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FAA Air Transportation Centers of Excellence

The FAA Centers of Excellence

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.

An Award for Making 'Space Exploration Less Disruptive'

January 7, 2017

Rachael Tompa, center, with Norman Mineta and Dorothy (Di) Reimold
RAISE Award Winner Rachael Tompa, center, with former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Strategic Operations Director for Commercial Space Transportation Dorothy (Di) Reimold at the Jan. 7 ceremony in Washington, D.C. Photo: Patricia Watts

Rachael Tompa was introduced early to the space industry during her family's yearly summer vacations in Florida.

There, her parents visited the renowned John F. Kennedy Space Center. She eventually discovered her growing interest in the field of space exploration.

"It took a little bit of a push to realize that I'm really good at math and science," Tompa said. "I realized that I was interested in taking concepts and applying them to diverse and hard problems."

In high school, she participated in NASA's "sleepover" space camp in Huntsville, Ala. She later moved from her native New Jersey to Boston where she earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and physics from Northeastern University. She traveled to California where she received a master's degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford University. She is pursuing a doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford.

Tompa's recent research on a method designed to make "space launches less disruptive to air traffic and therefore space exploration easier for people to do" earned her the Department of Transportation's Recognizing Aviation and Aerospace Innovation in Science and Engineering (RAISE) award. Secretary of Transportation Anthony R. Foxx honored her on Jan. 7 at the 26th Annual Outstanding Student of the Year ceremony in Washington, D.C.

The annual award encourages college students to think creatively and develop innovative solutions to aviation challenges. Tompa's work with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation focused on safely integrating commercial space vehicles into the National Airspace System. She explored a method to minimize airspace closures and civilian aircraft rerouting that are typically implemented to maintain safety during commercial space launch operations.

RAISE Award trophy
Rachael Tompa's RAISE Award trophy

The FAA is responsible for facilitating and overseeing space launch, reentry and launch site operations in the U.S. To date, the agency's Office of Commercial Space Transportation has licensed more than 250 launches and re-entries back to earth. The DOT and FAA recognize the integration of these vehicles into the national airspace system as a critical concern.

"The nation's space program has been undergoing a major transformation over the last several years from one in which the Federal Government was completely responsible for space missions to one in which private industry is playing an increasingly important role," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. "It has always been the FAA's job to ensure public safety during commercial space operations, and lately we have seen not only an increase in the space of activity but also in the complexity of the operations."

The FAA's Strategic Operations Director for Commercial Space Transportation, Dorothy (Di) Reimold, and former Secretary of Transportation Dr. Norman Mineta presented the RAISE award to Tompa. Reimold presented the award on behalf of the Office of the Administrator (AOA).

The FAA, along with DOT, and the Council of University Transportation Centers (CUTC), also acknowledged Georgia Institute of Technology student Nicholas Rock and Texas A&M student Kathryn Tippey as 2016 Outstanding Students of the Year for their contributions and work with the FAA Center of Excellence for Alternative Jet Fuels & Environment and the FAA Center of Excellence for General Aviation, respectively.

"I congratulate our extraordinary FAA Center of Excellence students who diligently work with us to discover innovative solutions to challenges we face today," Foxx said. "These are the leaders who will ultimately guide us and continue to help us solve transportation problems as we strive to improve the aviation system of the future."

Tompa said she was honored by the recognition. Her Stanford advisor, Assistant Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Mykel Kochenderfer, approached her about his intention to nominate her for the award.

"I was really excited to see that people were interested in my research," she said. "I think the problem that I'm trying to tackle will help space exploration in the future. I think it's a great time for space transport."

In his nomination letter, Kochenderfer highlighted Tompa's "strength as a researcher" and her established "passion for aviation" as a pilot and an aspiring astronaut. The summer before she started at Stanford, she interned at MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Massachusetts where she worked on the analysis of the next generation aircraft collision avoidance system (ACAS XM).

Rachael Tompa
Rachael Tompa

Tompa presented her research at the AIAA/IEEE Digital Avionics Systems Conference last year in Prague and her paper, titled "Optimal Aircraft Rerouting During Commercial Space Launches," received the best of track award.

"Rachael is passionate about what she does, and her enthusiasm is contagious," Kochenderfer wrote. "She is an inspiration to me and others in our department. Undoubtedly, she will be a leader in the aerospace field, as both a researcher and as an educator in service to our nation."

Tompa also strives to stoke the same passion for aviation and aerospace in young girls. As a student at Northeastern, she volunteered to mentor students during Saturday meetings of the Science Club for Girls, an organization that provides science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs to girls in grades kindergarten through twelfth grade. She continued her involvement at Stanford where she participates in outreach to students through the Young Astronauts program and other local school activities.

"It's one of the most rewarding things to see the kids excited," Tompa said. "It's something that I'm very passionate about."

She credits her parents for encouraging and supporting her interest in science. Her father holds a Ph.D. in physics and owns a small business selling nanotechnology production tools. She said her father will be her "plus-one" at Saturday's award ceremony.

"Both my mom and dad were really hard working when I was growing up," Tompa said. "My mom promoted a strong work ethic no matter what I wanted to do."

Her doctoral work is fully funded through 2019 and she has high goals for her future career as an astronaut.

"My main goal is to be able to conduct research in a really extreme and interesting environment," she said. "Much of space is unknown. I want to help figure out the unknown of space."

More information on the Secretary's RAISE award. The 2017 RAISE announcement will be published in March.

The FAA Announces A New Center of Excellence

FAA Release, 12 August 2016

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta today announced that the agency has selected the University of Oklahoma and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University teams to lead the new Air Transportation Center of Excellence for Technical Training and Human Performance (COE TTHP). The COE will conduct research and development on technical training for air traffic controllers, aviation safety inspectors, engineers, pilots and technicians.

"This world-class, public-private partnership will help us focus on the challenges and opportunities of this cutting-edge field of research," Administrator Huerta said. "We expect this team will help us educate and train aviation professionals well into the future."

The academic team members all have nationally-recognized collegiate aviation-related education programs and core members also own and operate their own aircraft and airports. A partnership of principal investigators from the different universities will perform the research projects. The universities will engage senior faculty as well as graduate-level and undergraduate students in their research activities.

The FAA expects the COE will be fully operational and engaged in a robust research agenda within the next few months.

The FAA will take advantage of advancements in teaching, such as part-task training, modeling, immersive human-in-the-loop simulation, and adaptive learning technologies that are standard in other technical workforces. The COE will examine human factors issues such as changes in learner expectations and academic best practices for training a new generation of learners. The center also will research innovative training methods for this new generation. This includes new technologies such as mobile learning as well as new ways of collecting and managing training data.

The FAA's Center of Excellence program is a long-term, cost-sharing partnership between academia, industry and government. Congress authorized Air Transportation Centers of Excellence under the Federal Aviation Administration Research, Engineering and Development Authorization Act of 1990. This legislation enables the FAA to work with center members and affiliates to conduct research in airspace and airport planning and design, environment and aviation safety, as well as to engage in other activities to assure a safe and efficient air transportation system.

The FAA has established 12 Centers of Excellence in critical topic areas focusing on: unmanned aircraft systems, alternative jet fuels and environment, general aviation safety, commercial space transportation, airliner cabin environment, aircraft noise and aviation emissions mitigation, advanced materials, general aviation research, airworthiness assurance, operations research, airport pavement and technology, and computational modeling of aircraft structures.

COE for Operations Research (NEXTOR) Celebrates 20 Years

NEXTOR II Workshops on September 29-30 at the University of Maryland

This year marks the 20th anniversary of NEXTOR. NEXTOR began in 1996 as an FAA center of excellence in aviation operations research. The initial center, which included four universities, has now evolved into the eight university NEXTOR-II consortium. The core member schools include George Mason University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ohio State University, Purdue University, University of California at Berkeley, University of Maryland, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

The workshop will be organized and set around a set of sessions that will address the range of topics studied by NEXTOR researchers over the years. These include air traffic flow management, airport congestion management, economic analysis of systems and operations, safety and security and metrics, and performance analysis. Presentations will cover past NEXTOR research as well as current research activities. Discussions will address future research trends and needs.

Of course, the workshop will also be an opportunity to connect with the broader NEXTOR community and to celebrate NEXTOR's rich history of accomplishments.

Location: University of Maryland, College Park

Date: Thursday, September 29 - Friday, September 30, 2016

We ask that you save the dates for this event. More details will be provided shortly.

Mike Ball, Thea Graham, Mark Hansen, John Hansman, Tony Trani

Organizing Committee


FAA Announces New Center of Excellence

July 15, 2015

AGENCY: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

Notice of Intent to Establish an Air Transportation Center of Excellence: Following a Notice of Public Meeting to discuss the FAA Center of Excellence (COE) for Technical Training and Human Performance, the FAA will make available a Solicitation.

Summary: In Fiscal Year 2016, the FAA will form a COE for Technical Training and Human Performance. The COE will be a consortium of the FAA, university partners, and private industry affiliates selected by the FAA Administrator to work collectively on issues of mutual interest and concern. Prior to the Public Meeting, a Draft Solicitation will be available. This document will describe fully the areas to be included in the COE and the requirements of the FAA COE Program. Additionally, the FAA will discuss COE and technical requirements at the Public Meeting to be conducted on October 21-22, 2015 in Arlington, VA. The Draft Solicitation will be discussed at that time, and a period of public comment will follow. The FAA will accept suggestions and revise the Draft Solicitation in an attempt to issue a Final Solicitation by December 2015. Potential applicants are encouraged, but are not required, to attend the Public Meeting.

Download the Full Announcement (PDF)

Future of Air Traffic Training Starts Now

Controllers receive instruction at the FAA Academy's ERAM lab.

As the FAA builds a Workforce of the Future, the agency has announced its intent to establish a new center of excellence (COE) focused on training and human performance for the men and women who will be running the air traffic systems of tomorrow.

The National Airspace System is modernizing by leaps and bounds through the application of NextGen technology and procedures, and training for controllers and technicians must keep pace.

"The onset of NextGen will bring significant changes to the specialized skills required to use and maintain systems in the NAS," said Administrator Michael Huerta. "To prepare for these modern systems, the FAA must modernize the way it develops, maintains, and administers training in proportion to the systems themselves."

"We've been working for several years to come to understand the state of our technical training curriculum and understand how to modernize that," said David Boone, the ATO's deputy vice president for safety and technical training. The old system of traveling to remote locations for instructor-led training with PowerPoint presentations has become inefficient and outmoded, he noted. "The state of the art has changed," he added. "We want to leap frog ahead instead of continuing to make incremental improvements."

The FAA wants to take advantage of evolutions in teaching, such as part-task trainers, modeling, immersive human-in-the-loop simulation, or adaptive learning technologies that are standard in other technical workforces. FAA databases that store employee information, student performance, curriculum materials, and training requirements need to be linked and centralized to provide the analytics for a national training program.

The FAA is reaching out to academia through its highly successful Centers of Excellence program to research best practices in this "blended" approach to teaching and learning. The program aims to promote enhancements within aviation by establishing close linkages between education and research activities.

"Academia can offer a range of expertise in the science of delivering learning to students," said Boone. "The resources from this partnership can offer capabilities we don't have within the FAA."

But the agency's controllers and technicians will continue to have input into the curriculum. Hands-on experience – especially in the case of FAA technicians – will continue to be a requirement, as well.

The COE Program Office has published a notice for the COE public meeting scheduled for Oct. 21-22 in the Washington, D.C. area. A final solicitation for the COE is expected to be issued in December, with a selection slated to occur next May.

Among the areas to be explored are how technical training is conducted and how advancements could be applied in the aviation environment. Also being researched are new training technologies, such as course content development, mobile learning, delivery and management systems, and integration of simulation capabilities. The FAA also wants to understand how the curriculum is analyzed and managed as well as ways to improve techniques to manage learner data.

Human factors will also be examined, such as changes in learner expectations and academic best practices for training a new generation of learners.

The ATO is funding the COE at $1 million annually for five years, with the selected research group matching that amount at a minimum of one to one.

For additional information about the COE public meeting, the FAA COE Program, and other FAA COEs, contact Patricia Watts, FAA COE Program director.

FAA Selects Mississippi State University Team as Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems

FAA News Release, 8 May 2015

Washington — After a rigorous competition, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has selected a Mississippi State University team as the FAA's Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (COE UAS). The COE will focus on research, education and training in areas critical to safe and successful integration of UAS into the nation's airspace.

The team brings together 15 of the nation's leading UAS and aviation universities that have a proven commitment to UAS research and development and the necessary resources to provide the matching contribution to the government's investment.

"This world-class, public-private partnership will help us focus on the challenges and opportunities of this cutting-edge technology," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "We expect this team will help us to educate and train a cadre of unmanned aircraft professionals well into the future."

The COE research areas are expected to evolve over time, but initially will include: detect and avoid technology; low-altitude operations safety; control and communications; spectrum management; human factors; compatibility with air traffic control operations; and training and certification of UAS pilots and other crewmembers, in addition to other areas.

"This team has the capabilities and resources to quickly get up and running to help the FAA address the demands of this challenging technology over the next decade," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

The FAA expects the COE will be able to begin research by September 2015 and be fully operational and engaged in a robust research agenda by January 2016.

Congress appropriated $5 million for the five-year agreement with the COE, which will be matched one-for-one by the team members.

In addition to Mississippi State University, the other team members include: Drexel University; Embry Riddle Aeronautical University; Kansas State University; Kansas University; Montana State University; New Mexico State University; North Carolina State University; Oregon State University; University of Alabama, Huntsville; University of Alaska, Fairbanks; University of North Dakota; and Wichita State University.

The FAA will determine the relationship between the new COE and the six UAS sites the FAA announced last year once the new team develops detailed research plans. The FAA expects COE flight testing to occur at one or more of the existing test sites.

Congress mandated that the FAA establish the COE under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014. Like university think tank partnerships, the agency's Centers of Excellence bring together the best minds in the nation to conduct research to educate, train and work with the FAA toward solutions for aviation-related challenges.

FAA-Sponsored Student R&D Pays Off for Space Payloads

Left to right – Ken Davidian, Kyle Thurmond and Nick Demidovich present Thurmond's payload prototype at the 18th Annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, D.C.

Recognized by the FAA, a Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation graduate student conducting research at the University of Central Florida presents his work at the 18th FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference and is recognized in FAA Focus. Read the full article (PDF).

Funding Opportunity

The Transportation Research Board has issued requests for proposals for the following Airport Cooperative Research Program projects:

ACRP Project 02-49: Addressing Significant Weather Impacts on Airports

Items of Interest

Call for Papers: ICRAT 2016

Following the success of its six previous editions, the Federal Aviation Administration and EUROCONTROL are jointly organizing the 7th edition of the International Conference on Research in Air Transportation (ICRAT), which is to be held the week of June 20, 2016 at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

The Call for Papers and Submission Instructions are available. (PDF)

FocusFAA Article: Center of Excellence Will Help Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integrate Safely

The use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in civil airspace raises many technical, policy and procedure questions. To better understand how the aircraft can be integrated into the National Airspace System, the FAA is setting up a center of excellence (COE). Download the Article (PDF)

Meet Kyle Smith: USAF Lieutenant, STEM student, aviation problem-solver

Photo of Secretary Foxx meeting Lt. Kyle SmithThe Secretary's RAISE Award, an aviation innovation challenge, asks the best and brightest minds from American high schools, colleges, and universities to help us manage our limited airspace more safely and efficiently, and this year's winning submission from USAF Lieutenant Kyle Smith promises to do exactly that.

One man, one idea, and millions of air travelers who could benefit...

Read more:
Meet Kyle Smith: USAF Lieutenant, STEM student, aviation problem-solver
USAF Officer Contributes to Commercial Aviation Safety (PDF)

COE Announces Selection of a New COE for Alternative Jet Fuels & Environment Read More » (MS Word)

DOT Sr. Procurement Officers visit the FAA Technical Center

From left: Andrea Simao, Ryan Forman, Kathy Greer, Ellen Shields, and Gregory Cate at the Tech Center Patricia Watts, director of the FAA's Air Transportation Centers of Excellence program, hosted a group of DOT senior acquisition executives for a tour of the William J. Hughes Technical Center. The group – (from left) Andrea Simao, Ryan Forman, Kathy Greer, Ellen Shields, and Gregory Cate, executive deputy director of the DOT's Senior Procurement Executive Office – oversees 91 grants programs, awarding $600B annually within the DOT, and provides guidance and fiscal direction to the two Centers programs, the RITA University Transportation Centers and the FAA Centers of Excellence.

DOT & FAA Grant Applicants - Re System for Award Management (SAM)

Notice - Waiting until the last minute to register in the System for Award Management (SAM) is never a good idea — especially for those registrants who hope to apply for an open grant opportunity on — but we see it all the time. Potential grant applicants are encouraged to register in SAM as soon as they see an interesting opportunity notice.

Title 2 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) requires prime applicants and recipients, excepting individuals, of Federal financial assistance to register in SAM and maintain an active SAM registration with current information at all times during which they have an active Federal award or an application or plan under consideration by an agency pursuant to 2CFR Subtitle A, Chapter I, and Part 25 (75 FR 5672).

A report (MS Excel)shared with IAE by the program office at HHS shows the number of grant opportunities closing over the next three months along with the projected number of respondents. It identifies the opportunity number, allowing you to know where the opportunity was issued.

The SAM Quick Start Guide for New Grantees (PDF)is also posted on the home page of along with a recorded SAM grantee webinar. Those who have not already done so should include language in your opportunity announcements to begin the SAM registration process as soon as possible.


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