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 http://national-academies.org.


Riya V. Anandwala, Media Relations Officer

Joshua Blatt, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information
02-334-2138; e-mail [email protected]

Copies of In-Time Aviation Safety Management: Challenges And Research For An Evolving Aviation System are available at http://www.nap.edu 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