In recent years, NASA has placed increasing emphasis on safety research in accordance with the National Aeronautics Research and Development Policy (2006)4 and the National Plan for Aeronautics Research and Development and Related Infrastructure (2007)5 issued by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Research Council’s (NRC’s) Decadal Survey of Civil Aeronautics (2006),6 and a number of other advisory reports and work plans. Since 2000, aviation safety constitutes one of the main program areas in the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD), consisting of about 12 percent of the directorate’s budget.7 In addition, safety-related research is supported by other ARMD programs, including airspace systems and fundamental aeronautics.


Section 305 of the NASA Reauthorization Act of 2008 calls on the National Research Council to conduct an independent assessment of NASA’s aviation safety-related research programs:

The Administrator shall enter into an arrangement with the National Research Council for an independent review of the NASA’s aviation safety-related research programs. The review shall assess whether

  1. The programs have well-defined, prioritized, and appropriate research objectives;

  2. The programs are properly coordinated with the safety research programs of the Federal Aviation Administration and other relevant federal agencies;

  3. The programs have allocated appropriate resources to each of the research objectives; and

  4. Suitable mechanisms exist for transitioning the research results from the programs into operational technologies and procedures and certification activities in a timely manner.

The committee was given this charge during its first meeting on June 22-23, 2009. During the meeting, the committee was briefed by staff of the House Committee on Science and Technology on the origins and intentions of the legislative request. The committee was also briefed by the leadership of NASA’s Aviation Safety Program on the program’s structure, content, funding, and management. Representatives from the FAA’s aviation safety and research programs explained the research coordination and transition activities that exist between the FAA and NASA.

The committee observed that in seeking a review of safety-related research programs, Congress implied an interest that goes beyond the work of ARMD’s Aviation Safety Program to include safety-related research in other programs in the directorate.

ARMD acknowledged this broader interest and proposed that the study review all work in the Aviation Safety Program as well as research having significant safety relevance in the Airspace Systems Program and the Fundamental Aeronautics Program. The committee concurred with this proposed scope, wanting to ensure that the study would cover the gamut of aviation safety-related research undertaken by NASA while recognizing that a safety interest permeates all aeronautics research.

The committee interpreted the legislative charge as seeking an assessment of whether NASA’s aviation safety-related research programs are guided by a well-defined, well-prioritized, and appropriate set of objectives and whether resources are appropriately allocated among the programs. Accordingly, the committee decided against conducting a detailed, technical appraisal of the individual research activities and chose to focus instead on reviewing the means by which aviation safety-related research is prioritized, resourced, and carried out. In addition, the


National Science and Technology Council, National Aeronautics Research and Development Policy, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President, Washington, D.C., December 2006, available at


National Science and Technology Council, National Plan for Aeronautics Research and Development and Related Infrastructure, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President, Washington, D.C., December 2007, available at


National Research Council, Decadal Survey of Civil Aeronautics: Foundation for the Future, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2006.


Amy Pritchett, Director, NASA Aviation Safety Program, “Safety-Related Research in NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate: Overview,” presentation to the committee, September 3, 2009, p. 17.

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