For the naysayers who argue that American manufacturing is dead (it’s not!), let me suggest that they take a look at what’s happening in the aerospace industry. Despite the recent economic downturn, aerospace achieved $215 billion in sales last year, all while providing more than 644,000 good-paying jobs.

Tom Donohue

Tom Donohue

This critical industry — which is essential to national defense, transportation and technological innovation — is also a leader when it comes to exports. In 2009, American aerospace companies enjoyed a trade surplus of $56 billion. In the spirit of National Aerospace Week, let me share what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is doing to help the aerospace industry — and the broader economy — expand and create the jobs that will get Americans back to work.

First, we support the modernization of aviation infrastructure, which received a “D” on a report card issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Over the next five years, ASCE projects that aviation infrastructure will suffer from a $40 billion funding shortfall. This is unacceptable. We need to improve airports and air traffic control systems today. The chamber’s Let’s Rebuild America initiative is leading the charge for adequate infrastructure funding and will continue to address this issue in the next Congress.

Second, the chamber believes that Congress should reauthorize the programs under the Federal Aviation Administration. Any such legislation should expedite air traffic control modernization (known as NextGen), provide research and technology funding targeted to projects that increase national aviation system capacity and safety, and ensure continued air service to communities nationwide.

Third, we are advocating for an expansion of international trade, which would benefit the aerospace industry and the broader economy by opening up new markets to American goods and services. This must include the modernization and reform of U.S. export controls — which the Obama administration has begun to pursue. We welcome efforts to create an export controls regime appropriate to America’s national security needs, one that facilitates rather than hinders R&D and trade activities critical to the continued health and international superiority of our aerospace and defense industry.

Finally, the chamber will continue to lead the fight against any Buy American mandates in federal legislation that would invite retaliation from our trading partners, hurting the aerospace industry and the workers it employs.

By following these policy prescriptions, elected officials can ensure that American aerospace companies will continue to deliver cutting-edge breakthroughs and jobs, both of which are needed to get our economy back on track.

— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.