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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Obama's Sputnik Moment

Those of you in the aerospace industry who watched President Obama’s State of the Union address last night may have settled comfortably into your seat as he talked of how technology, engineering and science are changing the way we work, live and do business.
You may have heard him mention how, after the Soviets launched that little satellite known as Sputnik (before NASA even existed), the U.S. hunkered down, invested in education and research and unleashed innovation upon the world in a way that created millions of jobs and secured America's position as a leader in aerospace.
But then….he did it again.
Perhaps forgetting how business jet sales slumped as the auto industry was lambasted for flying in corporate jets to hearings in 2008 and 2009, a point Obama himself pointed out more than once in a way that turned the corporate jet into the ultimate symbol of greed and corruption, he again, perhaps unintentionally, attacked aviation.
Just after declaring that “this is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” referring to a budget that will invest in IT, clean energy and other new technologies, he discussed rebuilding America’s infrastructure. This, said Obama, will help attract more people to our shores by utilizing everything from high-speed rail to high-speed Internet. OK, sounded good so far.
But then, he said this:  “Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail. This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car.  For some trips, it will be faster than flying –-without the pat-down.”
Here we go again. Let’s have the president of the United States declare in his State of the Union address that, in a nuthshell, everyone should take the train.
Perhaps the industry can still be encouraged by his attention to infrastructure, in that he said:  "Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped…Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports.  Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a ‘D.’”
 He followed that by saying America must do better, and we will redouble our efforts to rebuild for the 21st Centry, mainly by putting Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges.
 Let’s just hope some of those roads are leading to airports.

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