MIT has a proud history of innovative research into every aspect of air transportation, including aircraft design, airline operations and mitigating the environmental impacts of air travel. Investigators often collaborate with industry partners and government agencies to solve large-scale problems with real-world impacts.
The research labs and faculty working in this area are shown below. You can see a full listing of the people and labs involved with the MIT Mobility Initiative by navigating to the people page and the labs page.
Aerospace Controls Laboratory
The Aerospace Controls Laboratory researches topics related to autonomous systems and control design for aircraft, spacecraft, and ground vehicles. Areas of theoretical research include decision-making under uncertainty, path planning, activity and task assignment, estimation and navigation, robust, adaptive, and model predictive control, and machine learning methods.
Electric Aircraft Initiative
The MIT Electric Aircraft Initiative draws together efforts across MIT aimed at long-term research on electric aircraft. Research spans fundamental propulsion technology development for small drones through to overall aircraft configuration assessment for all-electric commercial aircraft. The focus is on the very long term: technologies that could result in near-silent propulsion and low or no emissions. You can learn more about the overall research areas or read our publications.
Engineering Systems Laboratory
A part of the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the Engineering Systems Laboratory (ESL) studies the underlying principles and methods for designing complex socio-technical systems that involve a mix of architecture, technologies, organizations, policy issues and complex networked operations. Their focus is on aerospace and other systems critical to society such as product development, manufacturing and large scale infrastructures.
International Center for Air Transportation
The mission of the MIT International Center for Air Transportation is to undertake research and educational programs which discover and disseminate the knowledge and tools underlying a global air transportation industry driven by new technologies. Airline management, airport security, air transportation economics, fleet scheduling, traffic flow management and airport facilities development represent areas of great interest to the MIT faculty and are of vital importance to international air transportation. ICAT is a physical and intellectual home for these activities. The ICAT, and its predecessors, the Aeronautical Systems Laboratory (ASL) and Flight Transportation Laboratory (FTL), have pioneered several concepts in air traffic management and flight deck automation and displays that are now in common use.
Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment
The Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment is a research lab in the MIT Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics. The team is interdisciplinary, covering expertise in Aeronautical, Mechanical and Chemical Engineering, Atmospheric Science and Economics.
Lincoln Laboratory - Transportation
The Transportation mission area at Lincoln Lab develops technology to enhance transportation safety and efficiency, supporting government sponsors in several domains, including flight safety and collision avoidance, unmanned aircraft systems, advanced air mobility, air transportation simulation, air traffic control and air traffic management, environmental impact of air traffic, weather sensing for air traffic control, aviation cyber security, and military logistics.
Robust Robotics Group
The research goals of the Robust Robotics Group are to build unmanned vehicles that can fly without GPS through unmapped indoor environments, robots that can drive through unmapped cities, and to build social robots that can quickly learn what people want without being annoying or intrusive. Such robots must be able to perform effectively with uncertain and limited knowledge of the world, be easily deployed in new environments and immediately start autonomous operations with no prior information. They specifically focus on problems of planning and control in domains with uncertain models, using optimization, statistical estimation and machine learning to learn good plans and policies from experience.
Planning and Design of Airport Systems
Focuses on current practice, developing trends, and advanced concepts in airport design and planning. Considers economic, environmental, and other trade-offs related to airport location, as well as the impacts of emphasizing "green" measures. Includes an analysis of the effect of airline operations on airports. Topics include demand prediction, determination of airfield capacity, and estimation of levels of congestion; terminal design; the role of airports in the aviation and transportation system; access problems; optimal configuration of air transport networks and implications for airport development; and economics, financing, and institutional aspects. Special attention to international practice and developments.
Air Transportation Operations Research
Presents a unified view of advanced quantitative analysis and optimization techniques applied to the air transportation sector. Considers the problem of operating and managing the aviation sector from the perspectives of the system operators (e.g., the FAA), the airlines, and the resultant impacts on the end-users (the passengers). Explores models and optimization approaches to system-level problems, airline schedule planning problems, and airline management challenges.
Aerospace, Energy, and the Environment
Addresses energy and environmental challenges facing aerospace in the 21st century. Topics include: aircraft performance and energy requirements, propulsion technologies, jet fuels and alternative fuels, lifecycle assessment of fuels, combustion, emissions, climate change due to aviation, aircraft contrails, air pollution impacts of aviation, impacts of supersonic aircraft, and aviation noise. Includes an in-depth introduction to the relevant atmospheric and combustion physics and chemistry with no prior knowledge assumed. Discussion and analysis of near-term technological, fuel-based, regulatory and operational mitigation options for aviation, and longer-term technical possibilities.
The Airline Industry
Overview of the global airline industry, focusing on recent industry performance, current issues and challenges for the future. Fundamentals of airline industry structure, airline economics, operations planning, safety, labor relations, airports and air traffic control, marketing, and competitive strategies, with an emphasis on the interrelationships among major industry stakeholders. Recent research findings of the MIT Global Airline Industry Program are showcased, including the impacts of congestion and delays, evolution of information technologies, changing human resource management practices, and competitive effects of new entrant airlines. Taught by faculty participants of the Global Airline Industry Program.
Air Traffic Control
Introduces the various aspects of present and future Air Traffic Control systems. Descriptions of the present system: systems-analysis approach to problems of capacity and safety; surveillance, including NAS and ARTS; navigation subsystem technology; aircraft guidance and control; communications; collision avoidance systems; sequencing and spacing in terminal areas; future directions and development; critical discussion of past proposals and of probable future problem areas. Requires term paper.
Overview of airline management decision processes, with a focus on economic issues and their relationship to operations planning models and decision support tools. Application of economic models of demand, pricing, costs, and supply to airline markets and networks. Examination of industry practice and emerging methods for fleet planning, route network design, scheduling, pricing and revenue management, with emphasis on the interactions between the components of airline management and profit objectives in competitive environments. Students participate in a competitive airline management simulation game as part of the subject requirements.
Introduction to Airline Transport Aircraft Systems and Automation
Intensive one-week subject that uses the Boeing 767 aircraft as an example of a system of systems. Focuses on design drivers and compromises, system interactions, and human-machine interface. Morning lectures, followed by afternoon desktop simulator sessions. Critique and comparison with other transport aircraft designs. Includes one evening at Boston Logan International Airport aboard an aircraft.
Air Transportation Systems Architecting
Addresses the architecting of air transportation systems. Focuses on the conceptual phase of product definition including technical, economic, market, environmental, regulatory, legal, manufacturing, and societal factors. Centers on a realistic system case study and includes a number of lectures from industry and government. Past examples include the Very Large Transport Aircraft, a Supersonic Business Jet and a Next Generation Cargo System. Identifies the critical system level issues and analyzes them in depth via student team projects and individual assignments. Overall goal is to produce a business plan and a system specifications document that can be used to assess candidate systems.