Air Traffic Control:

FAA Can Better Forecast and Prevent Equipment Failures

RCED-91-179: Published: Aug 2, 1991. Publicly Released: Sep 3, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed: (1) how effectively the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) identified and assessed equipment performance problems at its en-route centers, which control traffic between airports; and (2) ways in which FAA could better utilize its current maintenance databases to manage its air traffic control (ATC) systems' maintenance effort.

GAO found that: (1) the FAA assessment of en-route center equipment performance was incomplete because it only analyzed overall system performance data, and failed to analyze specific equipment failures; (2) although FAA reported its en-route system to be about 99 percent reliable, it did not consider the fact that much of the aging equipment within those systems experienced problems; (3) although FAA procedures require centers to record all equipment failures in the Maintenance Management System database, they failed to consistently do so; (4) from August 1989 through July 1990, an analysis of one en-route center showed that the center experienced 1,935 equipment failures or malfunctions; (5) FAA relied on information from field maintenance personnel to assess equipment performance; (6) systems failed infrequently, primarily because FAA designed its en-route ATC system with redundant equipment to prevent one equipment failure from causing a full system outage; (7) as FAA equipment fails, the margin of error provided by redundancy and equipment failure risks increases, causing system performance to deteriorate; and (8) FAA can use system data to make management decisions based on a more thorough measurement of equipment performance, but in order for FAA to utilize such data to the fullest extent, it must address several database problems by refining data definitions and reporting guidelines.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA issued in December 1993 a handbook which provides guidance for recording information in maintenance databases. FAA developed and released in September 1995 a template of equipment and lowest-replacement unit data to support a national approach for consistent data reporting.

    Recommendation: In order to strengthen FAA equipment performance analyses, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to refine the FAA Corrective Maintenance database to make the data uniform and consistent, and add precise information to permit complete equipment maintenance analysis.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The development of the Equipment Performance Analysis Tool (EPAT), which analyzes extracts of the Maintenance Management System databases, has waned during fiscal year 1995 due to the slippages in template creation and reduced project funding. Full scale development of EPAT will resume when the templates are released in late September 1995.

    Recommendation: In order to strengthen FAA equipment performance analyses, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to use the FAA Maintenance Management System databases, including the Corrective Maintenance database, to analyze and project equipment performance trends.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA issued in December 1993 a handbook which provides guidance for recording information in maintenance databases.

    Recommendation: In order to strengthen FAA equipment performance analyses, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to establish better management controls to ensure that technicians properly record information in maintenance databases.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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