The coordination action OPTICS will provide oversight of progress in research and innovation aiming to improve the safety and security of aviation in accordance with Flightpath 2050 challenges and goals, exploiting as far as possible the identified metrics, achievements, main topic areas and broad industry knowledge and expertise base established in the development industry's SRIA.
OPTICS will implement sustainable processes supporting stakeholders with strategic recommendations and a comprehensive vision of the safety-oriented research landscape. The action will implement a reference base and methodologies to perform assessment of progress both from a technological perspective - are we doing the right research, and from the societal and economic perspective - are we doing the research right - is it delivering societal and market benefit?
The surveys are to be performed on an annual basis, in close collaboration with expertise drawn from the industry through a series of workshops, fully exploiting the network developed by ACARE. Assessments will be performed upon all on-going initiatives explicitly addressing safety research.
The assessments will result in the provision of an annual report, identifying main performers, gaps and obstacles in the research landscape, formulating strategic recommendations, corrective actions and suggested priorities. The findings are to be presented and discussed with the aviation community at an annual Safety conference, organised on the premises of EASA, EUROCONTROL, etc.
The results of the annual state-of-the-art review, together with relevant basic data and project information, will be made available on the OPTICS repository and accessible on the actions dedicated website.
Finally, this action will ensure co-ordination and wherever possible, create synergies, with other actions supporting complementary challenges.
Assessing the effectiveness of Europe’s aviation safety research
Is Europe funding the type of safety research that will successfully bring it closer to achieving its Flightpath 2050 goals? This is the question that researchers from the EU-funded OPTICS project aimed to answer.
Flightpath 2050, Europe’s vision for aviation, believes that passengers and freight should enjoy efficient, seamless and global travel services based on a resilient air transport system thoroughly integrated with other transport modes. Such an integrated system is needed to meet the growing demand for travel and to cope with unforeseeable events.
However, getting to this point requires multiple levels of research being conducted on a decades-long trajectory. If this research is to progressively carry EU aviation safety towards its 2050 objective, regular assessment of the research being funded is required – which is exactly what the OPTICS project set out to do.
‘The OPTICS team has assessed more than 200 aviation safety research projects across Europe, ranging from studies on how to regain control of an aircraft to a range of measures for combating icing hazards on the ground and at altitude,’ says Project Manager Barry Kirwan.
Using a robust methodology, researchers conducted an objective assessment of aviation safety related FP7 and Horizon 2020 projects. Their focus was on evaluating the degree to which the project addressed key safety areas and issues, its level of maturity and the likelihood it would eventually be implemented into real aviation systems. ‘Our first success was a confirmation that this type of assessment can actually be done in an objective, credible and repeatable way,’ says Kirwan.
Next, researchers turned their attention to such large-scale projects as SESAR and the Clean Sky initiative to assess their progress on advancing state-of-the-art technology. ‘Here we discovered that these large programmes, which involve many industrial partners, were better at transitioning safety research into real operations,’ explains Kirwan.
According to Kirwan, this finding gives the European Commission food for thought on the best way to fund research to ensure a return on investment. ‘The OPTICS perspective is that it is best to have a mixture of smaller projects, where true innovation and ground-breaking research can take place, as well as large-scale industrial programmes that ensure good ideas are being taken up by industry,’ he adds. ‘After all, there’s no point in doing the right research if it never moves beyond the labs and research papers.’
Re-evaluating Europe’s aviation safety research business model
Based on this research, the project provides a better understanding of Europe’s aviation safety research business model. Prior to OPTICS, the common perception was that research takes place based on needs, gradually maturing until it is eventually picked up by industry and implemented. What OPTICS teaches us is that this is not actually the case. ‘Some ideas do not appear to migrate to actual flight operations and supporting systems, even if they are demonstrably useful for safety and could save lives,’ says Kirwan. ‘In other words, although Europe is largely doing the right research, refinements in the way we go about this research and deciding what to use from its results needs to be addressed.’
In the final months of the project, which ends in August 2017, researchers will focus on providing actions to address this gap. Furthermore, the project is preparing to expand its scope to include security as well as safety via a subsequent proposal already submitted.