The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has failed to make critical decisions and set clear goals for the development of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), according to a new government report.
These failures threaten to stall the modernization of the nation’s aviation system, according to top Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Republicans.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) prepared the report at the request of U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL), the Committee’s Republican leader, and U.S. Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI), the Aviation Subcommittee top Republican.
According to the GAO, “We recently reported that FAA has yet to make many key decisions required to shape and determine the future direction of NextGen. We identified key decisions, such as how to provide incentives for operators to install avionics equipment on their aircraft where a clear business case is not evident, how environmental reviews can be expedited, and how much additional airport capacity will be needed. Absent decisions in these key areas, it is unclear how or whether FAA can achieve its plans for implementing NextGen capabilities.” (emphasis added) A copy of the full GAO report is attached.
“The Federal Aviation Administration’s failure to set clear goals and make necessary decisions jeopardizes this complex, critical air transportation modernization effort and threatens to waste taxpayers’ money,” Mica said. “FAA cannot effectively work towards NextGen with a partially developed plan and risk the United States’ international position as a leader in aviation. If I am chairman of the Committee in the next Congress, I plan to conduct rigorous oversight of the NextGen program and hold FAA accountable for taking the steps necessary to ensure its success.”
Petri said, “We are spending about $1 billion a year on this important initiative that is critical to the growth of our economy, improving safety, and for our environment. Yet, according to the GAO, the long-term goals remain unidentified and, even if they were identified, the FAA has yet to develop the tools necessary to measure the effectiveness of their efforts in delivering NextGen. Preparing for the future of air traffic control is a basic, vital function of the FAA, and the agency needs to get on with it. This is too important and too costly to not get it right.”
The FAA is the lead implementer and planner for NextGen, the multiyear, multibillion-dollar plan for modernizing and making more efficient the procedures, aircraft performance capabilities, and supporting infrastructure of the U.S. air transportation system.
The GAO reported that FAA and top NextGen planners have made no clear progress in establishing specific performance goals, metrics or milestones. Although FAA estimates that implementing NextGen capabilities will reduce aviation delays by 21 percent and save more than 1.4 billion gallons of fuel, these outcomes are not established goals and it is unclear how NextGen capabilities will help lead to their achievement.
The GAO warns that that the lack of goals and metrics could lead FAA to develop and implement capabilities that fail to produce desired results. The FAA will need to show that the necessary avionics equipage costs will be justified by safety and efficiency benefits to airspace users.
Finally, according to the report, FAA has not sufficiently assessed long-term NextGen benefits to support a business case for airlines to equip their aircraft with advanced avionics. While it may not be appropriate for the FAA to conduct a business case for each airline or operator, the agency should assess whether overall benefits outweigh costs for operators before requiring costly avionics equipage. To date, the FAA has not published such an analysis.
“For years, FAA officials have said NextGen would help improve travel delays,” Mica said. “However, without performance goals and metrics, FAA appears to be hoping for the best rather than developing a complete strategy for NextGen and addressing airline delays.”