Air traffic system faces obstacles

Complex software development and new security requirements could delay delivery of the Federal Aviation Administration's oceanic air traffic control system, according to a Transportation Department inspector general report released April 12.

IG Kenneth Mead reviewed the FAA's Advanced Technologies and Oceanic Procedures (ATOP) procurement strategy in response to a request from Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), ranking member on the Appropriation Committee's Transportation Subcommittee.

ATOP will gather, manage and show oceanic air traffic data including electronic flight-strips on computer displays used by air traffic controllers. It will replace a system that relies on paper strips to track the paths of aircraft over oceans and that lacks direct radio communication with pilots.

Since 1995, the FAA has spent more than $233 million on oceanic automation efforts, Mead said in an April 10 letter to Shelby. In June 2001, the agency awarded a $217 million fixed-price contract to Lockheed Martin Air Traffic Management to provide systems in Anchorage, Alaska, New York and Oakland, Calif., — the control centers responsible for traffic crossing the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans. The latter is slated for operations by April 2003.

However, Lockheed faces challenges to meeting that deadline, the review found.

"The new oceanic system will require about 105,000 new software lines of code, which includes a 35 percent growth because the contractor underestimated the software coding needed to meet FAA requirements," Mead said.

Subcontractor Adacel Technologies Ltd. will develop about 47,250 lines. "This is significant because Adacel is responsible for the most complex software development tasks, and ATOP is the largest project Adacel has ever undertaken," he said.

Lockheed has completed 92 percent of the development for Oakland, said Suzanne Corcoran, Lockheed's vice president for North American programs.

"We're still going to meet the Oakland date," Corcoran said.

Another potential obstacle comes from policy, not technology, according to the report.

A recent change to the FAA acquisition policy requires foreign nationals working on National Airspace System programs to have lived in the United States for at least three consecutive years during a five-year period.

Because Lockheed subcontractors employ 40 team members who reside in other countries, ATOP officials have applied for a waiver. Meanwhile, the FAA has allowed the employees to stay on the project.

Mead made no recommendations about the software delay, but because the FAA has taken steps to keep ATOP on schedule, he suggested Administrator Jane Garvey act immediately on the waiver.

He also completed a limited review of the FAA's procurement in air traffic control.

Since 1996, the FAA has noncompetitively awarded six of nine large contracts in that domain, the review found. In five of those cases, the FAA didn't complete an investment analysis before selecting the sole source.

The "FAA clearly needs to make a better effort to follow the intent of its own acquisition policy and conduct market surveys and investment analyses as a precondition to awarding single source contracts," Mead said.

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