the program leaders stated that they consult a spectrum of stakeholders from the aviation community, including the FAA, the JPDO, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), CAST, other federal government agencies, and the aviation industry. The program office also reviews the recommendations in the Decadal Survey of Civil Aeronautics, other independent assessments of research needs by the NRC and others, and advice from the NASA Advisory Council.
The process of prioritization appears to be one in which important safety concerns in need of research are identified through the various external inputs described above and then assessed in light of NASA’s existing safety research projects and capabilities (assets, workforce, and funding). Priority is given to those concerns that align well with the agency’s existing research projects and capabilities. The objectives of these research projects and the utilization of existing research capabilities are then adjusted to better align with these emphasized safety concerns.
Based on this process, the Aviation Safety Program leadership stated that its safety research projects align with the following six overarching safety research concerns (listed in no particular order):
Flight In or Around Hazardous Conditions,
Loss of Control,
Durable Aircraft Structures and Systems,
On-Board System Failures and Faults, and
Analyzing Complex Systems for Safety.
NASA’s safety research projects that align with each of these concerns, as well as their objectives, content, and resources, are examined in Chapter 3. What was not made clear to the committee, however, is if NASA undertakes objective evaluations of safety research priorities irrespective of its current research programs and capabilities. In general, NASA’s safety research prioritization process appears to be heavily influenced by the availability of existing expertise and resources within the agency. Not having been provided with a more objective needs assessment, the committee is hindered in its ability to judge whether the six concerns are indeed the most appropriate priorities for federal investment going forward. The committee nevertheless decided to review each of these research concerns (as well as the safety research in the Fundamental Aeronautics Program and the Airspace Systems Program) with respect to each of the main aspects of the study charge, despite the fact that the committee could not weigh in on their overall appropriateness.