IG’s REPORT ON FAA’s NEXTGEN PROGRESS DISAPPOINTING AND ENCOURAGING

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ARTICLE: Update on FAA’s Progress and Challenges in Advancing the Next Generation Air Transportation System

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While the frequency of IG audits of the FAA’s NextGen program has been a point of criticism here, this statement by Calvin L Scovel III was induced by the hearing sponsored by the House Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure. That said, the analysis by the IG is disappointing:

While FAA has taken important steps over the past year to improve the management of NextGen, such as establishing a new program management office, the Agency has made limited progress in shifting from planning to actual implementation and delivering benefits to airspace users.

The good news is the FAA is making progress in studying the needed improvements at the top 7 major metroplexes. Although the actual installation/integration of equipment and procedures is not as evident, the IG neglects to point out that the groundwork has been laid to move from “limited” to “real” progress. ERAM, the multibillion flight processing system (read massive software), which suffered from delays and increased costs, now appears to be on track.

The IG mentions that the FAA has created a better system for tracking costs, but there are no encouraging words as to improved production of the codes. Finally, the IG notes with disappointment that the FAA’s management of program costs and of schedules in developing and implementing NextGen’s transformational programs still evidences unacceptable levels of risk. So what else is new? Large, complex programs with major policy, political and technical issues coupled with funding uncertainties and disparate user views will always be plagued with high risks.

This is the #1 civil government infrastructure program with dimensions from a network of satellites to complex integration of navigation/flight following/weather/communications systems so the FAA faces a daunting, unparalleled challenge. They have been dealing with these multivariate policy/technical questions for years, while industry and the Administration are struggling to determine how to pay for NextGen.

While sympathetic with the FAA’s hard work and frustratingly slow progress, there are valid concerns that the executives need to develop solutions in the very near term. But let it also be noted that no organization, in government or out, could manage this program better than FAA. Yes, FAA could do it better, but no organization could do it better than FAA.

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