Marion C. Blakey will step down as president and CEO of the U.S. Aerospace Industries Association on April 30 and become  president and CEO of Rolls-Royce North America on May 1. She  wrote these departing reflections on the industry for Aviation Week readers. 

In a few days I will exit my leadership position at the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and, looking back over the last seven years, I’m astounded at some of the developments we have witnessed. We have seen some incredible leaps forward in technical innovation. We also have seen some incredible leaps backward in other areas. Who would have thought it? But despite the deleterious effects of partisan gridlock among our elected leaders, I truly believe our industry has a bright future. Let me reflect for a minute on some of the things that have happened since I joined AIA in 2007.

As was the case with the advent of GPS a generation ago, potential uses for civil unmanned aerial systems (UAS) grow and grow. A decade ago, most folks could not imagine these devices being used to inspect houses for roof damage, map burned-out streetlights and other urban hazards, monitor endangered wildlife and potentially even deliver packages. Well, here we are, back to the future in 2015 (a year featured prominently in the sequel to the movie of that name) with significant advances occurring to integrate these systems safely into our national airspace.

Our industry is also front and center in the additive manufacturing revolution, with 3-D printed parts finding their way into tools being manufactured on the International Space Station, jet engine components and potentially for the wings or tails of future F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

NextGen air transportation system modernization is gaining momentum, with the FAA having completed the baseline nationwide deployment of 634 Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast ground stations for satellite-based aircraft navigation and initiated operational testing of Data Comm. 

In July, the New Horizons spacecraft will encounter Pluto, completing the first round of the American-led exploration of the inner and outer Solar System. With the recent successful launch of the Orion space capsule and our new Space Launch System and the James Webb Space Telescope scheduled to launch in 2018, there will be plenty of opportunities awaiting the thousands of students who annually compete in the AIA-sponsored Team America Rocketry Challenge.

While these developments give us hope, significant challenges confront our industry. Through either deliberate government action or sheer bureaucratic inertia, we have seen needed defense modernization hampered at a time when America is facing an unprecedented set of national security challenges throughout the globe. Necessary defense acquisition reforms are still wanting, and because of the congressional battle over the U.S. Export-Import Bank, our country is close to declaring unilateral economic disarmament in the competition for export sales of civil aviation and space systems. 

When the Budget Control Act of 2011 was passed, many lawmakers argued for a decade of austerity despite the consequences for defense readiness and needed investments in future national security capabilities, civil aviation system modernization and our space exploration and research capabilities. 

Through AIA’s Second to None campaign, we have  made a number of arguments why nearly a trillion dollars in budget cuts is a bad deal for America. Well, here’s a new one: We are not Greece! Our fiscal situation was never so dire, and the world and our citizens expect America to boldly lead modern civilization’s advancement and keep the peace through strength. Fortunately, a number of members of Congress from both parties are seeking a way out of the budget straightjacket; a path forward that involves lifting the budget caps is being discussed and should be acted on by Congress this year.

With respect to defense acquisition, I am encouraged that Secretary Ashton Carter and Undersecretary Frank Kendall are engaging industry in serious discussions about achieving reforms that benefit both the taxpayer and the companies that work hard to provide for the needs of the military services. 

We have responded to the Better Buying Power 3.0 initiative by recommending that the Defense Department focus on incentives that promote industry investments in innovative products and services as well as incentives for reducing system costs. Efforts can be made to overcome the barriers to the use of off-the-shelf commercial technologies in defense systems. The Pentagon can incorporate a robust technology refresh process for major programs with contracting approaches that do not inhibit contractor investments for system performance improvement. 

In addition, the process for evaluating and approving defense exports can be improved beyond the changes made to the U.S. export control system. This would enable U.S. companies to support our nation’s security cooperation priorities, enhance our companies’ global competitiveness and grow their source of working capital.

Finally, I am certain AIA will continue to call aggressively for the reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank. For more than 80 years, this institution has helped U.S. businesses—large, medium and small—compete for foreign export sales in the increasingly competitive global marketplace with export credit financing at no cost to the taxpayer. While other countries like Russia and China are aggressively supporting their home-grown industries with very robust financial assistance, some ideologues in Congress still seek to take away this tool that last year helped support 164,000 private-sector jobs and billions in export sales of U.S.-manufactured passenger and business aircraft, helicopters, satellites and space systems. I hope readers will join with our industry in calling on Congress to act swiftly to keep Ex-Im operating.

I am confident these challenges will be ably addressed by my successor, as I now hand over the torch of AIA’s leadership.  It has been an honor to be a very public advocate for such an innovative and diverse industry. I am constantly amazed by what our member companies and their skilled workers do to keep our country safe and strong, extend exploration’s boundaries and expand the scope of technological possibility. I thank all of our members and the broader aerospace and defense community for the privilege of being at AIA’s helm during these eventful years.