Senators convert NTSB recommendation into a Bill
Center of Excellence for Flight Automation and Human Factors in Commercial
COEs on a number of advanced technical issues have been most effective
Two senators penned legislation to directly address challenges around the automated systems that contributed to two separate crashes of Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft that occurred over the last year, killing hundreds and grounding Max flights indefinitely.
The Aviation Automation and Human Factors Safety Act of 2019, introduced Thursday by Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.[above left], and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.[above right], aims to establish a Federal Aviation Administration Center of Excellence dedicated to addressing dangers posed by increased automation and pilot response and also implements new and old aviation safety recommendations targeting flight automatics.
“As we continue to learn more from the multiple investigations into Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, clear opportunities to improve aviation safety and protect the traveling public have emerged,” Duckworth said in a statement. “We have a solemn obligation to the families of the 346 individuals who lost their lives to learn the lessons of these tragedies and prevent such events from ever occurring again.”
Last October, Lion Air Flight 610 plummeted into the Java Sea, minutes after taking off from Jakarta, Indonesia. In March, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 also crashed shortly after takeoff. Everyone on board both flights perished in the crashes. Black box data from both aircraft suggests that the deadly incidents were partially due to a newly introduced automated system, known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, which many pilots struggled with or knew little about when the crashes occurred.
In September, the National Transportation Safety Board published seven safety recommendations informed by its investigation of both incidents. Cantwell and Duckworth’s act would mandate the FAA’s implementation of the board’s recommendations. The bill would improve safety assessments and incorporate design enhancements to boost pilots’ understanding and ability to work with automated systems and components on all Boeing 737 Max aircraft, specifically, as well as other transport-category airplanes. The aim is “to minimize the potential for, and safety impact of, pilot actions that are inconsistent with manufacturer assumptions.”
The legislation also calls for the development of tools and methods that use insights from industry and human factors experts to improve the validation of pilots’ assumptions using the technology, as well as diagnostic tools to help accelerate pilot responses when systems fail. On top of NTSB’s suggestions, it also seeks to implement recommendations from the Transportation Department Inspector General’s 2016 report aimed at reducing dangers associated with the increased use of flight deck automation.
If passed, the aviation safety act would also institute the creation of an FAA Center of Excellence [COE] to be “focused on flight automation and human factors in commercial aircraft.” The center could receive appropriated funds that the FAA administrator deems necessary. It would be tasked with enhancing collaboration across the government, academia and the commercial aircraft and airline industries and also lay out research goals in areas relating to the increased reliance on automation in commercial aircraft.
The bill also mandates the establishment of safety management systems for aircraft manufacturers. Cantwell noted that she’ll consider additional legislation, based on her ongoing review of forthcoming recommendations from those investigating the crashes.
“As aviation systems become increasingly complex and rely more on automation, our manufacturers and federal regulators need to remain on the cutting edge of innovation to keep travelers safe.” Cantwell said. “The flying public deserve nothing less.”
Cantwell serves as ranking member on the Senate Commerce Committee, which, on Tuesday is asking Boeing’s CEO about the two crashes.
The Senators have an EXCELLENT idea. The COEs have been an excellent form of enhancing aviation safety.
The FAA recognizes the critical need to develop the nation’s technology base while educating the next generation of aviation professionals. Following a rigorous open dialogue and competitive process, the FAA Administrator selects a university team to serve as a Center of Excellence (COE) in individual mission-critical topics. The COEs are established through cooperative agreements with the nation’s premier universities, and their members and affiliates, who conduct focused research and development and related activities over a period of 10 years.
In compliance with Public Law 101-508, the FAA has entered into cooperative agreements with competitively selected COEs established with academic institutions and their industry affiliates throughout the United States. The COE members have assisted in mission-critical research and technology areas that have focused on the following topics:
- technical training and human performance
- unmanned aircraft systems
- alternative jet fuels and environment
- general aviation safety, accessibility and sustainability
- commercial space transportation
- advanced materials
- airliner cabin environment and intermodal transportation research
- aircraft noise and aviation emissions mitigation
- general aviation
- airworthiness assurance
- operations research
- airport technology
- computational modeling of aircraft structures
The COE program facilitates collaboration and coordination between government, academia, and industry to advance aviation technologies and expand FAA research capabilities through congressionally required matching contributions. In accordance with Public Law 101-508 the COE members match FAA grant awards to establish, operate, and conduct research, dollar-for-dollar, with contributions from non-federal sources, and may also provide additional contributions through cost-share contracts. Over the life of the program, the COE universities with their non-federal affiliates have provided more than $300 million in matching contributions to augment FAA research efforts. Through these long-term cost-sharing activities, the government and university-industry teams leverage resources to advance the technological future of the nation’s aviation industry while educating and training the next generation of aviation scientists and professionals.
Four of the centers, Computational Modeling of Aircraft Structures, Aviation Operations Research (NEXTOR), Airworthiness Assurance (AACE), Airport Technology Research (CEAT), and Airliner Cabin Environment and Research in the Intermodal Transport Environment (ACERite) have satisfied their requirements. Currently, the COEs for Operations Research and Airport Technology serve as self-sufficient resources for the aviation community. ACERite has been successfully evaluated and therefore, positioned to serve the aviation community as well.
Ironically, the combination of the private sector with the FAA resources to advance aviation safety is the rational for the ODA.
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