Air Traffic Control:

FAA Should Define the Optimal Advanced Automation System Alternative

IMTEC-89-5: Published: Nov 30, 1988. Publicly Released: Nov 30, 1988.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) plans to acquire the Advanced Automation System (AAS), focusing on FAA compliance with congressional direction to: (1) obtain more technical information and modify test plans before awarding the AAS acquisition contract; and (2) conduct a cost-benefit study.

GAO found that FAA complied with congressional direction to obtain more technical information regarding AAS by: (1) directing design contractors to perform risk-reduction activities and demonstrate how their chosen hardware and software technologies would meet performance requirements; (2) requiring the completion of additional tests before authorizing full controller work station production; and (3) reviewing the need to simulate advanced en route automation functions and deciding not to simulate them before awarding the contract. GAO also found that the FAA cost-benefit study: (1) stated that modernizing the air traffic control computer system was a good investment; (2) concluded that the most cost-beneficial approach was to close about 180 terminal control facilities and consolidate their functions at 23 large centers; (3) did not fully analyze or properly compare a full range of alternatives, including nonconsolidation approaches, to its preferred system; (4) used an unsound methodology to estimate AAS benefits; (5) addressed potential safety improvements qualitatively; (6) estimated that AAS contract costs could total about $3.3 billion, $1.7 billion less than an independent cost analysis estimated; and (7) did not successfully control AAS design costs and opposed suggestions to adopt a design-to-cost goal to help control costs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA, through a contractor, has now completed the recommended cost/benefit analysis. The analysis recommends consolidation of a selected number of facilities.

    Recommendation: To ensure that FAA completes a credible cost-benefit analysis and retains the flexibility to acquire the optimal alternative, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to conduct an analysis to determine the optimal terminal control alternative: (1) using the data supporting the recently completed cost-benefit study; and (2) comparing a full range of alternative system configurations, capabilities, and locations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOT agreed with this recommendation and stated that the AAS contract has flexibility to deliver systems to consolidated or nonconsolidated sites. However, DOT did not state whether it would prevent FAA from extending or awarding other contracts to prepare facilities for consolidation until FAA determines whether to consolidate.

    Recommendation: To ensure that FAA completes a credible cost-benefit analysis and retains the flexibility to acquire the optimal alternative, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to exclude from new contracts or extensions of existing contracts materials and services required to prepare to consolidate terminal control facilities into AAS area control facilities until FAA determines the optimal alternative. This recommendation should not preclude FAA from modernizing facilities to perform en route functions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOT agreed to work with FAA to review potential cost control strategies, including design-to-cost goals.

    Recommendation: To ensure effective cost control on the multi-billion dollar AAS acquisition, the Secretary of Transportation should review FAA cost control processes to determine whether improvements, including establishing design-to-cost goals, should be implemented.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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