The U.S. Government General Accountability Office (GAO) released a study last month recommending that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) require cost and schedule risk analysis, independent cost estimates and integrated master schedules in relation to the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), which includes the software program En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM). The recommendation was made to better estimate the cost and completion dates for major acquisitions, according to the study.
ERAM is the $2.4 billion program slated to replace the 30-year-old long-range radar tracking system, HOST, which is used at the FAA’s high altitude en route centers, processes flight radar data and communications, and generates display data to air traffic controllers.
In November, Congress denied a “minibus” funding bill upgrade request by the FAA for ERAM in the amount of $64.5 million for fiscal year 2012.
FAA documentation had stated that the upgrades to ERAM were planned to correct various deficiencies in the current ERAM system, including automation deficiencies in airplane separation services; insufficient information coordination among air traffic controllers; and failure to take full advantage of performance-based navigation.
ERAM had been undergoing testing at the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) in Palmdale since May 2010. The center handles high altitude airspace over Southern California including aircraft at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and portions of Nevada, Arizona and Utah.
“We started using ERAM at Los Angeles Center on Jan. 28,” said Ian Gregor, FAA Pacific Division public affairs manager.
“We’re in the process of a conservative, phased implementation period where we are using the system on low traffic, overnight shifts. This allows controllers to gain experience with the system, and would allow the FAA to address any issues with it before we begin using it full time.”
Gregor said that in addition to the Los Angeles Center, ERAM is currently IOC at the following Air Route Traffic Control Centers: Seattle, Salt Lake City, Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago and Oakland.
The delays in the ERAM program affect the ability of the FAA’s other programs that are interdependent upon the success of ERAM. The completion date has extended from December 2010 to August 2014, and cost overruns may reach $330 million, and potentially closer to $550 million, Calvin Scovel, III, the U.S. Transportation Department’s inspector general, said in an October report to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation.
The GAO stated that cost increases and schedule delays occurred due to several factors, many of which have been longstanding challenges for the FAA.
Specifically, these have involved “additional or unanticipated system requirements; insufficient stakeholder involvement (such as controllers’ input) throughout system development; underestimating the complexity of software development; and unanticipated events including funding shortfalls or work stoppages.
“These challenges, if they persist, will impede the implementation of NextGen, especially in light of the interdependencies among many acquisition programs, where cost increases or delays in one program can affect the costs and schedules of other programs.”