted that the outlook for the coming year is solid, calling for 8.2 percent growth to $184 billion, which would be another record year.

Aerospace remains one of the most important cogs in the U.S. economy, according to the association, registering a positive trade balance of $37 billion. That figure reflects an increase of $6.4 billion over the previous year’s surplus. It was emphasized that aerospace is one of the few manufacturing sectors of the economy that consistently shows a foreign trade surplus, and it posted the highest in 2004. positive balance of all industry categories

And now for the not-so-good news:

Despite strong sales, Douglass noted that the aerospace industrial base is not as strong as the statistics suggest, and he said that leaders should take action to “make sure we are not caught unprepared for military and economic challenges years from now.”

“The aerospace and defense industrial base is increasingly fragile,” Douglass said. “Some parts of the defense industrial base have dried up completely.” He added, “Right now the United States is not producing any bomber aircraft or refueling tanker aircraft. Many other important products and components are being manufactured by just one producer, including strategic and tactical aircraft, aircraft carriers, main battle tanks, space shuttle components, and the rocket fuel used for space and missile applications.”

Interesting words of caution amidst a report of healthy industry performance.

Recognition for One of Our Own

A high point of the AIA presentations occurred when Walter J. Boyne, one of Aviation History’s founding editorial advisory board members and a frequent contributor, received the prestigious Lauren D. “Deac” Lyman Award for excellence in aviation journalism.

Boyne, author of numerous magazine articles and 40 books, was honored for a 30-year aviation writing career that began after he retired from a career as a U.S. Air Force pilot with more than 5,000 hours of flight time. He became the director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in 1982 and founded Air and Space magazine.

The Lyman Award, first presented in 1972, goes to a journalist or public relations professional in aviation who exhibits the high standards of excellence that were established by Lyman, a Pulitzer Prize–winning aviation reporter with The New York Times and later a public relations executive with United Aircraft, now United Technologies Corp., which is the longtime sponsor of the award. AIA succeeds the Aviation/Space Writers Association and later the Society of Aerospace Communicators in stewardship of the award and presented it for the first time this year. Boyne joins many other notable aviation writers who have won the Lyman Award.

 

Originally published in the July 2006 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here