Together, We Persevere
By Dan Dumbacher|January 2021
January is traditionally the month when everyone starts anew, refreshed by the optimism of a new year. And right now, we need it. I think we all agree 2020 was one of the most trying years in our memories. It has been for the aerospace industry too. And while we’re still in the midst of the pandemic, the new year has ushered in a realization that brings hope – our industry’s commitment to perseverance.
In last month’s Aerospace America, Editor-in-Chief Ben Iannotta inspired us when he recounted multiple examples of perseverance in our industry during 2020. We’re once again launching astronauts from U.S. soil to the International Space Station thanks to public–private partnership. Three countries have spacecraft headed to Mars. As Ben aptly said, “There are literally too many examples of progress this year for me to allude to all of them here.”
One illustration of the industry’s perseverance was seen at the December SciTechxWebinar, “Flying is Safe – Is Air Travel?”. Executives from the global air travel ecosystem – Delta Air Lines, The Boeing Company, Airbus Americas, Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) – joined AIAA to discuss how they are working together to build the traveling public’s confidence back with real data and communication. We then took a deeper technical dive into what and how data are being tested, the results, and the next steps to ensure that air travel is safe. We heard a clear message that should give passengers and employees the comfort they need to confidently return to flying – a resounding “yes,” air travel is safe. The panels described how the multi-layered approach of airplane and cabin disinfection with new technologies to further enhance health safeguards, are working in combination with consumer safe behaviors such as mask-wearing and handwashing. We were proud to help support the industry’s messaging around this critical initiative.
Perseverance also reigned through AIAA this year. COVID-19 didn’t hold us back from publishing technical journals and papers, recognizing and honoring member accomplishments, and gathering as an industry community (albeit virtually). In fact, we brought together close to 20,000 industry professionals between April and December at numerous virtual events. Moving in-person events to online platforms allowed us to reach more participants who could safely attend from their homes. Lessons learned from virtual events and the unforeseen benefits have sparked a new commitment once we are out of the pandemic. Our future events will be hybrid in nature – part in-person, part online – to maximize our reach and impact.
In 2020 the industry rose to the occasion multiple times. But we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, perseverance is in our industry DNA.
In the 1967 Apollo 1 fire, industry pulled together with NASA and completely redesigned the Apollo Command Module, which ultimately was used in six lunar landings. Following the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy, NASA led a comprehensive review of safety risks across the program and substantially improved the overall safety of the Space Transportation System. In 2003, the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia shined a light on the safety culture at NASA and informed the design of human-rated space flight vehicles to follow.
September 11, 2001, was a day of immense loss none of us will forget. The resulting 9/11 Commission exposed the weaknesses of air transportation security, but also empowered the United States to take definitive, positive action. Through Vision 100 – the Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act in 2003 and the National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004, the United States has been able to address many of the commission’s recommendations. Steps such as enhanced passenger prescreening, stronger means of identifying dangerous cargo, and much more have allowed us to avert another terrorist attack for nearly 20 years.
Perseverance is about meeting the challenge and building a better future. It also means being willing to try new approaches, taking smart risks, and being resolute in assuring a better future. For over a century, the aerospace industry has persevered because by its nature it challenges the conventional wisdom to create new ways to extend humanity’s reach to the sky. The benefits of this work are clear in the economic impact and inspiration to all. We must be willing to continue challenging the norms – willing to try new methods and take on risk.
While COVID-19 is still with us, these moments in history can keep inspiring us – when we rallied as an industry, learned from the crises we faced, and moved ahead with renewed resolve. We will continue to adapt. Plus, on the immediate horizon of 2021, we have so much to look forward to: spacecraft arrivals at Mars, the growth of the private space enterprise with suborbital flights and missions to the ISS, and the launch of the James Webb telescope are reasons to celebrate and strengthen our hope.
Let’s set our sights on these upcoming moments and do what we can to keep them on track. Remember, together, we persevere. ★