Next Generation Air Transportation System:
FAA Has Made Some Progress in Implementation, but Delays Threaten to Impact Costs and Benefits
GAO-12-141T: Published: Oct 5, 2011. Publicly Released: Oct 5, 2011.
This testimony discusses the current progress toward implementing the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). NextGen will impact nearly every aspect of air transportation and will transform the way in which the air transportation system operates today. It will do so, in part, by (1) using satellite-based surveillance as opposed to ground-based radars, (2) using performance-based navigation instead of cumbersome step-by-step procedures, (3) replacing routine voice communications with data transmissions, and (4) organizing and merging the disjointed data that pilots, controllers, airports, airlines, and others currently rely on to operate the system. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been planning and developing NextGen since 2003, and is now implementing near-term (through 2012) and mid-term (through 2018) capabilities. Over the years, concerns have been raised by the Congress and other stakeholders that despite years of effort and billions of dollars spent, FAA has not made sufficient progress in deploying systems and producing benefits. In past reports, we have made a number of recommendations to FAA to address delays in development and acquisitions, improve its processes, and focus on accountability and performance. Others have also made recommendations to FAA to improve its implementation of NextGen. For example, the Department of Transportation's Office of the Inspector General recently made recommendations regarding specific NextGen programs, and the NextGen Midterm Implementation Task Force--whose creation was requested by FAA--resulted in consensus recommendations from industry on specific capabilities FAA should prioritize. Over the last 2 years, FAA has taken several steps and instituted many changes to address several of these issues. This statement today discusses (1) the results of NextGen programs and improvements to date and (2) ongoing issues that will affect NextGen implementation. This statement today is based on our NextGen-related reports and testimonies over the last 2 years; ongoing work for this subcommittee that includes our analysis of selected NextGen acquisitions and our analysis of FAA's efforts to harmonize NextGen with air traffic control modernization efforts in Europe; our review of FAA's 2025 Strategic Plan, 2011 NextGen Implementation Plan, 2012 Budget Submission, and other documents; and selected program updates from FAA officials.
In summary, FAA has improved its efforts to implement NextGen and is continuing its work to address critical issues that we, stakeholders, and others have identified over the years. In some areas, FAA has implemented NextGen capabilities that have demonstrated measurable benefits for system users, such as fuel savings. FAA has also made progress in streamlining its processes, improving its capacity to develop new flight procedures, and focusing its efforts on specific procedures that are needed in key metropolitan areas. Furthermore, we found that several NextGen-related acquisitions are generally on time and on budget. However, some acquisitions have been delayed, which has impacted the timelines of other dependent systems, and the potential exists for other acquisitions to also encounter delays. These delays have resulted in increased costs and reduced benefits. Going forward, FAA must focus on delivering systems and capabilities in a timely fashion to maintain its credibility with industry stakeholders, whose adoption of key technologies is crucial to NextGen's success. FAA must also continue to monitor how delays will affect international harmonization issues, focus on human factors issues, streamline environmental approvals, mitigate environmental impacts, and focus on improving management and governance.