National Airspace System:

Persistent Problems in FAA's New Navigation System Highlight Need for Periodic Reevaluation

RCED/AIMD-00-130: Published: Jun 12, 2000. Publicly Released: Jun 12, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) new navigation system, focusing on whether: (1) the Department of Defense's (DOD) current Global Positioning System (GPS) or its planned improvements for GPS can meet FAA's navigation requirements; (2) the benefits of FAA's chosen approach to an augmented system outweigh the cost of this system; and (3) other technologies are available to meet FAA's requirements and users' needs for a new navigation system.

GAO noted that: (1) according to studies GAO reviewed and the experts GAO contacted, the current GPS system does not meet all of FAA's civil aviation navigation requirements for accuracy, integrity, and availability; (2) even though DOD has made the GPS signal provided for civilian use more accurate and plans to make more improvements, GPS still will not fully meet FAA's requirements for navigation and landing; (3) this is because GPS does not provide the assurance that its signal will be available virtually all the time; (4) FAA's analysis concluded that the quantified benefits of its approach would outweigh the cost; (5) since completing this analysis, FAA has experienced delays and cost increases primarily because of difficulties in meeting its integrity requirement; (6) as a result, it is unclear whether quantified benefits will still outweigh cost; (7) at the present time, no other navigation technologies, including variations of ground-based and less robust satellite-based systems, are available to meet FAA's requirements and users' needs for precise landing guidance at more airports; (8) the Wide Area Augmentation System is designed to provide such guidance to improve safety and offer access to more airports; (9) however, this system is experiencing difficulties that cast doubt on whether it will perform as designed at a reasonable cost and be delivered on a reasonable schedule; and (10) moreover, experts in alternative navigation technologies, some of which compete with the Wide Area Augmentation System, told GAO that users may have overstated their need for precise landing guidance and that other navigation technologies could satisfy most of these needs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA has developed a plan to be carried out in FY 2002. It includes redoing the investment analysis for the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) and the Local Area Augmentation System (LAAS)programs. FAA expert panels have identified the technical changes necessary to achieve performance goals and FAA has revised the WAAS schedule and set in motion a series of check points to ensure that the contractor meets performance requirements and the agency effectively manages the contract. As part of the new investment analysis FAA is re-validating user needs. The agency has already completed this task for LAAS.

    Recommendation: To enhance FAA's ability to develop its new navigation system within budget and on time while meeting performance requirements, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to develop a comprehensive plan that would provide the framework for the agency's future investments in its new navigation system. This plan should establish future checkpoints at which FAA would determine whether: (1) the contractor's approach for meeting performance requirements conforms with the agency's guidelines; (2) users' needs have changed; and (3) other technologies have matured and could meet users' needs and the agency's requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA reported that it will continue to use a team of external and internal experts to provide program and technical oversight at decision checkpoints in the Wide Area Augmentation and other satellite navigation projects. FAA has called together a panel of independent experts to address immediate problems with its Satellite Navigation projects and has now tasked these experts to continue reviewing satellite and acquisition issues through 2002. Beyond 2002, FAA will rely on other external experts from academia and other agencies to provide oversight to the program.

    Recommendation: To enhance FAA's ability to develop its new navigation system within budget and on time while meeting performance requirements, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to have an external organization to evaluate the agency's progress at these checkpoints and include the results of this evaluation in the agency's request for future funding of the navigation system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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