FAA, NASA may work closer on research efforts

Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.), chairwoman of the Technology Subcommittee of the House Science Committee, said today she is considering adding language to the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill to better coordinate FAA and NASA research and development efforts.

Morella made her comments in response to a Transportation Department inspector general's report. Alexis Stefani, deputy assistant inspector general for aviation at DOT, told a hearing of the Technology Subcommittee that the FAA and NASA should take steps to improve coordination when conducting joint research activities in areas such as simulation modeling of the air traffic control system or the weather.

Last year the inspector general identified five areas where the FAA and NASA can take action to help ensure that agency research resources are used in the most cost-effective manner, such as increasing the number of members participating on the FAA and NASA advisory committees and adopting a joint implementation plan and a formal agreement for aviation safety research. The FAA and NASA coordinate research through agreements and a series of committees.

Steve Zaidman, associate administrator for research and acquisitions at the FAA, said the FAA agrees in general with the inspector general's recommendations, and the FAA already has begun to work more closely with NASA. For example, last fall the FAA and NASA agreed to establish a joint executive committee to provide oversight of efforts. The agencies also expect to complete a national plan for aviation research next month.

R& D is essential to FAA modernization, Morella said. "If properly utilized, new aviation technologies developed through FAA research and development will assist the agency in facing the two most important challenges of the future: ensuring the highest levels of aviation safety and upgrading the nation's aging air traffic control infrastructure," she said.

The FAA is requesting $173 million for research, engineering and development in fiscal 2000, which includes $16 million for the Safe Flight 21 program to test the free-flight concept of air traffic management. In addition, NASA plans to spend $608 million on aviation research over the next four years.

NASA research is at the heart of the FAA's efforts to improve safety and modernize the National Airspace System. "NASA technology is at the core of the Free Flight Phase I program, [which] is a joint government/industry effort to deliver early benefits of the National Airspace System modernization to the users in the 1999-2002 time frame and beyond," Zaidman said in his testimony.

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