Air Traffic Control:

Software Problems at Control Centers Need Immediate Attention

IMTEC-92-1: Published: Dec 11, 1991. Publicly Released: Jan 10, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the computer systems the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) uses to safely control air traffic, focusing on: (1) the extent to which computer software problems affect FAA control of air traffic en route between airports; and (2) whether FAA actions to minimize and resolve those problems are timely and effective.

GAO found that: (1) since 1987, when FAA implemented new hardware, almost 4,000 system software problems have been reported and, as of June 1991, 1,600 problems remained unresolved; (2) FAA considers 74 percent of the unresolved problems to have the potential to adversely affect the air traffic control system; (3) software problems have remained uncorrected for an average of 18 months; (4) FAA effectiveness in reducing problems is limited because it uses temporary fixes for software problems instead of permanently revising software; (5) FAA attributes the backlog of software problems and continued reliance on temporary fixes to a lack of necessary resources; and (6) FAA has not developed a plan identifying the resources needed to maintain the en-route system until modernization is completed and lacks the key tools to estimate the resources required for such maintenance.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Transportation (DOT) concurred in the recommendation and FAA subsequently allocated additional contractor resources to reduce its backlog of software problems.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, FAA, should direct that the current backlog of high-priority and medium-priority problems involving a significant risk to the air traffic system be resolved as soon as practicable.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOT did not concur with the recommendation. It stated that establishing standard time frames for resolving software problems is not practical.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, FAA, should develop and implement a software maintenance plan that includes establishing standard time frames, based on problem severity and analysis of risk to the air traffic system, for resolving software problems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOT concurred in the recommendation and FAA has allocated additional resources to lessen its reliance on system patches.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, FAA, should develop and implement a software maintenance plan that includes reducing the inventory of system patches, including establishing milestones for early reduction, and setting goals to minimize future patches.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOT stated that it concurred with the recommendation and has been identifying the resources needed to maintain software in annual budget submissions. However, as discussed in the GAO report, these annual submissions do not focus on the strategic planning required to address long-term resource needs.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, FAA, should develop and implement a software maintenance plan that includes identifying the resources needed to maintain system software until the Advanced Automation System is implemented.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOT stated that it partially concurred with the recommendation but believed that modern automated tools were not available for its system. As discussed in the GAO report, tools are available that can assist in estimating the amount of maintenance effort.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, FAA, should develop and implement a software maintenance plan that includes acquiring modern automated tools that can assist in estimating the amount of effort required to maintain the system and correct software problems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

 

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