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Ohio State partners with government, industry to develop modernized aviation training solutions

The Ohio State University has joined a partnership blending government, industry and academia to revolutionize the national aviation system in new research funded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The FAA recently selected Ohio State to join its newly formed Air Transportation Center of Excellence for Technical Training and Human Performance, nicknamed COE SOAR (Center of Excellence Solutions for Operational Aviation Research). One of several Centers of Excellence sponsored by the FAA, COE SOAR will focus on developing enhanced technical training for the nation’s air traffic controllers, aviation safety inspectors, engineers, technicians and pilots.

Ohio State's COE SOAR team, from left: Assistant Professor of Practice Krista Kecskemety, Assistant Professor Rachel Kajfez, Assistant Professor David Delaine, Department of Engineering Education; and Director Seth Young, Center for Aviation Studies.

“The FAA is transforming our National Airspace System with new communications, navigation and surveillance capability,” said Ohio State’s Center for Aviation Studies Director Seth Young, who is also the SOAR site director at the university. “Think about going from a telephone network that used rotary land lines to a cellular network with smart phones for communication, and going from old-school radar and paper maps to high-tech GPS for navigation. At SOAR, our goal is to enhance the training curricula to align with all of this new technology.”

Headed by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the University of Oklahoma, COE SOAR consists of 16 core university partners (including Ohio State), 10 affiliate university partners and 41 industry partners.

To date, the consortium has been granted 34 total projects, three of which Ohio State plays a major role. The projects leverage the Center for Aviation Studies’ unique expertise in both aviation and air traffic control, as well as the Department of Engineering Education’s strength in developing technical curricula.

The first project aims to align U.S. methods and processes for technical training with those of other nations.

“The way the FAA, as well as its international peers, is training its air traffic controllers could benefit greatly from exchanging knowledge and practices with the rest of the world. We were asked to minimize the gaps between the domestic methods for training and those used abroad,” said Principal Investigator David Delaine, assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Education (EED).

Using a systematic approach, the research team is conducting interviews with global industry stakeholders to identify best practices and make recommendations to promote what the FAA calls “global harmonization” of the air transportation system. The goal is continued progress towards a unified global airspace.

Another project is focused on content management and delivery, specifically the development of effective learning taxonomies and implementation strategies. This effort to better classify and organize courses will help streamline the training process for air traffic control professionals, according to Principal Investigator and EED Assistant Professor Rachel Kajfez. Both Young and EED Assistant Professor of Practice Krista Kecskemety are co-PIs.

Kajfez says the unique intersection between aviation and engineering education could be a sign of future collaborations to come with industry and government.

“It shows that engineering education is not one thing,” she said. “There are many more intersections to be discovered and that will lead to different sources of funding. The idea of technical training is so widespread.”

A third project is focusing on transforming workforce development training and practices that promote career advancement. Kecskemety is the PI on this project, working in partnership with Inter-American University of Puerto Rico and Auburn University.

Current total funding is approximately $180,000. Young says he expects that amount to increase significantly in the next several years.

The Center of Excellence program facilitates collaboration and coordination between government, academia, and industry to advance aviation technologies and expand FAA research capabilities through congressionally required matching contributions.

by Meggie Biss, College of Engineering Communications | biss.11@osu.edu