CAA International (CAAi) has joined a consortium led by Spanish artificial intelligence (AI) specialists, Innaxis, to evaluate the human factors and safety considerations in the transition to digital assistants and AI-run aviation operations.

The three-year SafeTeam project, funded by Horizon Europe, the European Union’s research and innovation programme and supported by UK Research and Innovation, will advance research in human factors concerning the use of digital assistants.

In recent years, digital assistants, artificial intelligence, and other new automation technologies have been foreseen as the next expected steps for adoption across the aviation sector. From IR facial recognition and fever detector AI thermal cameras at airports, new technologies and digital assistants are increasingly expected to help streamline processes and assist in safety and efficiency improvements across aviation. Intelligent monitoring and assistance supporting the safety critical role of pilots on the flight deck, and aiding Air Traffic Controllers to enable greater capacity and more efficient flight paths are also being suggested.

The consortium, comprised of ten organisations from across Europe, will work together to evaluate the technology and processes needed to facilitate the safe adoption of AI tools, their integration into operations, and the safe interaction with human operators. The project will focus on:

  • Digital assistant applications in Flight Deck and Air Traffic Control operations
  • Human factors and performance for safe, resilient human/machine collaboration
  • Digital assistant toolbox enabling seamless HM cooperation
  • Regulatory approval and certification, AI explainability.

By the end of the project, SafeTeam will deliver new human-machine interaction concepts and answer the technical and safety challenges to achieve technology readiness level (TRL) 6, with human operators at the heart of its research. Led by regulators from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (UK CAA), CAAi will conduct the investigative regulatory approval and certification tasks, focused on the human ability to operate sophisticated AI tools and the explainability of AI operations.

Rob Stallard, Safety Strategy Specialist at the UK CAA, said:

“Our CAA Horizon Scanning and Futures programmes exist to help us identify, quantify and manage disruptive innovations that will require future regulatory attention. Over several years, we have been monitoring the likely advent of increased automation, AI and associated digital assistants across safety-critical aviation environments.”

“The SafeTeam project is a fantastic opportunity for us to work collaboratively with industry, academia and other regulators across Europe. Together we will explore and critically assess the regulatory aspects of digital assistants from candidate areas in Flight Operations and Air Traffic Management to better prepare for their potential future introduction. The project recognises the essential role that will continue to be played by Humans, assisted by technology, within the aviation system of the future.”

Maria Rueda, Managing Director at CAAi, commented:

“We are delighted to be working with Innaxis and our other consortium partners on this significant research project. To date, we’ve seen some exceptional examples of how AI and digital assistants can improve operations and efficiency. As we look to the future of AI, this project will help better understand the human factors at play and how to safely integrate the next generation of digital assistants and AI into the aviation system and daily operations.”

 A spokesperson from consortium lead, Innaxis, added:

“SafeTeam offers a unique opportunity to make industry, research institutions and aviation authorities progress together in the adoption of AI digital assistants placing the human operator at the core of its developments. AI and Machine Learning specialists will collaborate with human factors experts, aviation end users, ATCOs, regulation and certification agents to facilitate the transition to digital assistants, and ultimately AI-run operations, from a human factors and safety perspective. The participation of CAAi is very relevant as leaders of the certification and approval tasks within SafeTeam in collaboration with other National and European Authorities (AESA and EASA).”

The project commenced on 1st of July 2022 and is expected to conclude in June 2025.

Image source: Shutterstock

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