In the News

Wichita Business Journal
Daniel McCoy

With the buy-in of key stakeholders in Wichita, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., has helped introduce a new bill that he says is designed keep America at the leading edge of innovation in the aerospace industry. 

Introduced to the U.S. Senate in conjunction with Moran’s co-chair on the Senate Aerospace Caucus, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the bipartisan Aeronautics Innovation Act would authorize a five-year funding commitment to NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) that would incrementally increase from $790 million to $1 billion from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2023. 

“The future of our aerospace industry depends on our investment in research, testing and manufacturing,” Moran said in an emailed statement from his office. “Kansas has demonstrated the significant impact a commitment to forward-thinking can have, and continues to play a prominent role in the national aerospace industry. Across the country, the industry is poised to make groundbreaking discoveries, perfect new technology and build better and more efficient aircraft. The investment that can be made by passing this legislation will make certain that our successes can continue into the next generation.”

Provisions of the bill include:

• Sustained Congressional support for the ARMD Strategic Implementation Plan, including the establishment of a series of experimental plane programs. 

• The establishment of a national policy for aeronautics research. 

• A directive for NASA to continue its support of unmanned aircraft system development.

• The creation of the 21st Century Aeronautics Research Capabilities Initiative, which would help modernize NASA facilities like wind tunnels and bolster its simulation capabilities. 

Among those entities voicing their support for the bill is Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research. 

“With recent advances in science and engineering, there are many emerging technologies that will accelerate the development of aerospace vehicle performance during the next decade,” says John Tomblin, vice president for research and technology transfer at WSU and executive director of NIAR. “The investments outlined in the Aeronautics Innovation Act ensure that the strategic integration of these technologies will provide for the next major gains in vehicle performance and provide assurance of the U.S. competitive advantage in the aerospace industry.”

The bill would also build off the existing NASA Advanced Composites Consortium to establish an Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Program. 

In its own statement on the proposed legislation, Spirit AeroSystems Inc., which is also in support of the bill, says that kind of continued collaboration between government research institutions, universities and private industry will be vital in helping American companies remain globally competitive. 

"We applaud Sen. Moran and Sen. Warner for their leadership supporting efforts of the aerospace industry to design, industrialize and certify the next generation of aircraft,” says CEO Tom Gentile. “This aligns with Spirit's strategy to provide commercial and defense customers with innovative, cutting-edge composite designs and manufacturing processes. We look forward to seeing this bill pass Congress to establish the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Program.”

NIAR and Spirit (NYSE: SPR), which is Wichita’s largest employer, are each part of the existing advanced composites consortium.

Other members of that group include Spirit's largest customer, the Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA), as well as Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, GE Aviation and the University of South Carolina.

NIAR and Spirit were joined in their support for the new legislation by the Aerospace Industries Association, the National Institute of Aerospace, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International and the Small UAV Coalition. 

The bill introduced in the Senate is the companion to bipartisan legislation introduced last year in the House of Representatives.

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