Inspector General Testifies On FAA Progress Toward NextGen
April 22, 2010 - On Wednesday, the Inspector General testified before the House Subcommittee on Aviation on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) progress in developing the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). The Inspector General noted significant challenges FAA must overcome to achieve its long-term goals for NextGen.
Central to this effort is the successful implementation of ongoing modernization projects that will provide platforms for new NextGen capabilities for enhancing capacity. However, key multibillion-dollar programs have experienced problems, and the FAA has yet to fully determine their NextGen-specific requirements. These include the $2.1 billion En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) program.
Delays with this and other projects will have a cascading effect on NextGen plans now and well into the future. One critical step to avoid risks with NextGen’s cost, schedule, and capabilities is addressing gaps in partner agencies’ research and development efforts and long-term budgets and plans.
The Inspector General noted several actions the FAA can take now to
strengthen the multi-agency approach, better leverage Federal research
projects, and prevent duplicative implementation efforts.
In 2003, Congress mandated that the FAA establish the Joint Planning and
Development Office (JPDO) and that it create and carry out a plan for
implementing NextGen by 2025. Congress also required the JPDO to
coordinate diverse research efforts of other Federal agencies, including
the Departments of Defense (DOD), Commerce,
Security (DHS), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA). While the initial planning for NextGen focused on implementing
improvements through 2025, FAA has recently refocused and emphasized
improvements that can be implemented in the near and midterm, defined as
between 2012 and 2018.
The FAA faces challenges in keeping a number of modernization programs
on track. These programs are critical as they represent enabling
platforms for NextGen initiatives. Delays or performance shortfalls in
any of these systems will impact NextGen’s development and
For example, FAA has not yet established firm requirements that can be used to develop cost and schedule estimates for modifications to existing terminal automation systems, which will allow controllers to display and use satellite surveillance to better manage traffic. According to the FAA, it may take an additional 1 to 2 years to develop requirements for these systems and other mid-term NextGen efforts.
With ERAM Pose Cost and Schedule Risks for NextGen :
:The $2.1 billion ERAM program will replace the existing hardware and software at facilities that manage high-altitude traffic. ERAM, however, is experiencing software-related problems at FAA’s key initial operating site in
While the FAA does
not believe the system to be fundamentally flawed, it has postponed the
in-service and operational readiness decisions for ERAM at Salt Lake
City by 6 months, both originally planned for December 2009.
decision (ISD) authorizes deployment of a system into the operational
environment. It occurs after demonstration of initial operational
capability at the key test site. The decision establishes the foundation
for operational readiness to be declared at key site and subsequent
sites following completion of joint acceptance and inspection by the
operating service organization and certification of compliance with
information security requirements.
decision is based on testing to verify performance and operational
readiness. For ERAM, the Operational Readiness Decision (ORD) is the
final operational readiness certification that is required for the
system to become operational and no longer require retention of the HOST
Computer system as a back-up. DOT has not assessed the severity of the
problems with ERAM, but FAA officials are concerned about the ERAM
transition at larger, more complex sites like
acknowledge that it is unlikely that all 20 systems will be fielded
nationwide and controlling traffic on a regular basis by December 2010
as planned. FAA must take steps to ensure that problems with ERAM are
resolved and make realistic adjustments to the program’s schedule. FAA
must also assess what trade-offs in capabilities and adjustments to
deployment plans and budgets are needed. Prolonged problems with ERAM
will directly impact the implementation of NextGen efforts now and in
the future, including key NextGen systems such as Automatic Dependent
Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) and Data Communications.
FAA’s Telecommunications Services Raise Questions as to System
Reliability and FAA Oversight Recent problems with FAA’s
Telecommunications Infrastructure (FTI) program raise questions about
whether the system can be relied on for NextGen initiatives and whether
FAA is adequately overseeing the contractor. FTI is a $3.5 billion major
effort to modernize communications among FAA facilities.
An FTI failure last November delayed over 800 flights nationwide, and it took FAA and the contractor over 5 hours to diagnose, correct, and restore service. The cause of the failure was traceable to a series of problems and mistakes that occurred when the contractor was transitioning to a new fiber optic network. The incident also impacted DOD and DHS surveillance capability and raised questions about the integrity of the network. In response to the outage, FAA established review teams to examine the soundness of FTI’s management as well as the overall architecture and system design.
work shows that FAA’s oversight of the contractor was not as effective
as it should have been. For example, FAA had no indication that a
contractor engineer had configured the network in error, which
contributed to the outage.
FAA was also
unaware that an automated tool the contractor uses to generate alerts of
a network failure was turned off, which is why it took 5 hours to locate
the problem within the network. DOT work—and FAA assessments—show that
periodic independent reviews of the existing and planned FTI
architecture are also needed since FAA has already approved the same
contractor to continue modernizing the FTI network.
It remains unclear
if the planned FTI network is appropriately designed or managed to
support future NextGen initiatives, such as data communications between
air and FAA ground systems. Therefore, it will be important for FAA to
follow through on its plans to examine the broader implications of the
November outage with respect to NextGen and the Agency’s management of
coordinating with JPDO partner agencies on long-term NextGen plans, but
has yet to make critical system design decisions. Moreover, DOT found
significant research and development gaps that will affect progress as
well as the cost, schedule, and performance of NextGen. The future
NextGen system called for in JPDO planning documents is a complex,
software-intensive system that relies on advanced automation to track
and manage aircraft in all phases of flight.
NASA is taking a
large role in developing the complex software algorithms envisioned for
NextGen capabilities. Overall, NASA’s work is fairly well aligned with
JPDO plans. However, there are unresolved issues with the Department of
Commerce, DOD, and DHS with respect to integrating weather information
into advanced automated systems, determining joint surveillance
requirements to track aircraft, incorporating Unmanned Aircraft Systems
(UAS), and assessing NextGen’s human factors impact.
FAA Has Not Made
Key Decisions About the Design of the NextGen System .
.According to FAA, pending decisions on several key design issues will determine NextGen capabilities, timing, and costs. These include:
Division of Responsibility: FAA needs to decide how much responsibility
will be delegated to pilots in the cockpit and what duties will remain
with controllers and FAA ground systems for tracking aircraft.
• Level of
Automation: The decision on the degree of human involvement in traffic
management and separating aircraft is linked to the outcome of the
division of responsibility between aircrew and controllers (and related
ground systems). Possible options range from today’s largely manual
flight management to a primarily automated system centered on
machine-to-machine exchanges with little controller involvement.
Consolidation: A major factor in both capital and operating costs for
NextGen is the degree to which the Agency eliminates or consolidates FAA
facilities. FAA must make critical decisions on facility requirements,
which in turn will significantly impact the type and number of systems
needed to support NextGen.
Continued delays in developing requirements and in making key program decisions will slow NextGen’s progress. A recent NextGen portfolio analysis, commissioned by the JPDO, already shows that some NextGen automated air and ground capabilities originally planned for 2025 may not be implemented until 2035 or later and could cost the Government and airspace users significantly more than the projected cost estimate of $40 billion.
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