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News Release
September 29, 1997
FAA names Sandia, eight universities to pilot new 'Center of Excellence' for commercial aircraft safety

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The Federal Aviation Administration has selected Sandia National Laboratories and eight universities to pilot its new Airworthiness Assurance "Center of Excellence," a research and development partnership intended to help carry America's fleet of commercial aircraft into an increasingly safer future.

The Center focuses government, university, and airline-industry R&D resources on six FAA "mission-critical areas" contributing to commercial aircraft safety: aircraft maintenance, inspection and repair techniques, crashworthiness, propulsion and fuel system safety technologies, landing gear safety, and advanced materials development.

The nine-member Center of Excellence crew includes eight universities with existing aircraft-related R&D programs -- Iowa State, Ohio State, Arizona State, Wichita State, University of Maryland, University of Dayton, Northwestern, and UCLA -- and Sandia, a multiprogram Department of Energy research and development laboratory. Each organization will provide a member to the Center of Excellence board of directors. Iowa State's Bill Shurtleff, who retired from Sandia on Sept. 26, will serve as the Center's director.

Sandia's responsibilities will be carried out through its FAA Airworthiness Assurance Nondestructive Inspection Validation Center (AANC) located near the Albuquerque International Sunport. The AANC has helped develop, validate, and commercialize techniques for nondestructive aircraft inspection since August 1991.

Sandia's Center of Excellence activities likely will go beyond the AANC's traditional duties, says Dick Perry, Sandia's board of directors representative. Sandia's role will include independently evaluating research for potential usefulness, providing samples of aircraft structural defects in support of Center research, assisting the FAA with effectiveness and reliability assessments for new technologies, and transferring technologies from Center laboratories to the airline industry.

"We'll continue to carry out our usual AANC work in support of FAA requirements, as well as do some additional independent technical validation through the Center of Excellence," says Perry.

The Center will be financed through a 50-50 cost-sharing arrangement between the FAA and the academic institutions, which have received pledges from various aviation industry partners. To ensure the Center's long-term viability, the FAA intends to provide a minimum of $500,000 per year for the first three years. The Center of Excellence will strive to become self-sufficient within 10 years, relying on the support of private industry, university research grants, and other private and government funding sources.

A unique contracting mechanism also affords the FAA the flexibility to award the Center up to $100 million in direct funding for specific engineering development and rapid prototyping projects.

The FAA oversees several other Centers of Excellence contributing to improvements in runway and tarmac surfaces, improved operations research (including air traffic control), and safer aircraft structures. Since 1992, when the first FAA Center of Excellence was established, the FAA and its industry partners have invested more than $13 million in aviation research and development.

"In this Center of Excellence, some of the leading minds in academia, industry, and government will advance aviation technology into the 21st century and beyond," said FAA Administrator Jane Garvey in announcing the Center's establishment last week.

Sandia is a multiprogram Department of Energy laboratory operated by Lockheed Martin Corp. With main facilities in Albuquerque and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has research and development programs contributing to national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Media contact:
John German, jdgerma@sandia.gov, (505) 844-5199

Technical contact:
Dick Perry, rperry@sandia.gov, (505) 284-4296

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