Thomas J. Donohue Thomas J. Donohue
Advisor and Former Chief Executive Officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


March 09, 2020


Air travel is such a common part of daily life that it can seem mundane. But the truth is that aviation is a vibrant, innovative industry set to reach even greater heights.

Last Thursday, aviation leaders convened in Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s annual Aviation Summit. All aspects of the industry were represented—from airlines and manufacturers to unions and regulatory agencies. There was a lot to talk about.

The elephant in the room was the coronavirus and how it affects aviation, travel, and the economy. The Chamber’s advice is to be prudent and prepared, but not to overreact. Americans should listen to medical experts and government officials but feel confident going about their daily lives, including traveling.

Beyond current news, the summit also looked at future technologies that will transform aviation. One is electric-powered flight. Last year, Rolls Royce unveiled an all-electric aircraft that will reach speeds of more than 300 mph. In addition, both Boeing and Airbus are working on electric-powered planes to reduce carbon emissions.

Another promising technology on the horizon is faster-than-sound air travel. In Colorado, Boom is building the XB-1 to prove that commercial supersonic flight is economically possible. Speakers and panelists discussed innovations like autonomous vehicles and space tourism.

NextGen, the FAA-led modernization of the U.S. air transportation system, will guide new innovations in air traffic. FAA Administrator Steven Dickson outlined how NextGen is already saving passengers and airlines billions of dollars and how it will continue to improve airline safety and reduce delays in the future.

Another important issue discussed is having enough aviation workers to get the job done. Workforce shortages will impact all aspects of the industry.

Aircraft manufacturers expect to see much of their experienced workforce retire in the next few years. High-skilled workers will be needed to replace them. Boeing estimates that because of increasing air traffic, the industry will need 790,000 more pilots (206,000 in North America) and 754,000 more technicians (189,000 in North America) over the next 20 years.

This pressing need for skilled individuals can only be solved by business, government, and education leaders working together to find and train the next generation of pilots, technicians, engineers, and factory workers.

The summit showed that aviation is on the cusp of big things. Through cooperation and good policy, the sky’s the limit for this innovative industry that connects people and businesses across the globe.

About the authors

Thomas J. Donohue

Thomas J. Donohue

Thomas J. Donohue is advisor and former chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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