Public Release: 

Challenges and research for an evolving aviation system

Integration of a wide range of safety systems is needed to develop an in-time aviation safety management system, new report says

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

WASHINGTON - A comprehensive aviation safety system as envisioned by NASA would require integration of a wide range of systems and practices, including building an in-time aviation safety management system (IASMS) that could detect and mitigate high-priority safety issues as they emerge and before they become hazards, says a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. An IASMS could continuously monitor the national airspace system, assess the data that it has collected, and then either recommend or initiate safety assurance actions as necessary.

"Commercial aviation in the United States and most other regions of the world is the safest mode of transportation," said Kenneth Hylander, past chairman of the Board of Governors at the Flight Safety Foundation, executive vice president of safety at Amtrak, and chair of the committee that conducted the study and wrote the report. "This high level of safety is the result of many factors, including decades of investments by industry and government and the dedication of researchers, engineers, pilots, air traffic controllers, and a great many other members of the aviation community. As the national airspace system is constantly changing, it is time to develop a new, real-time safety assurance system."

The report envisions an IASMS that can collect data on the status of aircraft, air traffic management systems, airports, and weather, and then assess the data second by second, minute by minute, and hour by hour to detect or predict elevated risks quickly. Additionally, the IASMS would focus on risks that require safety assurance action in-flight or prior to flight, such as making a decision to postpone or cancel a flight until flight conditions change or equipment is repaired, for example. Safety assurance actions generated by an IASMS may take the form of recommendations that operators take action upon or, when urgent action is required, IASMS may be designated to initiate safety assurance actions autonomously.

Successful development of an IASMS will require overcoming key technical and economic challenges, and the task of maintaining a high level of safety for commercial airlines is complicated by the dynamic nature of the national airspace system -- the common network of U.S. airspace, airports or landing areas, aeronautical information, rules, regulations, and procedures, technical information, and manpower and material. As the national airspace system evolves to accommodate the increase in number of flights and numerous new entrants, such as increasingly autonomous systems, aviation safety programs must also evolve to ensure that changes to the national airspace system do not inadvertently introduce new risks.

The report recommends 10 high-priority research projects for consideration by agencies and organizations in government, industry, and academia with an interest in developing an IASMS for the national airspace system. Of these 10 projects, developing a detailed concept of operation for an IASMS is judged by the committee to be of the highest priority and will involve considering multiple possible system architectures, evaluating key trade-offs, and identifying system requirements. For most of the research projects, meeting the needs of an IASMS will likely require a mix of new technologies, improvements to existing technologies, and/or the application of existing technologies developed for other applications.

Each recommended project would rely on academia, industry, and government agencies to develop new technologies and products associated with the development of an IASMS. The committee specifically called on academia to participate in research at lower levels of technology readiness and on industry to focus on more advanced research and product development.

Furthermore, government agencies should support research and development consistent with their own organization's mission objectives and the desired nature of the given organization's research portfolio in terms of risk, technical maturity, and economic potential, the report recommends. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is leading the NextGen program, some elements of which pertain directly to the development of an IASMS. NASA could contribute primarily by supporting basic and applied research for the advanced development of systems by industry and the FAA. The U.S. Department of Defense could monitor any changes to the air traffic management system that could impact the operation of military aircraft in civil airspace. In addition, each research project could be addressed by partnerships involving multiple organizations in the federal government, industry, academia, and other international government agencies.

The report acknowledges that executing all of the high-priority research projects identified in the report would require significant resources although many of the research projects could achieve substantial advances using currently available resources, especially if program planning and executing takes maximum advantage of the synergies that exist among some of the research projects.


The study was funded by NASA. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. The National Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit


Riya V. Anandwala, Media Relations Officer
Joshua Blatt, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information 2
02-334-2138; e-mail

Copies of In-Time Aviation Safety Management: Challenges And Research For An Evolving Aviation System are available at or by calling 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).


Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences Space Studies Board

Committee on In-Time Aviation Safety Management: Challenges and Research for an Evolving Aviation System

Kenneth J. Hylander (chair)
Former Chairman
Board of Governors
Flight Safety Foundation, and
Executive Vice President, Safety
Savannah, Ga.

Brian M. Argrow
Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences, and
Integrated Remote and In Situ Sensing Program
University of Colorado

Meyer J. Benzakein*
Wright Brothers Institute Professor
Department of Aerospace Engineering, and
Assistant Vice President
Aerospace and Aviation
Office of Research
Ohio State University

Gautam Biswas
Professor of Computer Science, Computer Engineering, and Engineering Management
Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and
Senior Research Scientist
Institute for Software Integrated Systems
Vanderbilt University
Nashville, Tenn.

John W. Borghese
Vice President
Advanced Technology Center
Rockwell Collins
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Steven J. Brown
Chief Operating Officer
National Business Aviation Association
Washington, D.C.

Daniel K. Elwell**
Deputy Administrator
Federal Aviation Administration
Washington, D.C.

Anthony F. Fazio
Fazio Group International
College Park, Md.

Michael Garcia
Director of Systems Engineering
Aireon LLC
McLean, Va.

R. John Hansman Jr.*
International Center for Air Transportation, and
T. Wilson Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Gerardo D.M. Hueto
Assistant Director
Safety and Flight Operations
Asia Pacific Office
International Air Transport Association

Lauren J. Kessler
Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff
Charles Stark Draper Laboratory
Cambridge, Mass.

John C. Knight†
Professor of Computer Science
University of Virginia

Michael J. McCormick
Assistant Professor of Air Traffic Management
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Daytona Beach, Fla.

Bonnie Schwartz
Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airspace Integration Portfolio
Aerospace Systems Directorate
Power and Control Division
Air Force Research Laboratory
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio

Craig Wanke
Senior Principal Engineer
Center for Advanced Aviation System Development
McLean, Va.


Alan C. Angleman
Study Director

* Member, National Academy of Engineering

** Resigned from the committee, Feb. 23, 2017, upon appointment as deputy administrator of the FAA

† Deceased

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