Letters to the Editor

AMS cuts WAAS cost growth

Your Aug. 25 editorial ["Reinvention can't prevent WAAS woes"] links cost growth in the Wide-Area Augmentation System (WAAS) with the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) acquisition culture. One has nothing to do with the other.

Far from contributing to WAAS' cost growth the FAA's Acquisition Management System (AMS) - and the dedicated employees who work with it - have saved American taxpayers millions of dollars. The AMS facilitated our award to Hughes after terminating the original contract with Wilcox. This action saved at least $25 million compared to the predicted price had we stayed with Wilcox. The Hughes contract is on-schedule and slightly under budget.

The AMS also let us expeditiously award a contract to Comsat for WAAS satellite services. The quick action made possible by the AMS helped the FAA avoid losing the required transponders to auction. It also let us have direct oversight of the satellite contract and saved the FAA unnecessary expenses with the prime contractor.

Regarding WAAS' cost growth the FAA thought in 1993 that WAAS' acquisition costs would range from $590 million to $860 million. Several factors - none related to our new AMS - have driven that range to today's $950 million to $1 billion estimate:

* A partial redesign was needed to certify WAAS software for demanding RTCA safety standards.

* The redundant satellite coverage required to ensure the robustness of WAAS will cost much more than originally planned due to the economies of the satellite transponder market.

* Program time was accelerated from 12 to eight years which of course increases the up-front cost.

WAAS will have enormous benefits for aviation users but they will fully realize those benefits only if the full system is deployed. Canceling the program or stopping it after Phase I is up early in 1999 would mean that WAAS could not serve as an independent air navigation system. The FAA would have to spend more than $4 billion on current ground-based navigation aids over the next 20 years plus incur additional costs to replace aging equipment.

Strong WAAS development also would reduce the safety benefits of having WAAS signals at airports that now do not have precision-landing capabilities. The Phase I system would not let the FAA migrate to a more accurate and ubiquitous surveillance system which is required to increase airspace capacity by reducing aircraft separation.

The benefits of a full WAAS to aviation users will total $2.5 billion to $8 billion over the system's 15-year lifetime. We also estimate a direct savings to the FAA of about $750 million to $900 million in maintenance and replacement costs as we substitute satellite-based navigation for the current ground-based navigation infrastructure.

Nothing like WAAS has ever been attempted before in civil-aviation history. Uncertainties and unknowns made the estimated program costs rise. But as the program has matured the FAA has gotten smarter. We are now well on the way to fielding a WAAS that will produce a safer more efficient National Airspace System - and be highly cost-effective.

Dennis DeGaetanoDeputy Associate Administrator for Research and AcquisitionsFederal Aviation Administration

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