Thursday, June 30, 2011
Must an entire sector of U.S. civil aviation be demonized in the interests of Obama re-election campaign?
Posted by John Keller
President Barack Obama, in a speech at the White House Wednesday, saw fit to paint an important sector of U.S. civil aviation -- business aviation -- as an icon of corporate greed worthy of contempt by ordinary working Americans who have been hit hard by the long economic recession.
Business aviation, which consists of private jets, crop dusters, and corporate aircraft of many different kinds, provides jobs to factory workers at places like Hawker Beechcraft, Bombardier, Cessna, and Piper. This sector of our civil aviation industry also provides livelihoods for those who work at fixed-based operators, aircraft parts sellers, fuel vendors, and even publishing.
Business aviation, in short, provides honest work for many Americans -- many of whom are like the rest of us, just getting by and struggling to make ends meet. Instead, our president who's running an increasingly desperate campaign for re-election in 2012, wants to tar these people as purveyors of corporate greed.
The president told a news conference Wednesday, "The tax cuts I’m proposing we get rid of are tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires; tax breaks for oil companies and hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners."
Corporate jet owners must be bad, even though they provide employment for a large sector of U.S. civil aviation, our president reasons. Well this just isn't true.
Corporate jet owners aren't fat-cats who light big cigars with hundred-dollar bills, as the president and many of his supporters would like us to think. They are people running important industries who can't afford to waste time in commercial airports waiting for commercial flights. Without the benefit of private aviation, these industry executives often cannot make money or continue to employ workers.
And this does not even address the other American industries that our president is trying to hurt here. I used to get a paycheck from the oil industry. So did my dad, and a lot of other people I know. My dad's paychecks, which had the name Chevron up at the top, helped feed and clothe me as I was growing up, and helped pay my way through college. This so-called "big oil" money helped sustain me and my entire family. It's the same with business aviation.
Those who must use corporate jets work hard, they hire people, and they don't deserve this kind of disrespect from our nation's president. Business jet manufacturers have long been demonized as serving only the undeserving rich. They have endured the public's disdain, and have labored under so-called "luxury tax" burdens that few other sectors of our economy must bear.
The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), a trade association in Arlington, Va., that represents the nation's aviation and aerospace companies, also was quick to react to President Obama's unfair and heavy-handed rhetoric.
"We're disturbed by President Obama's remarks on business aviation today," wrote Marion Blakey, president and chief executive officer of the AIA shortly after Obama's press conference. "It seems odd that he would undermine the aviation industry one day after visiting Alcoa's factory and praising the workers who make parts and materials that are critical to producing business jets," Blakey wrote. "General aviation plays an important role in our economy and took a substantial hit in the recent recession. We feel that disparaging comments from the president regarding business jet users are not conducive to promoting jobs, investment and economic growth."
Nevertheless, President Obama said at Wednesday's news conference, "I think it’s only fair to ask an oil company or a corporate jet owner that has done so well to give up a tax break that no other business enjoys. I don’t think that’s real radical. I think the majority of Americans agree with that."
Well here's an American who doesn't, and I'd like to hear the opinions of every employee who's involved in the civil aviation industry on the subject. What the civil aviation industry does not need is job-killing tax increases. What the civil aviation industry needs right now is sensible economic policies that create and maintain jobs, and get unemployed and under-employed Americans back to work.
This won't happen if the president continues to demonize legitimate industries, and to pit different groups of Americans against one another.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Posted by John Keller
There's suddenly a lot of buzz in our industry about laser weapons development. Several different technological advances and upcoming laser weapons tests has me thinking that the first field deployments of laser weapons may be sooner than we think.
The latest news is a completed systems integration by Boeing Directed Energy Systems of the U.S. Army's truck-mounted High Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator (HEL TD) -- a high-energy solid-state laser weapon designed to shoot down incoming rockets, mortars, artillery shells, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) -- and planned tests of the experimental weapon this fall at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
That announcement, which came on 27 June, follows closely on last week's $39.8 million contract award from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. in San Diego to develop a 150-kilowatt high-energy solid-state laser weapon that could be mounted to ships, fighter aircraft, armored combat vehicles, and perhaps even unmanned vehicles. The contract is part of the fourth phase of the DARPA High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) program.
Just two months ago laser weapons experts from DARPA and the U.S. Navy demonstrated a high-energy laser off the California coast as the laser disabled the engines on a small boat. This demonstration was part of the military's Joint High Powered Solid State Laser (JHPSSL) program. The laser fired off California, called the Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD), was built by the Northrop Grumman Corp. Space Systems segment in Redondo Beach, Calif.
So what might all this activity in laser weapons research mean? It might mean nothing beyond several programs coming to fruition at the same time. On the other hand, it might mean a lot.
We often read in the press about nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missile development in Iran. Now couple that with the upcoming demonstration of a powerful laser weapon designed to defeat incoming rockets and missiles. Coincidence? Maybe, and maybe not.
Despite several laser weapons research programs recently yielding promising technology, a lot more has to be done before these technologies deploy in fielded military systems. The military services first must demonstrated a tangible need for laser weapons, and then they need to find money in their budgets to develop and produce them. That's much more difficult than it sounds.
Still, we've developed high-energy laser weapons technology, and see a demonstrated threat out there. The rest is up to the U.S. military to put two and two together.
Friday, June 3, 2011
Posted by John Keller
Wanna know where American space-exploration efforts are headed? Just watch how the smart money bets.
The Boeing Co., one of the world's largest and most influential aerospace companies, is laying off 510 workers in the company's Space Exploration division in Houston, the company announced today. That's 510 employees. That doesn't sound like Boeing has a lot of confidence in the future of U.S. space exploration.
Okay, Boeing officials are saying the layoffs are due to the planned completion of the Space Shuttle program. I'll buy that. But take a look at the long-term prospects for sustained U.S. space exploration, and you'll find not much there.
It's not that U.S. agencies like NASA, which are in place to promote space exploration, don't want to pursue new projects with vigor. There's just no money, and little, if any, national will to send humans into space on any great scale.
The Shuttle program is ending, the International Space Station is being mothballed, and there's really nothing on the horizon with any prospect for adequate funding to generate much more than the occasional press release.
U.S. space exploration is heading for another dark age. It reminds me of the 1970s after the Apollo program, and after the first U.S. space station program, called Skylab, lost its luster. Apollo was done, the moon was conquered, the nation was exhausted from Vietnam. Nobody wanted to put serious time, energy, and money into space anymore.
The Skylab space station, launched in 1973, was left adrift in space without any support. The Saturn V program was over, the Space Shuttle wasn't ready yet, and Skylab in 1979 sunk into the Earth's atmosphere and burned up on re-entry.
The first Space Shuttle launched in 1981 -- two years too late to save Skylab. Now the Space Shuttle program is over, leaving the U.S. with no spacecraft capable of serving the International Space Station. Russia, about the only country left with the rocket capability to get to the Space Station, doesn't want to pay for supporting that mission anymore.
It's looking like the International Space Station could face the same fate as Skylab. I'm betting that about 510 soon-to-be-former employees of Boeing today are thinking the same thing.