The government's program to modernize the nation's air traffic control system has run into serious problems that threaten to increase its cost and delay its completion, a government watchdog said.
The Federal Aviation Administration's program to replace the current air traffic control system with a system based on satellite technology is being held back by software problems that have delayed full deployment of a critical flight tracking system, Transportation Department inspector general Calvin Scovel said in prepared testimony to be delivered at House hearing Wednesday.
The agency also hasn't set deadlines for when key aspects of the new air traffic control system will be in place, Scovel said. Nor has FAA made clear to airlines and other air traffic system users exactly what benefits they can expect and when they'll be achieved, he said.
FAA officials have predicted the agency's NextGen modernization program will be as revolutionary for civil aviation as was the advent of radar six decades ago. It's actually a collection of new programs aimed at moving planes faster and more efficiently that will markedly change almost every major aspect of today's air traffic system. Those changes are considered critical to enabling the system to absorb substantial predicted increases in air traffic without becoming paralyzed by congestion.
The troubled $2.1 billion software program is the main tool air traffic controllers will use to identify and track aircraft, except when planes are immediately approaching and departing airports. It was supposed to have been completed by the end of last year, but the FAA now doesn't expect to be finished until 2014, at a cost overrun of $330 million, Scovel said.