Innovation takes flight at FAA

The Federal Aviation Administration's decision to look beyond U.S. borders for an oceanic air traffic control system is more than a symptom of yet another troubled modernization program. Rather, it is a model of innovative thinking that other agencies would do well to follow.

The FAA makes no secret of the fact that its three-year program to develop a new system for managing air traffic over the oceans has been a failure. That is what has brought the agency to the point where it would consider leasing air traffic control technology and services that a vendor has developed for another country rather than go through a separate development effort.

But until recently, no one would have looked for such innovation and flexibility from the FAA. For more than a decade the agency was bogged down in a massive modernization program called the Advanced Automation System, which was years behind schedule and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget before being dismantled.

In looking to make a fast recovery from its most recent failed efforts, the FAA has proven ready to consider ideas that at one time would have been unthinkable. It has, in effect, admitted that it does not have a corner on the market for good ideas. This is more than a matter of learning from experience.

Of course, it may prove to be more difficult than anticipated to adapt another system to meet the FAA's requirements. But any agency that is willing to look beyond its own resources— to consider what was once unthinkable— in the interest of delivering an affordable solution in a timely fashion already has made significant progress in overcoming obstacles.

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