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United States Government Accountability Office: 


Before the Subcommittee on Aviation, Committee on Transportation and 
Infrastructure, House of Representatives: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EDT:
Wednesday, October 5, 2011: 

Next Generation Air Transportation System: 

FAA Has Made Some Progress in Implementation, but Delays Threaten to 
Impact Costs and Benefits: 

Statement of Gerald L. Dillingham, Ph.D.
Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues: 


Chairman Petri, Ranking Member Costello, and Members of the 

I appreciate the opportunity to testify before you today on the 
current progress toward implementing the Next Generation Air 
Transportation System (NextGen). NextGen will impact nearly every 
aspect of air transportation and will transform the way in which the 
air transportation system operates today. It will do so, in part, by: 

* using satellite-based surveillance as opposed to ground-based radars, 

* using performance-based navigation[Footnote 1] instead of cumbersome 
step-by-step procedures, 

* replacing routine voice communications with data transmissions, and: 

* organizing and merging the disjointed data that pilots, controllers, 
airports, airlines, and others currently rely on to operate the system. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been planning and 
developing NextGen since 2003, and is now implementing near-term 
(through 2012) and mid-term (through 2018) capabilities. Over the 
years, concerns have been raised by the Congress and other 
stakeholders that despite years of effort and billions of dollars 
spent, FAA has not made sufficient progress in deploying systems and 
producing benefits. In past reports, we have made a number of 
recommendations to FAA to address delays in development and 
acquisitions, improve its processes, and focus on accountability and 
performance. Others have also made recommendations to FAA to improve 
its implementation of NextGen. For example, the Department of 
Transportation's Office of the Inspector General recently made 
recommendations regarding specific NextGen programs, and the NextGen 
Midterm Implementation Task Force--whose creation was requested by 
FAA--resulted in consensus recommendations from industry on specific 
capabilities FAA should prioritize.[Footnote 2] Over the last 2 years, 
FAA has taken several steps and instituted many changes to address 
several of these issues. 

My statement today discusses (1) the results of NextGen programs and 
improvements to date and (2) ongoing issues that will affect NextGen 
implementation. This statement today is based on our NextGen-related 
reports and testimonies over the last 2 years;[Footnote 3] ongoing 
work for this subcommittee that includes our analysis of selected 
NextGen acquisitions and our analysis of FAA's efforts to harmonize 
NextGen with air traffic control modernization efforts in Europe; our 
review of FAA's 2025 Strategic Plan, 2011 NextGen Implementation Plan, 
2012 Budget Submission, and other documents; and selected program 
updates from FAA officials. The GAO reports cited in this statement 
contain more detailed explanations of the methods used to conduct our 
work. We performed our work in accordance with generally accepted 
government auditing standards. 

In summary, FAA has improved its efforts to implement NextGen and is 
continuing its work to address critical issues that we, stakeholders, 
and others have identified over the years. In some areas, FAA has 
implemented NextGen capabilities that have demonstrated measurable 
benefits for system users, such as fuel savings. FAA has also made 
progress in streamlining its processes, improving its capacity to 
develop new flight procedures, and focusing its efforts on specific 
procedures that are needed in key metropolitan areas. Furthermore, we 
found that several NextGen-related acquisitions are generally on time 
and on budget. However, some acquisitions have been delayed, which has 
impacted the timelines of other dependent systems, and the potential 
exists for other acquisitions to also encounter delays. These delays 
have resulted in increased costs and reduced benefits. Going forward, 
FAA must focus on delivering systems and capabilities in a timely 
fashion to maintain its credibility with industry stakeholders, whose 
adoption of key technologies is crucial to NextGen's success. FAA must 
also continue to monitor how delays will affect international 
harmonization issues, focus on human factors issues,[Footnote 4] 
streamline environmental approvals, mitigate environmental impacts, 
and focus on improving management and governance. 

FAA Has Implemented Aspects of NextGen That Have Produced Measurable 
Benefits, but Delays Threaten to Increase Costs and Impact Overall 

FAA has made progress in several areas to improve its implementation 
of NextGen. FAA has set performance goals for NextGen through 2018, 
including goals to improve the throughput of air traffic at key 
airports by 12 percent over 2009 levels, reduce delays by 27 percent 
from 2009 levels, and achieve a 5 percent reduction in average taxi- 
time at key airports. The setting of NextGen performance goals is a 
positive step, but much work remains in identifying measurable and 
reasonable performance metrics and targets for specific NextGen 
activities.[Footnote 5] 

FAA has undertaken a number of NextGen initiatives to improve system 
efficiency. For example, FAA has begun work to streamline its 
procedure approval processes--including its environmental reviews of 
new procedures--and has expanded its capacity to develop new 
performance-based navigation routes and procedures. In 2010, FAA 
produced over 200 performance-based navigation routes and procedures, 
exceeding its goal of 112. FAA reports thousands of gallons of fuel 
savings from the performance-based navigation routes in operation at 
Atlanta and the continuous descents being used into Los Angeles and 
San Francisco. However, aircraft operators have complained that FAA 
has not produced the most useful or beneficial routes and procedures 
to date. To address these concerns, FAA has undertaken thorough 
reviews in a number of areas. FAA has completed initial work to 
identify improvements needed in the airspace in Washington, D.C.; 
North Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Northern California; and 
Houston, Texas--focusing on routes and procedures that will produce 
benefits for operators. While the specific benefits from this work are 
not yet fully known, FAA expects to achieve measurable reductions in 
miles flown, fuel burn, and emissions from these actions. In addition, 
airport surface management capabilities--such as shared surface 
surveillance data and new techniques to manage the movement of 
aircraft on the ground--installed in Boston and New York have saved 
thousands of gallons of fuel and thousands of hours of taxi-out time, 
according to FAA. 

With respect to the continuing implementation of NextGen systems and 
capabilities, our ongoing work has preliminarily found that some key 
NextGen-related programs are generally proceeding on time and on 
budget (see table 1). 

Table 1: Selected Baselined NextGen and Related Programs Cost and 
Schedule Performance: 

Dollars in millions. 

Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B); 
Description: A satellite-based information broadcasting system to 
enable more precise control of aircraft; 
Start date: Aug. 2007; 
Original Completion date: Sept. 2014; 
Projected completion date: Sept. 2014; 
Difference between original and projected completion dates (in 
months): 0; 
Original cost: $1.682 billion; 
Projected cost as of Aug. 2011: $1.726 billion; 
Difference between original and projected cost: $45 million. 

Collaborative Air Traffic Management (CATM)-includes work packages 1-3; 
Description: Encompasses the development of systems to manage airspace 
and flight information; 
Start date: Aug. 2005; 
Original Completion date: Dec. 2015; 
Projected completion date: Dec. 2015; 
Difference between original and projected completion dates (in 
months): 0; 
Original cost: $561 million; 
Projected cost as of Aug. 2011: $561 million; 
Difference between original and projected cost: 0. 

System Wide Information Management (SWIM)-segment 1[A]; 
Description: The information management architecture for the national 
airspace system; 
Start date: July 2009; 
Original Completion date: Sept. 2015; 
Projected completion date: Sept. 2015; 
Difference between original and projected completion dates (in 
months): 0; 
Original cost: $310 million; 
Projected cost as of Aug. 2011: $310 million; 
Difference between original and projected cost: 0. 

Time-Based Flow Management (TBFM); 
Description: Modernizes the Traffic Management Advisor (TMA) system 
aimed at integration of airport and air traffic control information; 
Start date: April 2010; 
Original Completion date: Nov. 2014; 
Projected completion date: Nov. 2014; 
Difference between original and projected completion dates (in 
months): 0; 
Original cost: $115 million; 
Projected cost as of Aug. 2011: $115 million; 
Difference between original and projected cost: 0. 

En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM); 
Description: A new enroute air traffic control system for high 
altitude traffic; 
Start date: June 2003; 
Original Completion date: Dec. 2010; 
Projected completion date: Aug. 2014; 
Difference between original and projected completion dates (in 
months): 44; 
Original cost: $2.155 billion; 
Projected cost as of Aug. 2011: $2.485 billion; 
Difference between original and projected cost: $330 million. 

Source: GAO analysis of FAA data. 

[A] Schedule and cost for SWIM is subject to change due to 
rebaselining that will occur in 2011 or later. 

[End of table] 

Some key acquisitions may soon encounter delays, which can increase 
overall acquisition costs, as well as costs to maintain current 
systems. For example, delays in implementing the ERAM program is 
projected to increase costs by $330 million, as well as an estimated 
$7 to $10 million per month in additional costs to continue 
maintaining the system that ERAM was meant to replace. Moreover, due 
to the integrated nature of NextGen, many of its component systems are 
mutually dependent on one or more other systems. For example, ERAM is 
critical to the delivery of ADS-B because ADS-B requires the use of 
some ERAM functions. ERAM is also pivotal to the on-time 
implementation of two other key NextGen acquisitions--Data 
Communications and SWIM. In part due to ERAM's delay, FAA pushed the 
Data Communications program's start date from September 2011 to 
February 2012, plans to revise the original SWIM-segment 1 cost and 
schedule plan, and delayed the SWIM-segment 2 start date from 2010 to 
December 2012. The long-term result of this decision is not yet known 
but it could delay certain SWIM capabilities and hinder the progress 
of other capabilities that depend, in turn, on the system integration 
that SWIM is intended to provide. Thus, looking more broadly, the 
implementation of NextGen--both in the midterm (through 2018) and in 
the long term (beyond 2018)--will be affected by how well FAA manages 
program interdependencies. 

Delays in program implementation, as described above, and budget 
constraints have also affected FAA's capital budget planning. The 
Administration has proposed reducing FAA's capital budget by a total 
of $2.8 billion, or 20 percent, for fiscal years 2012 through 2015 
largely due to governmentwide budget constraints. Most of this 
proposed reduction is on NextGen and NextGen-related spending, as 
reflected in FAA's revised 5-year Capital Investment Plan for fiscal 
years 2012 through 2016. Congress has not completed FAA's 
appropriation for fiscal year 2012, but current House and Senate 
appropriation bills propose to fund the agency near or above 2011 
levels. FAA will have to balance its priorities to ensure that NextGen 
implementation stays on course while also sustaining the current 
infrastructure--which is needed to prevent failures and maintain the 
reliability and efficiency of current operations. 

FAA Faces Several Ongoing Issues That Will Affect NextGen 

To maintain credibility with aircraft operators that NextGen will be 
implemented, FAA must deliver systems and capabilities on time so that 
operators have incentives to invest in the avionics that will enable 
NextGen to operate as planned. As we have previously reported, a past 
FAA program's cancellation contributed to skepticism about FAA's 
commitment to follow through with its plans. That industry skepticism, 
which we have found lingers today, could delay the time when 
significant NextGen benefits--such as increased capacity and more 
direct, fuel-saving routing--are realized. A number of NextGen 
benefits depend upon having a critical mass of properly equipped 
aircraft. Reaching that critical mass is a significant challenge 
because the first aircraft operators to equip will not obtain a return 
on their investment until many other operators also equip. 

Stakeholders have proposed various equipage incentives. For example, 
one such proposal is for a private equity fund, backed by federal 
guarantees, to provide loans or other financial assistance to 
operators to help them equip, with payback of the loans dependent on 
FAA meeting its schedule commitments to implement capabilities that 
will produce benefits for operators. In addition, the NextGen Advisory 
Committee[Footnote 6] has begun to identify the specific avionics 
requirements for particular NextGen capabilities through the midterm, 
as well as identifying who--in terms of which parts of the fleet 
operating in which regions--should be targeted for additional 
incentives to equip. 

Our past and ongoing work examining aspects of NextGen have 
highlighted several other challenges facing FAA in achieving timely 
and successful implementation. For this statement, we would like to 
highlight a few specific areas: the potential effect of program delays 
on international harmonization efforts, the need for FAA to ensure 
that it addresses human factors and workforce training issues to 
successfully transition to a new air transportation system, the need 
for FAA to continue to address potential environmental impacts, and 
the need for FAA to improve the management and governance of NextGen. 

* Effect of delays on FAA's ability to collaborate with Europe. Delays 
to NextGen programs, and potential reductions in the budget for 
NextGen activities, could delay the schedule for harmonization with 
Europe's air traffic management modernization efforts and the 
realization of these benefits. FAA officials indicated that the need 
to address funding reductions takes precedence over previously agreed 
upon schedules, including those previously coordinated with Europe. 
For example, FAA officials responsible for navigation systems told us 
that FAA is restructuring plans for its ground-based augmentation 
system (GBAS) because of potential funding reductions.[Footnote 7] 
While final investment decisions concerning GBAS have yet to be made, 
these officials said that FAA might have to stop its work on GBAS 
while Europe continues its GBAS development, with the result that 
Europe may have an operational GBAS, while FAA does not.[Footnote 8] A 
delay in implementing GBAS would require FAA to continue using the 
current instrument landing system which does not provide the benefits 
of GBAS, according to these officials. Such a situation could again 
fuel stakeholder skepticism about whether FAA will follow through with 
its commitment to implementing NextGen, and in turn, increase 
airlines' hesitancy to equip with NextGen technologies. 

* Need to address human factors and training issues. Under NextGen, 
pilots and air traffic controllers will rely to a greater extent on 
automation, which will change their roles and responsibilities in ways 
that will necessitate an understanding of the human factors issues 
involved and require that training be provided on the new automated 
systems. FAA and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration 
(NASA)--the primary agencies responsible for integrating human factors 
issues into NextGen--must ensure that human factors issues are 
addressed so that controllers, pilots, and others will operate NextGen 
components in a safe and efficient manner. Failure to do so could 
delay implementation of NextGen. We recently reported that FAA has not 
fully integrated human factors into the development of some aviation 
systems.[Footnote 9] For example, we noted that controllers involved 
in the initial operations capabilities tests of ERAM at an air traffic 
control center in Salt Lake City found using the system cumbersome, 
confusing, and difficult to navigate, thus indicating that FAA did not 
adequately involve controllers who operate the system in the system's 
early development. In response to our recommendations in that report, 
FAA has created a cross-agency coordination plan in cooperation with 
NASA that establishes focus areas for human factors research, 
inventories existing facilities for research, and capitalizes on past 
and current research of all NextGen issues. In addition to integrating 
human factors research into NextGen systems, FAA and NASA will have to 
identify and develop the training necessary to address controllers' 
and pilots' changing roles, and have this training in place before 
NextGen is fully realized (when some aircraft will be equipped with 
NextGen systems and others will not). 

* Need to address environmental impacts of NextGen. Another challenge 
to implementing NextGen is expediting environmental reviews and 
developing strategies to address the environmental impacts of NextGen. 
As we stated in our recent report on environmental impacts at 
airports, with the changes in aircraft flight paths that will 
accompany NextGen efforts, some communities that were previously 
unaffected or minimally affected by aircraft noise will be exposed to 
increased noise levels.[Footnote 10] These levels could trigger the 
need for environmental reviews, as well as raise community concerns. 
Our report found that addressing environmental impacts can delay the 
implementation of operational changes, and indicated that a systematic 
approach to addressing these impacts and the resulting community 
concerns may help reduce such delays. To its credit, FAA has been 
working to develop procedures for streamlining environmental review 
processes that affect NextGen activities. 

* Need to improve management and governance. FAA has embarked on an 
initiative to restructure a number of organizations within the agency. 
We have previously reported on problems with FAA's management and 
oversight of NextGen acquisitions and implementation.[Footnote 11] 
Specifically, FAA plans to abolish and merge a number of committees to 
improve decision making and reduce time requirements of senior FAA 
executives. It also plans to make the NextGen organization the 
responsibility of the Deputy Administrator and to create a new head of 
program management for NextGen-related programs to ensure improved 
oversight of NextGen implementation. Further, the Air Traffic 
Organization will be divided into two branches: operations and NextGen 
program management. Operations will focus on the day-to-day management 
of the national air space and the program management branch will be 
responsible for developing and implementing programs while working 
with operations to ensure proper integration. While elimination of 
duplicative committees and focus on accountability for NextGen 
implementation is a positive step, it remains to be seen whether this 
latest reorganization will produce the desired results. 

Chairman Petri, Ranking Member Costello, and Members of the 
Subcommittee, this concludes my prepared statement. I would be pleased 
to answer any questions that you may have at this time. 

GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments: 

For further information on this testimony, please contact Gerald L. 
Dillingham, Ph.D. at (202) 512-2834 or In 
addition, contact points for our Offices of Congressional Relations 
and Public Affairs may be found on the last page of this statement. 
Individuals making key contributions to this testimony include Paul 
Aussendorf, Maria Edelstein, Heather Krause, Ed Laughlin, and Andrew 
Von Ah (Assistant Directors); Colin Fallon, Bert Japikse, Ed Menoche, 
and Dominic Nadarski. 

[End of section] 


[1] Performance-based navigation includes such things as Area 
Navigation (RNAV), which enables aircraft to fly on any path within 
coverage of ground-or space-based navigation aids, permitting more 
access and flexibility for point-to-point operations; and Required 
Navigation Performance (RNP), which, like RNAV, enables aircraft to 
fly on any path within coverage of ground-or space-based navigation 
aids, but also includes an onboard performance monitoring capability. 
RNP also enables closer en route spacing without intervention by air 
traffic control and permits more precise and consistent arrivals and 

[2] The Task Force included representation from the four major 
operating communities--airlines, business aviation, general aviation, 
and the military--as well as participation from controllers, airports, 
avionics and aircraft manufacturers, and other key stakeholders. The 
Task Force issued its report on September 9, 2009. 

[3] GAO, NextGen Air Transportation System: Mechanisms for 
Collaboration and Technology Transfer Could be Enhanced to More Fully 
Leverage Partner Agency and Industry Resources, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: June 30, 
2011); Integration of Current Implementation Efforts with Long-term 
Planning for the Next Generation Air Transportation System, 
[hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C. 
Nov. 22, 2010); Aviation and the Environment: Systematically 
Addressing Environmental Impacts and Community Concerns Can Help 
Airports Reduce Project Delays, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 13, 
2010); Next Generation Air Transportation System: FAA and NASA Have 
Improved Human Factors Research Coordination, but Stronger Leadership 
Needed, [hyperlink,] 
(Washington, D.C.: Aug. 6, 2010); NextGen Air Transportation System: 
FAA's Metrics Can Be Used to Report on Status of Individual Programs, 
but Not of Overall NextGen Implementation or Outcomes, [hyperlink,], (Washington, D.C.: July 27, 
2010); Next Generation Air Transportation System: Challenges with 
Partner Agency and FAA Coordination Continue, and Efforts to Integrate 
Near-, Mid-, and Long-term Activities are Ongoing, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 21, 
2010); Next Generation Air Transportation System: FAA Faces Challenges 
in Responding to Task Force Recommendations, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 28, 

[4] Human factors is the study of how humans interact with the design 
of the equipment they use, environments in which they function, and 
jobs they perform. 

[5] [hyperlink,]. 

[6] The NextGen Advisory Committee is comprised of aviation 
stakeholders from the government and industry. The committee works to 
develop a common understanding of NextGen priorities in the context of 
overall NextGen capabilities and implementation constraints, with an 
emphasis on the near term and midterm. The committee primarily focuses 
on implementation issues, including prioritization criteria at a 
national level, joint investment priorities, and location and timing 
of capability implementation. 

[7] GBAS is designed to supplement satellites in providing aircraft 
positioning data to pilots and air traffic controllers as aircraft 
approach runways prior to landing. 

[8] GBAS is currently in the research and development phase. At the 
completion of this phase, FAA will decide whether it will be the 
system to replace instrument landing systems and move it into its 
acquisition system. 

[9] [hyperlink,]. 

[10] [hyperlink,]. 

[11] [hyperlink,] and GAO, Next 
Generation Air Transportation System: Status of Systems Acquisition 
and the Transition to the Next Generation Air Transportation System, 
[hyperlink,] (Washington, 
D.C.: Sept. 11, 2008). 

[End of section] 

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