A new study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine calls for the development of a new, real-time safety assurance system.
The 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. 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.
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, said: “Commercial aviation in the United States and most other regions of the world is the safest mode of transportation. 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.”
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, the report finds, 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 US airspace, airports or landing areas, aeronautical information, rules, regulations and procedures, technical information, manpower and material.
Further, the researchers warn, 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 programmes 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 organisations 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.
The report notes: “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.