Two key FAA programs still plagued by problems, IG says

Although the Federal Aviation Administration has made progress in its multibillion-dollar modernization effort, two key programs continue to experience problems, the Transportation Department's inspector general told a Senate panel yesterday.

The Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), which will augment the Global Positioning System for use in civilian aviation navigation, still suffers from technical and program uncertainties, said Kenneth Mead, IG at DOT, speaking before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology's subcommittee on Aviation.

For example, the FAA still must determine how many satellites will be needed to support aviation navigation and how to prevent interference with GPS signals, Mead said.

Likewise, the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS), which will provide new controller displays and workstations in the terminal air traffic control facilities, is experiencing cost and schedule difficulties, Mead said.

One problem has been that air traffic controllers have complained that the proposed STARS design would be confusing and distracting to controllers.

"The STARS schedule continues to be impacted by the software development needed to resolve human factors concerns and other new requirements," he said. The FAA estimated that initial operation of the full STARS system might not occur until June 2001—30 months behind the original schedule—according to Mead.

Jane Garvey, FAA administrator, said at the hearing that the agency is in the process of developing a modified program that will "help us finish STARS development while maintaining the health of our current terminal air traffic control infrastructure." In addition, the FAA will begin testing the complete WAAS by mid-1999.

However, Mead said, the FAA is doing well with two other programs, the Host Replacement program, which will replace the mainframe computers at en route centers, and the Display System Replacement program, which replaces aging controller displays.

The FAA's "evolutionary approach" to modernization over the past 18 months has produced positive results, Garvey said. "Thus far, we have installed and integrated more than 700 major systems and equipment into the [national airspace system] and installed more than 5,800 hardware and software upgrades," she said.

John O'Brien, director of the engineering and air safety department at the Air Line Pilots Association International, said that system modernization is essential "in order to maintain safety standards and perhaps obtain safety improvements in line with FAA and industry goals."

However, O'Brien added that without the additional funding available from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, which is funded from ticket taxes and other sources, "the modernization plan is in danger of falling behind schedule." Currently, only a portion of the trust fund money is appropriated to fund FAA programs.

Garvey said that although there is the temptation to ask for more money, the current budget allows the FAA to move ahead with its modernization programs such as WAAS and STARS.

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