Washington, DC, -  The US Aviation Industry: Ramping up for a new era of global competition

By Robert McCutcheon, US Industrial Products Sector Leader PwC; Scott Thompson. US Aerospace & Defense leader, PwC; Gardner Carrick, Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, The Manufacturing Institute

Strong signals indicate we’re crossing a threshold into a second golden age of aviation.  Orders for commercial aircraft are robust. Estimates place demand for new aircraft at more than 32,000 globally over the next two decades. Last year—and for several years running—the industry was the nation’s biggest net exporter (with a $71.1 billion trade surplus) and employed some 500,000 people. So, if we are indeed entering a golden age, how can the US keep its competitive lead?

In a recent PwC & Manufacturing Institute report, Aviation’s Second Golden Age: Can the US aircraft industry maintain leadership, we explored the paths the industry is taking and new paths it should consider to keep its leading edge.  When we looked at how the US commercial aviation industry can compete—and thrive—in the next decade and beyond, several hot-button issues rose to the fore: globalization pressures, talent shortfalls, and the need to promote and support world-class innovation.

Indeed, there are many “ifs” surrounding the sustainability of aircraft manufacturing leadership. For example, to what degree and how quickly will aircraft programs in countries such as Brazil, Russia and China mature, and will US manufacturers benefit or lose as these programs become rivals in the world passenger jet market? How will the US arm a new kind of skilled workforce with the science, technology, engineering and math aptitude needed to compete and build smarter, greener aircraft?  And from where will innovations spring—Seattle or Shanghai, or out of a partnership of the two?

Company leaders we interviewed for our report shared insights on what they are doing now—and what more they believe needs to be done about the industry’s looming issues. In our conversations, one salient point came through loud and clear: improving the US commercial aviation sector’s competitiveness means that companies have to do more. They have to work in lock-step with government and educational institutions in ways that were not necessary during aviation’s first golden age. They need to find and forge the right partnerships with foreign counterparts to yield fair and mutual benefit for all parties involved. And, finally, they need to anticipate that, in the second golden age, innovations will likely need to be deployed at a far more swift pace and protected with greater vigilance to keep at least one step ahead of the competition.

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