A Look at NASA's Aircraft Energy Efficiency Program

PSAD-80-50: Published: Jul 28, 1980. Publicly Released: Jul 28, 1980.

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The Aircraft Energy Efficiency Program is a 10-year effort of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to accelerate the development of various aeronautical technologies which would make future transport aircraft up to 50 percent more fuel efficient than today's aircraft. The program was to be completed by the end of 1985. It is a collection of six distinct but interrelated projects, each managed separately. The program has had some successes in demonstrating technical advances applicable to existing and derivative aircraft and has moved the aircraft industry into earlier applications for realizing potentially significant fuel savings. Three of the projects will not be completed before 1987-89 because of funding constraints, the need to acquire more basic data before proceeding with the technology development, and possible adverse environmental effects of composite material. Since these three projects are crucial to the ultimate goal of improving aircraft fuel efficiency, it is difficult to predict whether the program will meet its projected fuel savings. NASA estimates of program costs total $984 million, over $300 million more than originally estimated.

NASA and the Department of Defense have established several formal and informal means of coordinating their composite materials and propulsion research activities. Coordination has helped to prevent duplication. To ensure its continuity and future benefits, program coordination should be formalized. NASA reports to congressional committees on the status of the program are voluminous and only generally explain the significance of program changes. Using a standard format for reporting on the status of the program would provide Congress with meaningful, consistent, and concise information which would avoid misunderstandings and improve committee preparation for annual hearings. NASA has been encouraged to increase emphasis on focused efforts that have nearer term payoff, while also being encouraged to increase long-term, basic research work. Without a significant increase in resources, NASA cannot satisfy both of these demands. There is a need for the development of policy guidance and direction to maintain a balanced aeronautical research and technology program that will be responsive to national needs. A policy statement to clearly define the NASA role in aeronautics was begun, but higher priorities forestalled these efforts. A policy statement would provide NASA management with improved guidance for more effective application of its resources and national needs.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The NASA Administrator should prepare semiannual project status reports for the Aircraft Energy Efficiency program and similar large future aeronautical programs which show original and current estimated costs, schedule, technical characteristics, and reasons for any variances experienced. The Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the NASA Administrator should renew their efforts and propose an aeronautics policy statement to the President and Congress. This statement should give special attention to the conflicting pressures on NASA to do more basic, long-term work and more focused, near-term work at the same time, and should draw the distinction between the NASA role and industry's role in developing aeronautical technology. The NASA Administrator and the Secretary of Defense should formalize the organization and responsibilities of the two agencies in the composites interdependency program.

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