The Federal Aviation Administration: Taking Steps Toward Excellence

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is taking action toward innovation with the establishment of Centers of Excellence (COE) that will ensure safer air travel and improved services for travelers. The FAA Center of Excellence Partnership to Enhance General Aviation Safety, Accessibility and Sustainability (PEGASAS) is one of nine such programs.

University, Federal and Industry Partners to Combine Efforts

According to, a data source for the helicopter industry, the program is a cost-sharing initiative between the Federal Government, academia and the aviation industry. Non-Federal partners include Cirrus, Raytheon, Take Flight Solutions, and others for a total of 30 industry-related organizations who will match contributions to research efforts to help offset costs. Sixteen universities also participate, bridging the gap between academia and the aviation industry. The goal of the program is to improve services and the safety of air travel for customers through research and testing.

All of the 16 participating universities have nationally-recognized collegiate flight education programs. Three lead the group: Purdue University, the Ohio State University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Through this cooperative effort, research and development will focus on a number of areas to improve airline safety, including:

  • Airport technology
  • Propulsion and structures
  • Air-worthiness
  • Flight safety
  • Fire safety
  • System safety management
  • Weather
  • Human factors

Principal investigators from participating schools will lead research efforts, and both undergraduate and graduate-level students will have opportunities to participate. Acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta tells HeliHub that the FAA’s goal is to reduce airline fatalities by 10 percent by 2018.

The PEGASAS Center of Excellence is just one example of the FAA’s COE programs. This multi-faceted approach to achieve a common goal enlists the collaborative efforts of Government entities, non-Federal partners and academia to enhance safety for a group of constituents: In this case, air travelers and airline professionals.

National Center for Atmospheric Research Enlisted to Reduce Turbulence

Centers for Excellence aren’t the FAA’s only coordinated efforts. Philadelphia News reports that the FAA recently enlisted the services of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) to create a turbulence-avoidance system which could be used by pilots in flight. The initiative was successful, with the final result currently in use at the airport in Juneau, Alaska.

Now that the program has successfully launched in Alaska, developers will be working to fine-tune the system for use in other regions with notable turbulence problems. This program isn’t strictly limited to the United States, either. Hong Kong has been making use of a similar system for years and Norway and New Zealand are among other countries in line for adoption.

PEGASAS and the FAA-NCAR partnership each serve as excellent examples of the innovative advances attainable through inter-agency efforts.

Creating Excellence across Government Sectors Using the FAA’s Approach

The FAA’s drive and focus on goal attainment shouldn’t be limited to one Government sector. Following are examples of how other sectors can follow the FAA’s model and strive towards excellence.

Creating Strategic Partnerships for Mutual Benefit

The standout feature of the FAA’s Centers for Excellence programs is the utilization of strategic partnerships, capitalizing on the resources each party can bring to the table to produce leaps in innovation. For instance, the FAA created a Joint Advanced Materials and Structures Center of Excellence (JAMS), awarded to both the University of Washington and Wichita State University. Each university has independently-functioning consortiums which come together for the ultimate goal of developing an advanced materials and structures knowledge base.

This combination of both public and private resources can maximize financial investments and contributions. Other Government entities can replicate this success through forming partnerships with other institutions which can contribute to mutual goals through education, research and funding.

Sharing Knowledge and Technology Advances to Drive Research

The FAA’s Centers of Excellence provide a foundation for the advancement of technology and resources through workshops, seminars, conferences and technical reviews. For example, JAMS holds a technical review meeting each year, typically in conjunction with the Aircraft Airworthiness & Sustainment Conference. These public conferences inform the industry, regulatory agencies and academia on current research initiatives, allowing participants to offer insights and suggestions that can help drive JAMS’ focus.

Replicating this structure of open communication and feedback from relevant players will help Government agencies and sectors drive research efforts and other initiatives more efficiently. Conferences and public meetings to solicit input and insight from affected industry groups and organizations shift the focus to the areas of greatest need, making the most efficient use of available resources.

Federal entities need a framework or benchmark against which to assess themselves. The FAA Centers for Excellence programs can serve as a solid model for any sector wanting to replicate this same level of collaborative success.



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