WAAS costs still headed skyward

The Federal Aviation Administration, which has faced continually rising costs on its major satellite-based navigation system, says the system will cost hundreds of millions of dollars more over the life of the program.

In a report the FAA submitted to Congress last week, the agency said the Wide Area Augmentation System will cost $3.05 billion, an increase of $637.7 million from the value cited by FAA officials at a WAAS hearing in October. Life-cycle costs include equipment, spare parts, maintenance, operations and personnel. The FAA attributes the increase to such factors as an uncertainty in the number of WAAS satellites needed, the addition of redundant links to the existing terrestrial network and technology upgrades.

WAAS will use a network of ground stations to refine Global Positioning System signals so that the signals are reliable enough to use for en route travel and precision approaches to airports.

Congress prevented the agency from obligating more than 25 percent of its fiscal 1998 funds until the report was submitted. The FAA notified WAAS prime contractor Hughes Information Technology Systems, now part of Raytheon, in a letter dated Jan. 30, that any work for WAAS would be "at its own risk" and would be essentially unfunded.

Raytheon last week declined comment on the FAA report.

FAA administrator Jane Garvey told an industry group last week that the agency delayed submitting the report because it wanted to make sure it was accurate."The funding [issue] is one reason we want to make sure the report was exactly right," she said, adding that the "1999 budget allows us to move forward with all elements of modernization, including WAAS."

In the report, the FAA maintained that the WAAS program is "on track to meet all established milestones." It acknowledged, however, that some technical and program uncertainties could affect the program.

One major program issue is whether the FAA will need to build a backup system for WAAS. Originally, the agency said WAAS could stand alone and that existing ground-based navigation aids will be phased out as WAAS becomes fully operational. However, the FAA said in its report that it is studying whether there is a need for an independent backup system.

A congressional aide familiar with the WAAS program said the new satellites are the reason why "cost growths are so big." The FAA estimates that it will need an additional two to four WAAS satellites, depending on the satellites' location in orbit.

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