It's important for Washington to recognize the importance of the aerospace industry and the issues it faces. But competition to be heard is high, an industry trade group leader said Tuesday in Wichita.
"The folks on the health care front are taking up all the oxygen in the room," Aerospace Industries Association president and CEO Marion Blakey said. "We (the aerospace industry) have to get some of that air back."
Blakey was the keynote speaker at Tuesday's Wichita Aero Club luncheon at the Wichita Airport Hilton.
She is a former Federal Aviation Administration administrator and former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.
The down economy has had a detrimental effect on aviation. But the fundamentals are in place to weather it, she said.
"It's an industry with great bones," Blakey said. "We are in a strong position."
In the future, Wichita planemakers may find more opportunities in the defense market as the U.S. fights counterinsurgency and terrorism.
That will require lower-cost "tried and true aircraft that are out there," Blakey said.
"It's much more close-in fighting."
The Obama administration has fundamentally shifted its focus to emphasize "being able to handle irregular warfare in a lot of different places and circumstances," Blakey said.
The need for reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft is likely to grow, she said.
"It think it's a space that Wichita may want to watch and watch carefully," she said.
One of the biggest challenges is funding for the FAA.
The agency must replace the current radar-based air traffic control system with a modernized satellite-based one, called the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or Next Gen, Blakey said.
The plan calls for the new system to be fully operational in 10 to 15 years, but that's too long, she said. Three to five years would be better.
"It's the perfect time," Blakey said. Air traffic is down, and disruption and costs would be lower if done now.
Aircraft will have to be equipped with new equipment to use the new system.
Blakey favors using taxes to help with the cost of equipping the aircraft, which could run from $6 billion to $12 billion, depending on how much help is given, she said.