National Airspace System:

FAA Has Implemented Some Free Flight Initiatives, but Challenges Remain

RCED-98-246: Published: Sep 28, 1998. Publicly Released: Sep 28, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the: (1) status of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) efforts to implement free flight, including a planned operational demonstration formerly known as Flight 2000 and now called the Free Flight Operational Enhancement Program; and (2) views of the aviation community and FAA on the challenges that must be met to implement free flight in a cost-effective manner.

GAO noted that: (1) since 1994, FAA officials and stakeholders, under the leadership of the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA), have been collaborating to implement free flight; (2) these early efforts led to a definition of free flight, a set of recommendations, and an action plan to gradually move toward a more flexible operating system; (3) while working to implement the recommendations, FAA and stakeholders agreed on the need to focus their efforts on deploying technologies that will provide early benefits to users; (4) in early 1998, FAA and stakeholders developed a strategy that calls for the phased implementation of free flight, beginning with Free Flight Phase 1; (5) under this first phase, FAA and stakeholders have agreed upon the core technologies that are expected to provide these early benefits, as well as the locations where they will be deployed; (6) however, until recently, FAA and many stakeholders have not agreed on how best to conduct a limited operational demonstration of free-flight-related technologies and procedures--known as the Flight 2000 Program; (7) FAA is currently prohibited from spending any fiscal year 1998 funds on the Flight 2000 demonstration itself; (8) stakeholders concurred that FAA had yet to develop a detailed plan for conducting this demonstration; (9) to address the concerns of stakeholders, FAA has been working with them--under the leadership of RTCA--to restructure the Flight 2000 demonstration; and (10) FAA and stakeholders have identified numerous challenges that will need to be met if free flight--including Flight Phase 1 and Flight 2000--is to be implemented cost-effectively: (a) stakeholders told GAO that FAA will need to provide effective leadership and management of the modernization efforts both within and outside the agency; (b) stakeholders cited the need for FAA to further develop its plans for implementing free flight, including establishing clear goals for what it intends to achieve and developing measures for tracking the progress of modernization and free flight; (c) FAA and stakeholders agreed on the need to address outstanding issues related to technology development and deployment; and (d) FAA and stakeholders also identified a range of other challenges that will need the agency's attention, including coordinating FAA's modernization and free flight efforts with those of the international community and integrating the various technologies that will be used under free flight operations with one another as well as into the air traffic control system.

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