The 2020 FAA Challenge finalists were selected in Feb 2020. The Forum will be held Nov 29 - Dec 2, 2020.

2020 Challenge Menu
Challenge Guidelines

The FAA is sponsoring the FAA Challenge: Smart Airport Student Competition (“Smart Airport Challenge”) to recognize students with the ability to demonstrate innovative thinking focused on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of smart technology in and around the airport environment while enhancing the overall traveling experience. The FAA is using this competition to stimulate and advance innovation in aviation research; promote the development of a robust aviation workforce to support a growing and evolving aerospace system; develop a pipeline to fill current and projected shortages via partnerships with academia and industry; and drive a passion for aviation in today’s youth of all ages and backgrounds. The FAA intends to incentivize university-level students at accredited United States-based colleges and universities to think creatively in developing solutions to transportation technology challenges while addressing the human factors aspects of the traveler’s experience, and to share those innovations with the broader community.

This year’s FAA Challenge focuses on Smart Airports, providing undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to design, build, and test smart technology that has the ability to improve traveler’s transportation experiences from home, in the airport environment, and to his/her final destination.

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Challenge Guidelines

Using smart technology to improve the traveler's transportation experience from home, in the airport environment, and to his/her final destination, the concept strives to address the following goals:

  • Efficiency - Identify more resourceful options for getting the traveler and his/her belongings from home to the final destination. Considering multiple transportation modes, their interfaces and schedules, costs, support services, environmental, safety and security optimization; address various special needs and preferences. Develop tools and processes to be used to improve the overall travel experience.
  • The Airport - Consider the airport design to more creatively utilize space and improve the quality of time spent while in transit. Navigate the airport property and terminal more effectively using new technologies, virtual and augmented reality scenarios, and various means of communication. Take into account emerging ways to positively impact and enrich the airport environment and improve the traveler’s productivity, amusement, and overall enjoyment while at the airport.
  • Effectiveness - Develop various options to reduce delays and costs throughout the travel experience and facilitate interactions to enhance travel logistics. Address variables such as those traveling with special needs, time of day, weather, congestion and unsafe road conditions. Consider enhanced methods to improve and accelerate various processes such as ticketing, security and customers’ screenings to reduce wait time throughout the journey.
  • Technology and Tools - Apply technological innovations, procedures, techniques and strategies to provide solutions to streamline and enhance all aspects of traveling logistics. Consider the way the traveler navigates from home, to and through the airport, coordinates ground transportation, compares costs, makes reservations, parks, moves self, baggage and belongings, and travels to safely, securely and more expeditiously arrive at his/her final destination.

All proposed solutions must consider:

  • Submissions must incorporate solutions that ensure that diverse passenger populations (e.g., people with disabilities, seniors, children, international visitors) are able to successfully navigate and use our airports and transportation systems to get them where they plan to go.
  • Physical and cybersecurity are of utmost importance to the Department of Transportation, and should be an emphasized consideration in the development of your solution.
  • Last year, Congress created the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (see Section 145 “Sense of Congress on Smart Airports”) stating that the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration and the Secretary of Transportation should produce a smart airports initiative plan that focuses on creating a more consumer-friendly and digitally connected airport experience. The purpose of the initiative is to invest in technologies and infrastructure toward better-connected airports while providing appropriate national security and cybersecurity for travelers. Teams are encouraged to propose solutions that align with the bill’s recommendations on modernizing technologies in the following areas:
    • more efficient check-ins
    • shortened security lines
    • Wi-Fi and GPS upgrades
    • improvements of aircraft turnaround for on-time boarding and flights.
How to Compete
  1. Thoroughly review this challenge website
  2. Find a qualified advisor and a diverse team of students
  3. Ensure that your team meets the eligibility requirements
  4. Develop and submit a project plan proposal by the deadline
  5. Project Plans are reviewed and evaluated by the FAA Steering Committee
  6. Based on a review of the project plans, 3 teams will advance to the next phase of the competition – further developing their proposed concept for demonstration in May.
  7. The finalist teams will be invited to demonstrate their technology in a face-to-face oral presentation/design review in front of FAA subject matter experts at a technical symposium in Atlantic City, New Jersey in May of 2020. Finalist teams will also be responsible for submission of a technical paper and poster presentation.
The FAA Challenge: Smart Airport Student Competition is open to teams of undergraduate and graduate students at accredited United States based colleges and universities. Teams may include senior capstone students, clubs, multi-university or multi-disciplinary students. Teams are encouraged to collaborate and work in concert with industry partners.
  • Student team members must have been enrolled in a United States based college or university for at least one semester (or quarterly equivalent) during 2019.
  • Team members, including all faculty advisors and students, must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States.
  • The designated lead academic institution must submit the application on behalf of the team.
  • Each member of the team must meet the eligibility criteria.
  • An individual may join more than one team.
  • There is no charge to enter the competition.
  • Team sizes may vary widely. The core team must contain, at a minimum, one faculty advisor from the lead academic institution who has worked on the project and student(s) who can be available to present the final project at the culminating event in May of 2020.
  • Eligibility is limited to students from colleges and universities in the United States.
  • Eligibility is limited to academic institutions in the United States.

Foreign Universities:

Because this is an FAA-sponsored competition, eligibility is limited to students from universities in the United States. Foreign universities are not eligible to participate in the FAA Challenge.
Submission Elements for Finalist Teams
Teams selected to receive funding and attend the culminating event will be responsible for the following additional submission elements:
  • Scored/Judged Elements
    1. Technical Paper (due May 4, 2020)
    2. Oral Presentation*
      • 45-minute oral presentation/design review, with an additional 30 minutes of Q&A
      • Presentations should be considered the teams’ opportunity to “pitch” their rigorously developed solutions to the judges.
* It is expected that the oral presentations will incorporate a simulated or otherwise functional demonstration of their solution. Teams can showcase their solutions through a variety of visual and physical modalities, including but not limited to: a modeling and simulation experience (including Virtual Reality), application software demonstration, supported by slides, charts, graphic representations, video, animations, data visualizations, etc.
  • Elements presented to conference attendees
    1. Condensed 15-minute oral presentation summary of concept
    2. Technical Poster
Additional details on these deliverables will be communicated to the finalist teams upon selection.
Evaluation and Selection

Initial Screening

NIA will initially review entries to determine that all required submission elements are included and to determine compliance with eligibility requirements.

Steering Committee

The FAA Challenge Steering Committee (SC), a panel of FAA subject-matter-experts, will serve as judges for the challenge and evaluate, rate and rank submissions. Design projects will be evaluated and judged based on adherence to the guidelines and the published evaluation criteria.

Project plans will be evaluated based on the following factors:

Technical Merit (Max 40%)
  • Has the submission presented a clear understanding of the associated problems being addressed?
  • Has the submission developed a logical and workable solution and approach to solving the problem(s)?
  • What are the most significant aspects of this concept?
  • Has the submission clearly described the breadth of impact of the innovation?
Practicality (Max 30%)
  • Who directly benefits from this concept?
  • Can the improvements and the related activities be implemented in a practical manner?
  • To what extent does the concept demonstrate a reasonable path for implementation?
  • How likely is the concept to be accepted and easily used by the public sector?
  • What are the costs anticipated to be incurred and the costs saved by executing this concept compared to the benefit to the traveler? Teams should demonstrate an analysis of the trade space between benefit to the passenger in terms of time, cost, etc. and any potential costs/impact downstream that may be incurred by the airport authority and/or airline.
Impact (Max 20%)
  • To what extent does this project have the potential to make a significant impact and/or contribution to the way the traveling public navigates the airport environment and the overall traveling experience?
  • Has the submission clearly defined the direct beneficiaries of this concept and the breadth of impact of the various components of the innovation?
  • How has this group measured the desired impact of the concept (i.e., measurable time, resource and/or cost savings)?
  • To what extent does the concept simplify and expedite the travel experience and appeal to users based on intuitive design and ease of use?
Originality (Max 10%)
  • To what extent is this concept new, or in what way is this a variation of an existing idea?
  • How is this concept unique?
  • Was the concept developed independently within the team or in cooperation with others?
Important Note: All factors are important and will be considered in the evaluation process. However, the SC will give the "technical merit" factor the most weight in the screening process.
Rules, Terms, and Conditions

The following rules, terms and conditions apply to all submissions and teams that do not comply with the rules, terms and conditions may be disqualified:

  1. Team is defined as all participants in the submission, including all academic institutions, faculty advisors, students, organizations and industry partners.
  2. The Prize Administrator (National Institute of Aerospace, or NIA) will administer the award of a single dollar amount to the designated lead academic institution of the winning team. The lead academic institution is solely responsible for allocating any prize funds among its team members as they deem appropriate.
  3. Submission must include a robust project plan proposal to enter the competition under the rules declared and published by the FAA.
  4. Submission must be typed in English and as an Adobe PDF file. Scanned hand-written submissions will be disqualified. Additional format requirements are listed under General Project Plan Formatting Instructions (see “Project Plan” section of Submissions page on the challenge website).
  5. The team and/or team members may not be a Federal entity or Federal employee acting within the scope of employment (this includes co-op students with civil servant status).
  6. Team members may not be an employee of the Department of Transportation (DOT), including but not limited to the FAA.
  7. Teams shall not be deemed ineligible because a team member used Federal facilities or consulted with Federal employees during a competition as long as the facilities and employees are made available to all teams participating in the competition on an equitable basis.
  8. Proposing team members are not permitted to consult with the Steering Committee (SC) or any of its committee members other than the invitation to participate in a scheduled Question and Answer (Q&A) Session. This opportunity is offered to the teams that submit expression of interest by the deadline.
  9. After the Q&A Session with the SC, follow-up technical questions from students and faculty should be submitted to NIA will forward the question to the SC. After receiving a response from the SC, NIA will post follow-up questions and answers on the FAQ page.
  10. The FAA Challenge is subject to all applicable Federal laws and regulations. Participation constitutes the team’s full and unconditional agreement to these rules, terms and conditions and to the final decisions of the FAA, which are final and binding in all matters related to this competition.
  11. Each team represents and warrants that the team is the sole author and owner of the submission, that the submission is wholly original and authored by the team, that it does not infringe on any copyright or any other rights of any third party of which the team is aware, and, if submitted in electronic form, is free of malware. All submissions remain the property of the team.
  12. By submitting an entry, teams agree to assume any and all risks and waive any claims against the Federal Government and its officers, employees and related entities (except in the case of willful misconduct) for any and all injury, death, damage, or loss of property, revenue or profits, whether direct, indirect, or consequential, arising from their participation in the FAA Challenge, whether the claim or cause of action arises under contract or tort.
  13. By submitting an entry, teams agree to indemnify the Federal Government against third party claims for damages arising from or related to the FAA Challenge activities.
  14. The SC has the right to request additional information and access to supporting materials from the team.
  15. The submission cannot have been submitted in the same or substantially similar form in any previous Federally-sponsored contest.
  16. Each team grants to the FAA, the DOT, as well as other Federal agencies and organizations with which it partners, the right to use names, likeness, application and submission materials not marked with protective markings, photographs, voices, opinions, and/or hometown and state for FAA promotional purposes in any media, in perpetuity, worldwide, without further payment or consideration.
  17. Personal information submitted by teams to is subject to the privacy policy located at
  18. Personal information submitted by teams as part of the Expression of Interest and/or Submission through the FAA Challenge website,, will be transmitted to the FAA and may be kept in a system of records. Teams understand that the FAA Challenge website is hosted by a private entity, the Prize Administrator (NIA), and is not a service of the FAA or the Federal Government. The collection of personal and individually identifiable information on the challenge website is subject to the Prize Administrator’s privacy and security policies. Teams agree not to hold the FAA or the Federal Government liable for the protection, use, or retention of any personal information submitted through the FAA Challenge website and/or in the team’s Expression of Interest or Submission.
  19. Submission Marking and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C.§552: All materials submitted to FAA as part of a submission become FAA records and are subject to release under the FOIA. Any confidential commercial information contained in a submission should be designated in writing at the time of submission.
    • Teams are required to use protective markings as follows:
      1. The cover sheet of the submission must be marked as follows and must identify the specific pages containing trade secrets or commercial or financial information that is privileged or confidential:
        1. Notice of Restriction on Disclosure and Use of Data: Pages [list applicable pages] of this document may contain trade secrets or commercial or financial information that is privileged or confidential and is exempt from public disclosure. Such information shall be used or disclosed only for evaluation purposes. The Government may use or disclose any information that is not appropriately marked or otherwise restricted, regardless of source.
        2. The header and footer of every page that contains trade secrets or commercial or financial information that is privileged must be marked as follows: “May contain trade secrets or commercial or financial information that is privileged or confidential and exempt from public disclosure.”
        3. In addition, each line or paragraph containing trade secrets or commercial or financial information that is privileged or confidential must be enclosed in brackets.
      2. If the team’s submission has been marked as set forth above, the team will be notified of any FOIA requests for their submissions. Teams may then have the opportunity to review materials and work with an FAA FOIA Coordinator prior to the release of materials.
  20. The Prize Administrator is the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA). The Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), is the Federal Agency sponsor of the prize.
  21. Federal grantees may not use Federal funds to develop submissions.
  22. Federal contractors may not use Federal funds from a contract to develop submissions or to fund efforts in support of a submission.
  23. Teams must include all the required submission elements. The NIA reserves the right to disqualify submissions after an initial screening if all required submission elements are not provided and/or if eligibility requirements are not met. The NIA may give teams an opportunity to fix non-substantive mistakes or errors in their submission packages.
  24. The FAA retains sole discretion to select the winning team. The FAA reserves the right to not award the prize if the SC believes that no submission demonstrates sufficient innovative scientific and engineering potential and/or achievements.

Interested in Applying?