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New Horizons

How NASA Is Helping to Define the Future of Business Aviation

NASA Deputy Administrator Pamela Melroy – a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and a former space shuttle mission commander – shared with Business Aviation Insider how the agency’s role in developing innovative technologies directly impacts business aviation. NASA is deeply involved in electric aircraft propulsion research and development, as well as advanced air mobility (AAM) airspace integration.

“NASA research works to benefit the entire U.S. aviation community, helping it to remain cutting-edge,” Melroy said. “We can be a link between the FAA and industry, helping to bridge the gap between technology demonstration and actual operations. Our job at NASA is to look ahead to innovative types of technologies and learn what kind of support the industry needs.”

“With all of these technologies, we will see a disruption in the business aviation model.”

Melroy is excited about the emerging AAM and eVTOL markets. “We’ve not really seen any big disruptions in the last 20 years – basically since fly-by-wire was introduced – but eVTOL could be a major disruptor,” said Melroy, possibly helping to increase service and connectivity at closed or underserved rural airports.

“I’m especially proud of our sustainability initiatives,” she said. “NASA helps open capability for more innovation at a better price point to ultimately reduce emissions.”

Potentially, electric and hybrid electric aircraft could significantly cut operating expenses by divorcing aviation from fluctuations in fuel prices, so NASA is exploring battery technologies.

The agency is also very involved in airspace integration efforts, in collaboration with the FAA and industry, to ensure that emerging aircraft can be safely integrated into the national airspace – and that the number and type of operations can safely scale over time without overloading the air traffic management system. NASA will begin testing and evaluating software to support these operations in the Dallas metro area soon, Melroy said.

NASA is also working on safety technologies using data mining, machine learning and artificial intelligence to identify precursors to hazards and propose resolutions, potentially preventing incidents before they happen.

“With all of these technologies,” said Melroy, “we will see a disruption in the business aviation model.”

Pamela Melroy became NASA deputy administrator in 2021. During her 24 years as a U.S. Air Force officer, she logged more than 6,000 flight hours in more than 50 different aircraft. As a NASA astronaut, Melroy served as a pilot on two space shuttle flights and as mission commander on a third. She later held senior leadership posts at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and at Nova Systems.

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