SEOR’s Air Transportation Lab Tapped to Join FAA Center of Excellence

Posted: July 8, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Robin Herron

At the invitation of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Center of Excellence program, George Mason has become a member of one of the FAA’s five national research centers.

Through the Systems Engineering and Operations Research Department’s (SEOR) Air Transportation Lab headed by George Donohue, the university joins an elite group of academic institutions that focus on research and development critical to the FAA’s mission and long-term vision.

Together with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Maryland, and Virginia Tech, George Mason will participate in activities of the National Center for Excellence in Aviation Operations Research (NEXTOR), which was established in 1996. Technology areas covered by NEXTOR include air traffic management and control; safety data analysis; communications, data collection and distribution; human factors; system performance and assessment measures; and aviation economics.

The FAA Centers of Excellence–flexible, multidisciplinary teams led by universities that work with industry and government–also periodically hold educational conferences and meetings to present research findings. The other four centers encompass general aviation, airworthiness assurance, airport technology, and computational modeling of aircraft structures.

George Mason’s Air Transportation Laboratory researches technologies associated with air traffic management and safety. The lab also collaborates with other researchers within the university, such Deborah Boehm-Davis, Psychology, for expertise in human factors, and members of the Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science, for expertise in economics.

Donohue, who was the FAA’s associate administrator for research and acquisitions in the 1990s, says his transportation lab has been working along the same lines of research as NEXTOR for several years. “They became very well aware of us and invited us to join.”

The university’s collaboration with NEXTOR actually began two years ago, Donohue says, when the university funded and cohosted a conference with the Center of Excellence in General Aviation at Wye River that examined how auction theory might improve capacity and safety of the airspace, a new area of research for both George Mason and the FAA. The conference brought together leading engineers, policy makers, and economists, including Vernon Smith, Nobel laureate and George Mason economics professor. He first suggested this approach in 1981 and was a lead speaker at the conference.

Another research area of interest to both NEXTOR and George Mason is safety analysis of high capacity airports, with special attention to aircraft collisions and wake vortex interactions.

The relationship will bring many benefits to SEOR’s graduate students, who not only will be able to participate in the center’s research activities and have access to research data, but will also attend NEXTOR meetings and conferences, allowing them to rub shoulders with students and faculty from other institutions as well as aviation industry and government representatives. “They’ll have access to employment opportunities throughout the air transportation industry,” Donohue points out.

NEXTOR membership will also give the university access to FAA’s databases, but more importantly, “It provides us with some contractual mechanisms with FAA to fund research grants and training and education opportunities,” Donohue says. A cooperative research and development agreement with FAA has already been negotiated, and a second three-year contract, with a renewable option, is being negotiated to provide for up to $15 million for directed research, he says.

Noting that it is uncommon for a university to be asked to join an established center, Donohue adds that the high visibility that participation in the center provides also should open doors to more collaborations with other entities. “One of the goals of the program is to foster relationships between academia, the federal government, and industry to make the air transportation system better, faster, and cheaper,” he says. “We want to make the community aware that we can provide regional technical consulting to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, for example, or companies like Raytheon, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin.”

A reception honoring the Center of Excellence distinction is planned for the fall.

More information on George Mason’s Air Transportation Lab is available here. Click here for more information on NEXTOR.

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