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For Release: June 3, 1997

Michael Finneran
(757) 864-6121/24

RELEASE NO. 97-042

NASA Langley to Lead New Aviation Safety Program

Goal is tenfold reduction in aircraft accident rate

NASA Langley Research Center has been selected to lead a national aviation safety initiative whose goal is to reduce the aircraft accident rate fivefold within 10 years, and tenfold in the next two decades.

"This is an exciting challenge that will have a significant benefit for every man, woman and child in this country who steps on an airplane," said Dr. Jeremiah F. Creedon, director of NASA Langley. "Flying already is the safest way to travel. Now it will be even safer."

The Aviation Safety Program was created in response to a report from the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, chaired by Vice President Al Gore. The program also is part of a new "Three Pillars for Success" initiative that spells out what NASA will do to achieve national priorities in aeronautics and space transportation technology.

NASA will work the safety program in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Department of Defense (DoD) and the aviation industry.

Langley was selected to lead the safety program by NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Critical roles in the program, however, also will be played by three other agency field installations: Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.; Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif.; and Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

"Each of these other centers has areas of world-class expertise, so their participation is indispensable," said Langley's Michael Lewis, who has been named manager of the new program. "This is a team effort."

Dr. Robert Whitehead, associate administrator for NASA's Office of Aeronautics and Space Transportation Technology in Washington, D.C., praised the selection of Lewis to run the program.

"NASA is fortunate to have a program manager with Mike's talent and proven leadership in aviation safety research and technology to lead this critical national program," Whitehead said.

Air traffic expected to triple

Major strides have been made in the last 40 years to make flying the safest of all major modes of transportation. More technological advances are needed, however, to prevent a rise in accidents if air traffic triples as predicted in the next 20 years.

The safety program will emphasize not only accident reduction, but also a decrease in injuries when accidents do occur. The safety initiative will include research to reduce human-error-caused accidents and incidents, predict and prevent mechanical and software malfunctions, and eliminate accidents involving hazardous weather and controlled flight into terrain.

It also will use information technology to build a safer integrated aviation system to support pilots and air traffic controllers. The FAA will help define requirements and actions to enact many of the safety standards. The DoD is expected to share in technology development as well as apply safety advances to military aircraft.

NASA has planned for about $500 million over five years for this and related safety programs. Additional funding is expected to follow. Funding will come from reprogramming existing aeronautics funds, and by reassigning people and the work of NASA facilities.

NASA, in partnerships with the FAA and private industry, has made significant accomplishments in aviation safety. Some examples include:

  • Providing technology for advanced warning of wind shear;
  • Designing advanced air-traffic-management equipment and procedures.
  • Developing ways to ensure older aircraft are as structurally sound as new ones;
  • Improving engine reliability, systems and displays;
  • Developing advanced ice-protection concepts to improve aircraft operations;
  • Improving the control of general aviation aircraft stall and spin.
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