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Latest Inspector General Report Underscores Need for Air Traffic Control Reform

Washington, DC, November 15, 2016 | Justin Harclerode (202) 225-9446 | comments
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The Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General today released yet another scathing report highlighting the uncertainty, delays, and reduced expectations in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) NextGen air traffic control (ATC) modernization program.

The IG report, entitled, “Total Costs, Schedules, and Benefits of FAA’s NextGen Transformational Programs Remain Uncertain,” is available here.  The report focuses on the six “transformational” programs the FAA has identified as necessary to support future NextGen capabilities.

“The Inspector General’s latest report on FAA’s costly, ineffective NextGen implementation efforts again underscores the need for comprehensive reform of how our Nation’s air traffic control system is managed,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA).  “Despite the federal government spending over $7 billion on NextGen to date, and billions more spent on previous ATC modernization efforts, significant benefits have yet to materialize, and there is seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel.  The IG reports that the FAA’s original vision for NextGen is not what is being implemented today.  Instead of fundamentally changing how air traffic is managed, the agency’s efforts have shifted to replacing and updating decades-old equipment and systems. 

Shuster continued, “The IG’s findings confirm my long-held belief, and the belief of many experts, that the FAA’s bureaucracy is simply unable to manage large, multi-year, technologically complex capital projects, particularly when tied to an annual funding cycle.  ATC reform will address this flawed construct and allow NextGen to be managed in a sound, businesslike manner that ensures the efficiency and continued safety of our system.”

NextGen was initially promised to revolutionize the way the United States’ ATC system was managed; however, the IG found that while the FAA’s six “transformational” programs will provide some new air traffic management capabilities, not all six programs will necessarily “transform” the way air traffic is managed as originally envisioned. 

The report states, “Since our last report, FAA has not adjusted anticipated benefits for its transformational programs, and many benefits remain unquantified, broad, or uncertain for improving the flow of air traffic and reducing Agency operating costs….  In fact, FAA has yet to determine exactly when most of the transformational programs will start delivering benefits, and some of the most significant benefits will be difficult to achieve.”

The IG also recently wrote to Chairman Shuster to provide an update on the amount of the money the FAA has spent on NextGen thus far, the projected completion date of the program, and the amount of funding that will be necessary to complete it.  That letter also emphasizes the fact that the definition of NextGen has changed over the years, its focus on “transformational” capabilities continues to diminish, NextGen’s objectives remain broad and unclear, and while the costs to carry out the program to its completion are uncertain, the IG and others estimate those costs will be dramatically higher than original projections.  The IG’s recent letter is available here.

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Tags: Aviation