Air Traffic Control:

Inadequate Planning Increases Risk of Computer Failures in Los Angeles

IMTEC-90-49: Published: Jul 16, 1990. Publicly Released: Jul 16, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) project to consolidate four terminal radar approach control (TRACON) facilities in the Los Angeles basin area by 1995, focusing on FAA plans to meet the automation needs of the Los Angeles basin area's terminal airspace.

GAO found that: (1) the airspace in the Los Angeles basin area has experienced more near-midair collision reports than any other location in the United States; (2) the four TRACON facilities in the Los Angeles area had previously reported computer capacity shortfalls resulting in the loss of aircraft identification information from controllers' screens; (3) FAA reacted to those shortfalls with stopgap measures designed to keep current, aging systems operating; (4) the FAA plan for a consolidated facility did not allow for steep growth in air traffic and assumed that an advanced system would be implemented on schedule; and (5) due to its lack of a computer capacity and performance management program, FAA did not know if its automation plan for the consolidated facility would meet future needs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOT did not concur with this recommendation. DOT stated that FAA had already implemented a performance monitoring system to provide necessary data. However, as GAO stated in the report, this limited FAA effort only provides data on processor utilization. Therefore, GAO recommended the implementation of a computer capacity and performance management program that includes all key elements.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that future computer capacity needs of the Los Angeles basin are met and that continued air safety is ensured, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to institute a computer capacity and performance management program to determine the current and future requirements for the Los Angeles area. As part of this program, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to analyze the current demand on systems during peak work-load periods, determine the expected growth in demand for computer capacity and processing resources for at least the next 10 years, and determine what computer resources will be required to meet the expected growth and ensure continued air safety.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOT did not concur with this recommendation. It stated that FAA had already assessed alternatives. However, as GAO stated in the report, FAA had not fully evaluated other alternatives.

    Recommendation: Because of the many uncertainties surrounding the capability of the Automated Radar Terminal System to adequately support the consolidated Los Angeles facility through the 1990s, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to conduct a complete and documented assessment of all viable alternative hardware and software solutions for addressing future capacity and processing needs. This evaluation should not be constrained by discarding without analysis any alternative that involves software development.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOT did not concur with this recommendation. Despite concerns regarding the criticality of this area, DOT stated that additional assessments would be costly and duplicative.

    Recommendation: In view of the critical impact that insufficient computer capacity could have on safe air travel nationwide, and because the Department of Transportation has not acted expeditiously in response to a prior GAO report on the FAA lack of a computer capacity management program, this area must be closely monitored by high-level agency officials. The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to assess the efficacy of FAA actions to date to address capacity shortfalls in TRACON nationwide.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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