Congress mandated the establishment of FAA Air Transportation Centers of Excellence in the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 Public Law (P.L.) 101-508, Title IX – Aviation Safety and Capacity Expansion Act. Subsequently, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-95), Section 907 (b), amended Section 44513 by adding that the FAA Administrator shall transmit annually to specified Congressional committees a report that lists (1) the research projects that have been initiated by each center in the preceding year, (2) the amount of funding for each research project and the funding source, (3) the institutions participating in each research project and their shares of the overall funding for each project, and (4) the level of cost-sharing for each research project.
The mission of the FAA's COE program is to help develop the nation's technology base while educating the next generation of aviation professionals. The program enables collaboration and coordination between government, academia, and industry to advance aviation technologies and expand FAA research capabilities through congressionally required matching contributions. Once selected, the core and affiliate university members, and industry partners serve the FAA as a primary source of subject-matter-expertise for a 10-year period.
Selection Criteria and Grant Matching
Public Law 101-508 provides selection criteria that must be considered when designating members of a COE team. The FAA Administrator and the Secretary of Transportation have used these criteria to select COEs throughout the United States over the past two decades. Once selected after an open and rigorous competitive process, the COE members generate one-to-one matching contributions from non-federal sources to augment FAA research capabilities.
The program designated 13 COEs — including 92 core universities — since the inception of the program and the first grant award in 1993. Several universities served on multiple COE teams. With their non-federal affiliates, COE partners provided more than $345 million in matching contributions to augment FAA research grants. Current and previous COE members have conducted mission-critical research in the following focus areas:
- 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 research
- Airworthiness assurance
- Operations research
- Airport technology
- Computational modeling of aircraft structures.
Through these long-term cost-sharing activities, the government and university-industry teams leveraged resources to advance the technological future of the nation's aviation industry. Students gained hands-on experience applicable to the aviation and aerospace workplace, while producing more than 3,000 doctoral dissertations, theses, and journal articles.
Determining Funding Levels
The FAA sponsoring office commits to an annual minimum funding level over the 10-year period, which is determined based on the sponsoring office's budget and the forecasted research required in each critical area. The agency chose a 10-year timeframe in order to provide ample opportunity for COEs to generate matching contributions and educate a future pool of aviation professionals. The FAA allows for an additional two-year period to assure orderly close out of all activities. Some COEs have been extended beyond 10-years based on congressional direction. FAA awards additional funding based on the current requirements for selected research areas and the needs of various sponsors.
Following the competitive process used to select each COE team, the FAA may also execute Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts to procure deliverables for the sole benefit of the government. Contract awards are shown in this report, as well as matching contributions when applicable. Matching contributions are negotiable when provided as cost share for work performed under the contract vehicle for FAA benefit (vs. public purpose).
Self-Sufficient National Resources
Centers of Excellence are ultimately positioned to establish themselves as a national resource capable of serving the aviation community and the nation after completion of initial requirements. As a self-sufficient national aviation resource, a successful COE will be able to exist without full reliance on the FAA and an annual FAA base funding commitment. Recognized for their superior expertise, COE members are expected to generate funding and compete for and conduct research activities for the aviation community as well as the FAA, as needed.
There are currently six active centers and seven centers deemed either self-sufficient, closed, or re-competed. The three centers that have satisfied their COE requirements, and FAA considers self-sufficient national resources are the National Center of Excellence for Aviation Operations Research, the Center of Excellence for Airport Technology Research, and the Center of Excellence for Airliner Cabin and Research in the Intermodal Transport Environment. The Center of Excellence for Airworthiness Assurance and the Center of Excellence for Airport Technology have closed. The Center of Excellence for Aircraft Noise and Emissions Mitigation was re-competed and replaced by the Center of Excellence for Alternative Jet Fuels and Environment. The Center of Excellence for General Aviation Research was re-competed and replaced by the Center of Excellence for General Aviation Safety, Accessibility and Sustainability.