Risk modeling, data integration drive NASA next-gen air travel safety project

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Low visibility, bird strikes, incorrect landing approach speed, runway debris, airframe icing, engine fires, unexpected weather and sensor malfunction are but a handful of potential causes of airplane accidents.

They also are among more than 60 incident scenarios identified by an ambitious NASA effort to develop the next generation National Airspace System, known as NextGen NAS.

Vanderbilt risk and reliability engineering experts will be involved in studying many of them. They are playing a key role in a $10 million, five-year project to integrate complex data sources that will be the future of air traffic management systems. The project is part of NASA’s Aeronautics University Leadership Initiative, which gives top academic centers and their industry collaborators a larger role in shaping best practices and translating them into commercial use.

“It is a very consequential project,” said John R. Murray Sr. Professor of Engineering Sankaran Mahadevan, professor of civil and environmental engineering and leader of the Vanderbilt team. “Any system you consider has uncertainty, both in terms of demands and the capacity to meet the demands.”