GAO recommends FAA approval improvements

The Federal Aviation Administration's Air Traffic Control modernization process has been a high-risk issue for the Government Accountability Office for almost 10 years. The GAO will be issuing an update in January 2005, which draws upon a recent GAO report, "FAA Needs to Ensure Better Coordination When Approving Air Traffic Control Systems."

In the report prepared for Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Aviation Subcommittee, GAO officials explained the two-pronged certification process of new technologies for the aviation agency. The subcommittee had been concerned that certification held up the speed with which new air traffic technologies were deployed and increased costs.

Two separate offices within FAA approve technologies -- aircraft approval and ground approval.

GAO officials identified three challenges facing the FAA: getting the appropriate stakeholders, such as future users of the system and technical experts, involved in the approval process; insuring that FAA offices are involved in approving the two-piece approval process and that they coordinate with each other; and doing a better job of accurately estimating the amount of time it takes to design projects.

FAA officials said a system would link aircraft and ground approval processes, although it remains three to five years from full implementation. Aviation officials have also worked on getting all research and development done before it goes into the approval process.

"It helped to make the entire approval process go more smoothly," said Kate Siggerud, GAO's director of physical infrastructure issues.

Aviation officials need to do more work to get stakeholders involved, Siggerud said. Early in the approval process for each air traffic control system, FAA officials should develop a plan that specifies how and when FAA offices will meet with stakeholders, she said.

"We'll be looking over the next few years to see how that's implemented," Siggerud said.

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