PARAS bringing Safe Skies into the applied research market

Safe Skies-tekno(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a two-part series on the National Safe Skies Alliance that is headquartered next to the Knoxville Airport.)

By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

The Knoxville-Oak Ridge region brands itself as the Innovation Valley, and the newest initiative at the National Safe Skies Alliance in Alcoa clearly falls in that realm.

Called the Program for Applied Research in Airport Security (PARAS), it will facilitate closer-to-market research that can be used to improve security at the nation’s airports.

The initiative also reflects Scott Broyles’ strong belief that organizational growth is both evolutionary and revolutionary.

As noted in the first article in this series, Safe Skies’ President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) faced a leadership challenge in 2011, based on financial uncertainty and lack of a clear mission. Accordingly, staffing was cut by nearly 75 percent.

Broyles is a long-time student of leadership, so he applied his learning and experience to position Safe Skies for long-term growth.

“You always need to have a vision for the next 10 years, based in three-year increments,” he says.

PARAS is a direct result of the vision that Broyles established three years ago to solidify the organization while pursuing new strategies.

Operated by Safe Skies and funded through the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Airport Cooperative Research Program, PARAS is focused on near-term, practical solutions to security-related problems faced by airport operators.

One might think of it as an applied research, innovation program to pool ideas from the nation’s 450 commercial airports, airport consultants, universities and airport industry associations.

“Our mission is to help airports meet or exceed federal security regulations” Broyles says. “We want to produce research results that will be used to improve the security of all airports.”

He explained that a 10-member Oversight Committee has been established to provide policy guidance and set research priorities each year. Eight of the members represent organizations like the Airports Council International – North America, American Association of Airport Executives, Airports Consultants Council, and Airports for America.

In addition, two airport executives will serve as will a representative from the Safe Skies Board of Directors. Both the FAA and the Transportation Security Administration will have non-voting representatives.

Broyles says that research projects tend to be complex and require a budget of more than $200,000 and 12 to 24 months to complete.

The decision process begins with problem statements submitted by airport operators and others in the broad airport community. Next, Safe Skies runs a screening process and prepares recommendations for the Oversight Committee. The latter reviews those recommendations and makes final decision on which projects are selected.

Broyles said that Project Panels will be formed for each major topic. These groups will develop more detailed project scopes, write the request for proposals, evaluate the responses, make funding decisions, and monitor progress throughout the execution.

Projects will tend to be more applied and closer to market implementation if successful, originate from problems identified by practitioners at the local level but applicable to airports across the country, and be more incremental than breakthrough.

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