An Unconfined Passion: From Aviation to Finance and Back

August 2022
David Klamm
David Klamm

A career in aviation was something of a tradition in the circles David Klamm grew up in. At MITRE, Klamm has taken that tradition in a new direction—or two.

“I’m from Grand Forks, North Dakota, where the university is known for its school of aerospace sciences, so I was ensconced in aviation since birth. Aviation fuel is in my blood.”

While many of Klamm’s friends and family members were professional pilots, his goal became somewhat different. “Although I’m a certified pilot, in flight school I realized I wanted to impact more than one plane at a time. I truly wanted to impact every plane, or rather, the aviation ecosystem,” he says.

After a brief stint at an airline, that goal led to work for an aviation-focused consulting firm. There, Klamm used his aviation and business knowledge to serve as the manager of aviation safety audits, quality control, and training programs.

Then a colleague took a position at MITRE and suggested Klamm join him.

“I heard about this amazing organization that was tackling the nation’s most challenging problems for the public good,” Klamm recalls. “It was that altruistic motivation that really attracted me to MITRE.”

The job he “landed” at MITRE called for a new focus for his talents: the financial sector. He joined MITRE’s Center for Enterprise Modernization (CEM), whose sponsors include the U.S. Treasury and other organizations involved in the nation’s commerce and economics sector.

“I loved the approach MITRE took. The hiring managers valued the unique perspective and experience I had gained in aviation and gave me a chance to apply it in a different domain.”

Applying a Unique Perspective to the Financial Sector

For the next decade, Klamm applied his systems engineering, economic analysis and modeling, and business management expertise to a wide variety of challenges in the financial sector, from optimizing route structures for field assets, to analyzing commercial aviation’s operations to forecast economic trends, to enhancing the cybersecurity of the nation’s financial systems. Along the way, he often found interesting intersections with his passion for aviation.

When human error caused a national outage for one of CEM’s sponsors, Klamm led an effort to assess the sponsor’s critical infrastructure, introducing greater resiliency into the system and promoting an organizational culture designed to help prevent such large-scale incidents.

Some of that work was inspired by a safety framework developed in MITRE’s Center for Advanced Aviation System Development (CAASD), the federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) that supports the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Aviation has achieved a very high record of safety,” Klamm explains. A big part of that is the industry’s safety culture, which proactively monitors for risk, encourages the reporting of risk, and promotes the exchange of risk information across the ecosystem.

“That approach is almost a science now, so I wanted to see whether we could leverage it to our sponsor’s national infrastructure. Our sponsor loved the idea, and we were able to successfully translate the framework to their challenges.”

Revisiting an Earlier Calling

After ten-and-a-half years, Klamm still felt his “inner aviation nerd” calling.

“With what I’d learned supporting CEM’s fantastic sponsors, I felt I could bring something unique to CAASD.”

CAASD agreed. Today, Klamm is codifying the safety capabilities he saw so effectively used in aviation, so they can also be applied to other transportation industries, from auto to rail.

He’s also working on a project that, as a pilot, is especially exciting for him. “My team is helping the FAA’s Office of Aerospace Medicine transform the processes used to ensure pilots are medically ‘fit to fly.’”

“It’s a process that hasn’t changed for 100 years,” he says. “But now we’re taking a data-driven approach to certifying pilot health, as well as potentially accelerating pilots’ safe return to the cockpit. Moreover, we’re working with industry on ideas for wearable monitoring devices that will assist our pilots when flying. We truly have an opportunity to impact the entire aviation ecosystem.”

Klamm’s colleagues in CEM couldn’t be happier for him. “They were very supportive of my move to a different FFRDC. MITRE is a very open and collaborative organization, and there’s a recognition that the tide rises together. Any knowledge I gain in my new role could be brought to bear on other challenges MITRE is tackling. It’s how we work.”

—by Marlis McCollum

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