It is hard to reconcile the statements of the FAA Deputy Administrator (first below link) and the DoT Inspector General. The Chief NextGen Officer calls for an October 28 “Call to Action” meeting to talk about moving forward on the ADS-B system. The last article reviews the finding of the DoT’s “internal consultant” and that report questions whether final implementation will be beneficial to the users. It is highly likely that the FAA knew of those findings and it is most curious why such optimism would be expressed with such a strong criticism soon to be issued.
Mr. Whitaker is the executive tasked with managing this complex technology along with General Bolton, who bears the title Assistant Administrator of NextGen. In a speech to the public-private partnership established to help them in the FAA’s mission, the Deputy made the following comments:
“As we look to the future, as we look at how to keep NextGen on track, I think now our focus is turning to another milestone that’s out in front of us, which is the 2020 mandate for ADS-B equipage. And I would say that there is not a more important milestone in NextGen than ADS-B equipage….
As I mentioned, the ADS-B infrastructure has been completed, so we have done our part of the bargain. The installations are there, and ERAM, which will operate ADS-B, will be up and running. Now we come to the point where we’re looking at how we are going to go operational
The point of this speech to the NextGen Institute was to bring the user industry to learn what the airlines, business and general aviation communities are doing as to the ADS-B equipage, GIVEN that the FAA has delivered its “part of the bargain”.
The words of the OIG are not as encouraging, as recited in the Wall Street Journal. The basic point is as follows:
“According to the report, the FAA itself has determined that taxpayer investments in such ground-based applications ‘now outweigh the projected benefits of the program by as much as $588 million.’ The findings also emphasize that ‘it remains uncertain how and when the FAA will implement” advanced capabilities, “and at what cost.’”
The specific problems cited by the “watchdog” include:
· that there are gaps in the network of ADS-B towers and that as many as 200 more stations, costing $258 million, need to be added;
· that FAA has been unable to perform “end to end testing,” connecting cockpit equipment to controller stations to ground installations, due to the users’ reluctance to install the equipment on a large percentage of their aircraft;
· partner in the NextGen project, the Defense Department, has expressed concerns about the system’s capability to block cyber-attacks and the whether the ADS-B infrastructure and aircraft avionics are really secure;
· the existence of effective monitoring systems to determine whether the system/equipment is safely functioning.
The industry must be experiencing some cognitive dissonance between Whitaker speech and the OIG report. A4A’s Sharon Pinkerton expressed the airlines response to the Wall Street Journal reporters:
“Members of Airlines for America, the major trade group for the big carriers, won’t be in a hurry to put the necessary equipment on planes until there is ‘a clear demonstration that the FAA has developed and designed a program, as well as policies and procedures, along with training for controllers, that could deliver benefits as carriers equip,’ said Sharon Pinkerton, the association’s senior vice president of legislative and regulatory policy. By some industry estimates, ADS-B equipment could cost airlines, including regional carriers, as much as $5 billion.
Meanwhile, other aspects of the FAA’s ambitious NextGen modernization initiative haven’t gone well. ‘There’s a history here,’ Ms. Pinkerton said, ‘when we have equipped our planes at great expense and then it takes the FAA three years to train controllers and design processes where we can benefit.’”
The “Call to Action” meeting is by invitation only; it portends to be a truly Washington version of a reality show.