Next Generation Air Transportation System:

Information on Expenditures, Schedule, and Cost Estimates, Fiscal Years 2004 -- 2030

GAO-17-241R: Published: Nov 17, 2016. Publicly Released: Nov 17, 2016.

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Gerald Dillingham, Ph.D.
(202) 512-4803
DillinghamG@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is leading the implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), a long-term initiative to transform the current radar-based air transportation system into one that uses satellite navigation, automated aircraft position reporting, and digital communications. From fiscal year 2004 through fiscal year 2016, FAA has received approximately $7.4 billion for programs and activities FAA identified as NextGen, according to GAO’s analysis of FAA budget documents and data. In addition to funds for NextGen, FAA has received significant amounts for other air traffic control modernization programs.  

According to FAA’s 2016 plans, major NextGen programs will be in place by 2025, enabling the agency to meet high-level NextGen objectives, which include accommodating more air traffic, increasing airport access and operations efficiency, and improving air traffic control communications. FAA has identified six NextGen activities that it had previously planned to complete by 2025, but has now deferred until after 2030, due to infeasibility or changed operational needs, according to FAA officials.

NextGen cost estimates have evolved from a limited, preliminary estimate in 2006 by an advisory committee before essential NextGen planning had been completed, to business cases produced by an interagency NextGen planning body in 2007 and by FAA from 2012 to 2016.  FAA’s 2016 business case estimate projected the agency’s estimated cost at $20.6 billion—$2.6 billion more than FAA projected in 2012 and within the range of the 2007 estimate of $15 to $22 billion. FAA’s 2016 estimate of $15.1 billion in costs for the aviation industry is about $4 billion lower than its 2012 estimate. FAA’s most recent estimate projects NextGen costs of $14.8 billion from fiscal year 2015 to 2030. According to FAA, NextGen cost estimates for FAA have changed in part because, unlike earlier estimates, later estimates considered the cost of sustaining systems, while industry costs have lowered in part because the shift from smaller to larger aircraft decreased the number of aircraft to be equipped with NextGen technology.

Why GAO Did This Study

Congress authorized the planning for NextGen in December 2003, with the goal of transforming the National Airspace System by 2025.

GAO was asked to examine FAA’s expenditures, cost estimates, and time frames for completing NextGen. This report addresses: (1) how much FAA reported investing in NextGen since fiscal year 2004; (2) when FAA projects that NextGen will be completed; and (3) how FAA's NextGen cost estimates have changed since fiscal year 2004 and how much additional funding FAA projects will be required to complete NextGen. GAO reviewed FAA’s budget and NextGen planning documents and data on FAA’s Next-Gen-related obligations from its financial management system. To assess the reliability of FAA's data, we reviewed available documentation and audit reports and interviewed FAA officials. We determined that the data were sufficiently reliable for the purposes of this report. GAO also interviewed FAA officials and representatives from a federally funded research and development center and a standards-making body.

For more information, contact Gerald Dillingham, Ph.D. at (202) 512-4803 or dillinghamg@gao.gov.

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