FAA system on GAO's radar screen

As the Federal Aviation Administration awaits the results of an independent

panel's assessment of safety problems with its satellite-based navigation

system, Congress also is taking a closer look.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's

Transportation Subcommittee, has requested a General Accounting Office report

on the FAA's Wide-Area Augmentation System.

Earlier this year, FAA discovered problems with the ground- and space-based

system's ability to prove it could catch errors in the signals received

from Global Positioning System satellites. A panel of experts assembled

by the FAA is helping prime contractor Raytheon Co. develop new algorithms

for the software.

A GAO report is due in early May, a government source said. The report will:

* Examine the extent to which the Defense Department's GPS signal upgrades

could meet FAA's navigation requirements without an augmentation system.

* Examine the costs and benefits of WAAS and whether the FAA underestimated

the cost of the system.

* Examine whether less-costly alternatives are available to meet navigation

needs and assess the potential impact on satellite navigation and National

Airspace System modernization.

The report will assess the impact of the algorithm problem on an investment

analysis the FAA completed in September 1998. The analysis recommended using

satellite navigation with augmentation systems. It also suggested examining

whether alternative radionavigation systems such as Loran-C and Eurofix

could provide the precision landing capabilities airlines want.

The problems that plague FAA's modernization programs stem from cultural

problems, organizational alignments in the agency and poor communication,

the government source said.

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