necessity, other presidents took on roles of caretakers of the new and
expanding aviation industry: Calvin Coolidge, Air Commerce Act (1926);
FDR, Civil Aeronautics Act (1938); Truman, Federal Airport Act (1946);
Eisenhower, Modernization Act (1957) and the establishment of the FAA
(1958). The time has come for the White House to move beyond a
caretaker role and once again assume the role of visionary in
three-dimensions. Transportation system innovations that connect more of
our communities by air, done affordably and safely, would decouple
economic opportunity from the amazing but shrinking hub-and-spoke system
invented in the last century. The coming technological waves in
automation, autonomy, alternative propulsion (including electric
airplanes), nano-engineered materials, and complexity science-derived
tools for managing swarming in the airspace, together with other
advancements on our doorstep hold fantastical promise.
line in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations is useful today in framing the
imperative for attention to our nation's productivity (output per unit
of labor) and the part played by efficient mobility (which does not seem
to be improving over the past few decades). As recently noted ,
our productivity wave of the last two decades is receding. Back to
Smith, who noted:
The greatest improvement in the productive
powers of labour, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and
judgment with which it is any where directed, or applied, seem to have
been the effects of the division of labour.
...and the title of
the third chapter is
"That the Division of Labour is Limited by
the Extent of the Market"
Connecting these dots suggests that
being able to travel greater distances cost effectively, means that the
"extent of the market" can be increased, and therefore, more people can
increase the division of labor and specialization in more places.
value of vision from the White House lies in legitimizing
out-of-the-box thinking, investing, researching, and marketing
innovations. Innovations that without such legitimacy, "...bang up
against the old ways of doing things," as I quoted from B. Vastag in a
previous blog on this site this week. Air mobility has untapped
potential for spreading transportation's contribution to productivity
across more of our nation's population. The U.S. is investing,
appropriately, in improving the existing system of the largest airports
and in modernizing airspace management. Those current plans are vital,
but largely make an existing system perform better. The current plans
do not adequately stimulate innovation, for example, in more widely
distributed air mobility and the effects that could be seen on
productivity. Such an opportunity would be propelled by
three-dimensional vision from the White House.
We now need a
new "Arrowsmith map," one that does not show just rivers, mountains, and
roads. Instead, it is a map of the highways of the sky -- skyways that
open both economic and recreational opportunities for the common
citizen. I believe Jefferson would approve.
Bruce J. Holmes, retired from his NASA career in public sector entrepreneurialism, is now practicing the art in the private sector as
CEO, NextGen AeroSciences.