Oversight

FAA's air traffic modernization efforts face obstacles

nextgen plan cover

The cover of the 2013 FAA NextGen Implementation Plan.

The Federal Aviation Administration needs to address several challenges before its efforts to modernize air traffic systems can progress, according to July 17 congressional testimony by Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III.

Since 2004, the FAA has been developing its Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), which will provide "safer and more efficient air traffic management." NextGen aims to transform the National Airspace System by updating its ground-based air traffic management systems into more effective satellite-based systems.

In 2003, Congress mandated that the FAA create a plan to complete its NextGen initiatives by 2025. In its recent evaluation of progress to date, the IG found that the FAA has not created an executable plan to implement NextGen in that timeframe. "The report did not address implementation costs, establish priorities, specify sequencing for specific airports and airspace, or detail how needed technologies would be developed or integrated," Scovel told the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure's Aviation Subcommittee.

The IG also cited a larger hurdle for the FAA, noting that "the Agency's culture was resistant to the type of significant change needed to achieve NextGen and lacked a sense of urgency."

Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) appeared to share Scovell's culture concern. While making clear that he is a supporter of the modernization effort, LoBiondo said in his opening statement, "I also know that there are serious concerns regarding the FAA's ability to effectively and efficiently implement NextGen. I've heard that some "transformational" NextGen programs aren't truly transformational, that the FAA will never make the tough decisions required to advance NextGen, and that nobody can really agree what NextGen is today or what it should be in 2025."

Scovell's office is currently conducting an audit to further examine FAA's recent reorganizations in leadership and the causes for NextGen's delayed implementation, to be released later this year.

Scovell's testimony included several recommendations for priorities that FAA must address to progress with NextGen plans:

1. Address underlying causes for difficulties in advancing NextGen

2. Maximize near-term benefits of new performance-based navigation routes and procedures

3. Keep the implementation of critical automation systems on track

About the Author

Natalie Lauri is an editorial fellow at FCW. Connect with her on Twitter: @Nat_Lauri.

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