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February 11, 2009.

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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 2:00 p.m. EST: 
Wednesday, February 11, 2009: 

National Airspace System: 

FAA Reauthorization Issues are Critical to System Transformation
and Operations: 

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


GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-09-377T, a testimony before the Subcommittee on 
Aviation, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, House of 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

As requested, this statement discusses issues for the reauthorization 
of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The aviation industry is 
in a period of economic turmoil and faces an uncertain future. At the 
same time, FAA is undertaking one of its most ambitious efforts ever to 
transform the nation’s air traffic control system. The reauthorization 
of FAA provides an opportunity for Congress and FAA to focus on several 
key issues to improve the national airspace system. 

This statement is based on recent and ongoing work and on discussions 
with selected senior FAA officials and representatives of the aviation 
industry. This work was conducted in accordance with generally accepted 
government auditing standards. Those standards require that GAO plan 
and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to 
provide a reasonable basis for findings and conclusions based on the 
audit objectives. GAO believes that the evidence obtained provides a 
reasonable basis for the findings and conclusions based on the audit 
objectives. A list of related GAO products is included at the end of 
this statement. 

What GAO Found: 

This statement discusses six issues that are important in reauthorizing 
FAA programs. Many of these issues are deeply intertwined, and 
addressing one can affect the others. Balancing all of these issues 
will be a challenge, but is essential to FAA’s ability to transform and 
operate the national airspace system safely and efficiently. 

Ensuring the safe and efficient transformation to the Next Generation 
Air Transportation System (NextGen). FAA will need to accelerate the 
implementation of new and existing technologies, consider incentives 
for airlines to acquire those technologies, reconfigure facilities and 
enhance runways to take full advantage of NextGen’s benefits, and 
sustain the current system while transitioning to the new one. 

Strengthening oversight of aviation safety. Incomplete and inaccurate 
safety data jeopardize FAA’s implementation of a new safety management 
approach. In addition, improvement of runway and ramp safety oversight 
is a key issue. For example, last year there were 25 incidents when 
collisions between aircraft on runways were narrowly avoided. 

Reducing congestion and providing access to the national airspace 
system. FAA has taken steps to enhance capacity and reduce delays, such 
as redesigning airspace and placing caps on operations, but progress 
and improvements have been limited. Even as some areas experience more 
congestion, however, other areas of the country have seen service 
decline. This may increase demand for the Department of 
Transportation’s subsidy program to provide a minimal level of 
scheduled air service for certain small communities. 

Addressing aviation’s impact on the environment. FAA, airports, and 
other stakeholders have worked to reduce noise, emissions, and other 
pollutants. Further efforts will be needed, particularly when trying to 
expand airport capacity. 

Ensuring a sufficient, trained workforce. FAA faces a retiring air 
traffic controller workforce, the need for additional technical 
expertise to implement NextGen, and the need to improve relations with 
its labor unions. 

Ensuring timely reauthorization of FAA programs. Short-term funding 
extensions and continuing resolutions could delay key capital projects. 
Timely reauthorization is critical to sustaining FAA’s current programs 
and advancing NextGen. 

FAA reviewed a draft of this statement and provided technical 
corrections, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. 

What GAO Recommends: 

GAO has made prior recommendations to address some of these issues. FAA 
has begun to address GAO’s recommendations, although some have not yet 
been fully implemented. 

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
[hyperlink,]. For more 
information, contact Gerald L. Dillingham, Ph.D., at (202) 512-2834 or 

[End of section] 

NextGen: Ensuring The Safe And Efficient Transformation To Nextgen: 

What Is the Issue? 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the agency largely 
responsible for developing and implementing the policies and systems 
necessary for the transformation of the nation's current radar-based 
air traffic control (ATC) system into a more automated, aircraft-
centered, satellite-based Next Generation Air Transportation System 
(NextGen) by 2025. This issue has several dimensions including the 

Accelerating the implementation of available NextGen capabilities: 

According to some industry stakeholders, many of the technical 
capabilities fundamental to NextGen already exist but are not being 
implemented fast enough to have NextGen in place by 2025. FAA has 
entered into agreements with private sector firms to conduct NextGen 
technology demonstration projects; is working with industry and the 
local community on their plans to build an aviation research and 
technology park where FAA can work with industry on the research and 
development, integration, and testing of NextGen technologies; and 
established a NextGen mid-term task force to forge a consensus on 
operational improvements and planned benefits for 2013 through 2018. In 
addition, FAA recently responded to stakeholder concerns about the 
fragmentation of management responsibility for NextGen activities by 
reorganizing the FAA office that has primary responsibility for 
implementing NextGen. 

Encouraging airlines to acquire NextGen equipment: 

Implementing NextGen depends not only on FAA, but also on aircraft 
operators, who must acquire the necessary equipment. For example, 
aircraft must be equipped with FAA-compatible technology to use 
Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), a key satellite-
based component of NextGen. The Air Transport Association expects the 
U.S. airline industry to pay more than $20 billion for NextGen 
equipment over the next 2 decades. Some airlines have purchased some of 
the necessary technology, but overall, airlines are waiting for FAA to 
specify requirements and address funding concerns. One objective of the 
new mid-term task force is to help operators identify the benefits of 
acquiring the equipment sooner rather than later. 

Reconfiguring facilities and enhancing runways: 

NextGen will require a new configuration of ATC facilities and 
increased runway capacity. FAA has not developed a comprehensive 
reconfiguration plan, but intends to report on the cost implications of 
reconfiguration this year. Additionally, FAA has determined that even 
after planned improvements have been completed at 35 of the busiest 
airports, 14 airports--including some of the 35 busiest--will still 
need enhanced capacity by 2025. FAA has begun implementing the High-
Density Terminal and Airport Operations initiative, which is intended 
to increase the capacity of existing runways at busy airports through 
changes in the requirements for aircraft separation and spacing, among 
other things. 

Sustaining the current ATC system and maintaining facilities: 

During the transition to NextGen, FAA must continue to maintain 
existing systems. More and longer unscheduled outages of existing ATC 
equipment and ancillary support systems indicate more frequent system 
failures. FAA says that it considers user impact and resource 
efficiency when planning and responding to equipment outages. In 
addition, FAA estimated a one-time cost to repair existing terminal 
facilities ranging from $250 million to $350 million. 

What Is the Way Forward? 

Align responsibilities to accelerate NextGen: 

* After the recent reorganization of the FAA office responsible for 
implementing NextGen, many NextGen capabilities continue to span 
operational units both within and outside that office. The division of 
responsibility for NextGen efforts among them is not clear. Monitoring 
the effects of the reorganization would inform decisionmakers about the 
progress of NextGen. 

* FAA has taken important steps, such as forming partnerships with 
industry, to accelerate the availability of NextGen capabilities. As we 
have stated in other reports, these types of partnerships are 
beneficial in accomplishing program objectives in a timely manner. 

Incentivize purchase of new equipment: 

* FAA will need to work with the stakeholders to explore a range of 
potential options available to provide incentives to aircraft operators 
to purchase equipment and to suppliers to develop that equipment. These 
options could include some combination of mandated deadlines, 
operational credits, or equipment investment credits that financially 
support equipment implementation for a limited initial set of aircraft 

Plan for future needs: 

* The House reauthorization bill, H.R. 915, 111th Cong. (2009), 
provides a step forward in directing FAA to establish a working group 
to develop criteria and make recommendations for the realignment of 
services and facilities--considering safety, potential cost savings, 
and other criteria, in concert with stakeholders, including employee 
groups--to assist in the NextGen transition. Until FAA establishes this 
working group and they develop recommendations, the configurations 
needed for NextGen cannot be implemented and potential savings that 
could help offset the cost of NextGen will not be realized. 

* Our research has shown that the full implementation of NextGen should 
be considered necessary, but not necessarily sufficient, to fully 
eliminate current and future delays and congestion. Planning 
infrastructure projects to increase capacity, such as building 
additional runways, can be a lengthy process, and would require 
significant advance planning. 

Allocate resources to legacy systems: 

* It will be critical for FAA to ensure the safety and efficiency of 
the legacy ATC systems, since they will be the core of the national 
airspace system for a number of years and, in some cases, will become 
part of NextGen. These circumstances will require the agency to 
continue to identify the necessary resources to implement a robust 
preventive and regular maintenance strategy and to support the skilled 
personnel that will be required to implement the strategy. 

[End of section] 

Safety: Strengthening Oversight Of Aviation Safety: 

What Is the Issue? 

The U.S. commercial aviation industry is among the safest in the world. 
However, when passenger airlines have accidents or serious incidents, 
regardless of their rarity, the consequences can be tragic, as a single 
accident can result in hundreds of deaths. In order to maintain the 
industry's current level of safety, it is important that FAA's 
oversight and monitoring provide early warnings of potential safety 
risks. Key aspects of strengthening FAA's oversight of aviation safety 
include (1) enhancing FAA's access to aviation safety data as it moves 
to a safety management system approach, (2) improving runway and ramp 
safety, and (3) improving safety in several industry sectors--air 
ambulances, air cargo, and general aviation. 

Enhancing access to aviation safety data: 

FAA's ability to monitor and manage risk is limited by incomplete and 
inaccurate safety data. Such information is particularly important for 
FAA as it moves away from an oversight approach that focuses on labor-
intensive safety inspections to a data-driven, risk-based safety 
management system approach. FAA receives important data through its 
partnership programs with industry, such as the Aviation Safety Action 
Program (ASAP), through which pilots and others voluntarily report 
safety-related incidents. These programs help identify and correct 
safety issues before they result in an accident. However, some major 
carriers have recently discontinued ASAP programs because of 
disagreements between the pilot union and management over what can be 
reported and what actions management can take against reporting pilots. 
Additionally, concerns have been raised that a legal decision in 2008 
allowing ASAP reports to be disclosed to litigants in a court of law 
under certain circumstances may result in fewer reports. FAA is in the 
early stages of planning and developing the Aviation Safety Information 
Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) initiative, the goal of which is to 
provide access to large volumes of federal and industry data, including 
ASAP. However, the agency has not established time frames or a roadmap 
for achieving its goal for ASIAS. 

Improving runway and ramp safety: 

In fiscal year 2008, 25 serious runway incursions--when collisions 
between aircraft on runways were narrowly avoided--occurred, 9 of which 
involved commercial aircraft. In addition, since 2001, there have been 
at least 18 runway overruns--when an aircraft goes beyond the end of a 
runway--that resulted in 26 fatalities. FAA has taken recent actions to 
improve runway safety, including (1) conducting safety reviews at 
airports; (2) establishing the FAA-industry Runway Safety Council to 
analyze the root causes of serious incursions and recommend runway 
safety improvements; (3) testing a voluntary safety reporting program 
for air traffic controllers; and (4) issuing its National Runway Safety 
Plan in December 2008. 

At least 29 fatal ramp accidents have occurred since 2001. However, 
efforts to improve airport ramp safety are hindered by a lack of 
complete accident data and standards for ground handling. FAA has 
generally taken an indirect role in overseeing ramp safety, and there 
are no federal or industrywide standards for ramp operations. Varied 
standards for ramp operations could lead to confusion about operating 
procedures and safety rules among ground handling companies that 
provide service to several airlines and increase the likelihood of 

Promoting safety in other industry sectors: 

From 2002 through 2008 at least 74 air ambulance accidents occurred--
the highest number since the 1980s--with at least 84 fatalities. 
Because FAA does not collect data on the number of air ambulance 
flights or flight hours, it is not known whether the increased number 
of accidents reflects an increased accident rate or growth in the 
industry. In response to recent air ambulance accidents, FAA has 
encouraged risk management training for air ambulance flight crews and 
has promoted the use of technology (e.g., night vision goggles and 
helicopter terrain awareness and warning systems). 

Since 2002, 42 fatal air cargo accidents have occurred--all involving 
smaller air cargo carriers. For the most part, FAA safety efforts are 
the same for both passenger and cargo operators. Such efforts have 
likely enhanced cargo safety. For example, FAA's Capstone program, 
which began in 1999, focuses on reducing aviation accidents in Alaska, 
where the terrain and weather pose particular challenges to pilots, 
through the use of better technology on the aircraft. The number of 
cargo accidents in Alaska dropped from 20 in 1997 to 4 in 2008. In 
addition, the air cargo industry is advocating the use of safety 
management systems to improve safety. 

A lack of national data on operations involving air ambulances, air 
cargo, and general aviation hinders FAA's ability to evaluate accident 
trends and manage risks in these sectors. For example, an average of 
324 fatal general aviation accidents has occurred annually since 2000. 
Similar to data on air ambulance operators, FAA does not collect actual 
flight data for general aviation operators, which prevents a meaningful 
evaluation of accident trends. 

What Is the Way Forward? 

Work with carriers to improve data access: 

* We agree with recommendations by the National Transportation Safety 
Board (NTSB) and others that FAA strongly encourage and assist air 
carriers in implementing ASAP. In addition, we are currently assessing 
FAA's use of data in safety oversight for the Chairman of this 
Subcommittee and others. We expect to issue a report and 
recommendations to FAA later this year. 

Implement national runway safety plan and continue data collection: 

* FAA needs to continue to implement recommendations that we made in 
November 2007 to enhance runway and ramp safety, including implementing 
its recently issued national runway safety plan and continuing to 
develop plans to collect and analyze data on runway overruns and 
excursions and ramp accidents. Such data would help FAA to understand 
the nature and scope of runway and ramp safety events and identify 
corrective actions. 

Collect national safety data and establish an appropriate regulatory 
approach for some industry sectors: 

* FAA lacks information to monitor the rate of accidents and determine 
the effectiveness of its oversight. FAA needs to continue to develop a 
process to collect such data for air ambulances, as we previously 

* NTSB has recommended that FAA establish an appropriate regulatory 
approach for air ambulance operators, whose pilots operate under 
different standards depending on whether they are carrying patients. 
The standards differ significantly in two key areas--(1) weather and 
visibility minimums and (2) rest requirements for pilot and crew. 

* We plan to issue a report to this Subcommittee on air cargo safety 
later this year that discusses what FAA and industry could do to 
further improve cargo safety. 

[End of section] 

Mobility: Reducing Congestion And Providing Access To The National 
Airspace System: 

What Is the Issue? 

Flight delays and cancellations at congested airports continue to 
plague the U.S. aviation system. Other airports are facing the loss of 
scheduled air service because of the airline industry's current 
contraction. Key factors hindering FAA's ability to provide efficient 
mobility through the national airspace system include (1) continued 
congestion at some large airports and (2) changes in the aviation 
industry that could affect service to small communities. 

Addressing continued congestion: 

According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), almost one in four 
flights either arrived late or was canceled in 2008, and the average 
flight delay increased despite a 6 percent decline in the total number 
of operations through December 2008. Delays are particularly a problem 
at a few airports, such as those in the New York area, where less than 
70 percent of flights arrive on time. Because the entire airspace 
system is highly interdependent, delays at one airport may lead to 
delays rippling across the system and throughout the day. Delays and 
cancellations are caused by a variety of factors, among them airline 
and aircraft problems, weather, security, and congestion in the 
national airspace system. 

DOT and FAA initiated or completed a number of actions in 2008 intended 
to enhance system capacity, meet the demand for air travel, and reduce 
delays. For example: 

* In the New York area, FAA implemented a number of operational and 
procedural initiatives to reduce congestion, including placing or 
maintaining caps on the number of hourly operations. 

* Airspace redesign improvements have begun at airports in the New York 
area, Chicago, Houston, and other regions. These redesigns are complex 
and time-consuming, in part because of the environmental review process 
that is typically required. 

* As a demand management tactic, DOT issued a policy statement amending 
the Airport Rates and Charges policy of 1996. One of the policy 
amendments allows operators of congested airports greater discretion in 
setting their landing fees. 

* New runway projects in Chicago, Washington-Dulles, and Seattle were 

* As part of NextGen, FAA is working to provide aircraft with onboard, 
real-time weather information and to integrate weather information into 
decision support tools to help avoid weather-related delays. 

Providing service to small communities: 

Continuing to provide mobility options and access to air service is 
becoming more difficult in the face of changes in the structure and 
economics of the aviation industry. The Essential Air Service (EAS) is 
a DOT subsidy program enacted to guarantee that certain small 
communities that otherwise would not receive air service will maintain 
a minimal level of scheduled air service. 

* Airline consolidation and other factors have reduced the number of 
air carriers able and willing to participate in EAS. Today, 10 carriers 
are active in the EAS program--compared with 14 in 1998--and 4 of these 
serve more than three-quarters of the routes. 

* Also, because air service operating costs are rising--including fuel, 
labor, and regulatory costs--the EAS carriers face increased 
competition for passengers with low-cost carriers at larger airports. 
In 2008, some communities in the EAS program temporarily lost service 
when three airlines ceased operating. 

The EAS program has not been extensively revised since it was developed 
30 years ago, despite changes in the structure and economics of the 
aviation industry. 

What Is the Way Forward? 

Reduce congestion through long-term investment or other actions: 

* The growing air traffic congestion and delay problems faced in this 
country are the result of many factors, including airline practices, 
inadequate investment in airport and air traffic control 
infrastructure, and how the use of aviation infrastructure is priced. 
DOT and FAA should be commended for taking steps last year to reduce 
delays and cancellations, but as we predicted last summer, many of 
these initiatives were unlikely to substantially reduce congestion. 
Long-term investments in airport infrastructure and air traffic 
control, or other actions by Congress, DOT, or FAA could address the 
fundamental imbalance between underlying demand for, and supply of, 
airspace capacity. 

Consider changes to EAS: 

* The possible increase in the number of communities requiring 
subsidies to retain service and the associated costs raise concerns 
about the amount of funding that will be needed to continue to provide 
service in an environment of federal deficits. As a result, it is an 
appropriate time to conduct a comprehensive review of the EAS program 
to determine how it might be improved as well to consider additional 
options for providing federal assistance that may more efficiently 
facilitate small communities' connections to the transportation 
network, such as rail or bus. 

[End of section] 

Environment: Addressing Aviation's Impact On The Environment: 

What Is the Issue? 

Conducting airport capacity expansion projects requires compliance with 
laws, rules, and regulations intended to address environmental, public 
health, and noise concerns. Failure to meet these requirements can 
delay capacity expansion projects. Airports implementing expansion 
projects--such as new runways--must be prepared to address concerns 
about noise, emissions, and water quality. 

Reducing effects of noise on communities: 

Community opposition to aviation-related noise, particularly from jet 
aircraft during takeoffs and landings, could constrain airport 
operations and the future growth of the national airspace system. 
Perceptions of aviation noise vary from one individual to another, and, 
as a result, even comparatively low levels of noise exposure can create 
opposition to airport expansion in communities surrounding airports. 
More stringent standards for aircraft noise levels--imposed through the 
Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 and enabled by technological 
advancements--led to the retirement or modification of older, noisier 
jet aircraft. As a result, many fewer people are exposed to significant 
noise levels as defined by FAA. The agency assisted airlines in meeting 
the act's requirements to phase out or retrofit the noisiest aircraft, 
arguably one of the biggest accomplishments in reducing aviation noise. 
Local government decisions that allow communities to expand near 
airports may, however, erode some of the gains from these reductions in 
noise. FAA has issued guidance that discourages incompatible land uses, 
such as residences, schools, and hospitals, in areas with significant 
aviation noise. Communities, however, face strong development 
pressures, and research suggests that federal land-use guidelines have 
had mixed results in deterring residential development in these areas. 

Controlling emissions: 

Although aviation-related activities produce a small portion of total 
U.S. air pollution, these pollutants are expected to increase with 
forecasted growth in the aviation sector. Aircraft are the primary 
source of aviation emissions, but airport service and passenger 
vehicles also produce emissions. Together, aircraft operations in the 
vicinity of the airport and other airport sources emit nitrogen oxides 
and volatile organic compounds, which lead to the formation of ground-
level ozone (that is, smog), and other substances that contribute to 
local air pollution, as well as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse 
gases that rise into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change. 
FAA's Voluntary Airport Low Emissions Program allows the use of federal 
funding for airport equipment that reduces emissions, such as the 
purchase of electric ground support equipment. Airports in areas that 
do not meet air quality standards set by the Environmental Protection 
Agency under the Clean Air Act may need to mitigate emissions in order 
to gain approval for development projects. In addition, as communities 
gain more awareness of the health and environmental effects of aviation 
emissions, opposition to airport expansion projects, which has thus far 
focused mainly on aviation noise, could broaden to include emissions. 

Maintaining water quality: 

Airports can potentially affect water quality through activities such 
as deicing, as well as aircraft and vehicle fueling and maintenance. 
Chemicals from such activities may contaminate groundwater and surface 
water supplies if allowed to flow from airport facilities to storm 
drains or waterways. Airports involved in runway expansion projects, 
particularly those located near wetlands and other bodies of water, may 
need to take expensive measures to contain or treat runoff. Fuel spills 
are another concern: leaks, improper connections, and improperly 
monitored storage tanks can lead to fuel spills, which may contaminate 
soil or groundwater if not contained or diverted to an established 
treatment system. 

Addressing interrelated environmental issues: 

FAA has taken similar approaches in addressing a number of these 
issues, particularly when those issues are interrelated. FAA is 
addressing environmental concerns through grant programs, research and 
development efforts, and technical assistance. 

* FAA has contributed to a number of federal research and development 
efforts that have increased the understanding of aviation's 
environmental effects, improved available options for addressing those 
effects, and achieved significant reductions in aircraft noise and 
emissions over the last 30 years. 

* FAA provides funding and technical assistance for many airport 
environmental activities. As a result, airports have instituted 
residential sound insulation programs, implemented policies to reduce 
emissions, and constructed stormwater retention basins, among other 

* FAA and airports have begun implementing elements of NextGen that 
will use new technology to guide more efficient flight paths, reducing 
aircraft noise and emissions. 

What Is the Way Forward? 

Contribute to further advances: 

* FAA's plans to provide funding to accelerate the maturation and 
implementation of aviation development ideas could contribute to 
environmental improvements. 

* FAA's plans for continued investment in research and development 
could help balance trade-offs among environmental issues, such as 
increased emissions from quieter aircraft engines. 

* FAA's plans to foster the development of alternative fuels and to 
assess the health and welfare risks of aviation noise and emissions 
could address environmental concerns. 

* Implementing NextGen in a timely manner could allow for full 
realization of capabilities to reduce emissions and improve fuel-
efficient aircraft routing to achieve operational improvements in the 
near term, while awaiting results from longer-term research and 
development efforts. 

We expect to issue reports to this Subcommittee later this year on 
efforts to reduce aviation's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions 
and on airports' efforts to address environmental concerns. 

[End of section] 

Human Capital: Ensuring A Sufficient, Trained Workforce: 

What Is the Issue? 

As it deals with the other reauthorization issues identified in this 
statement, FAA also faces workforce issues. To ensure that it has a 
sufficient number of personnel trained to handle the tasks associated 
with managing the national airspace system safely and efficiently, FAA 
will have to (1) hire and train thousands of new air traffic 
controllers while ensuring that aircraft continue to fly safely, 24 
hours a day, 7 days a week; (2) ensure that its workforce has the right 
mix of technical skills to implement NextGen; and (3) work to improve 
relations with its labor unions. 

Replacing the retiring controller workforce: 

FAA projects that about 72 percent of its controller workforce will 
become eligible for retirement by 2016, and between 2008 and 2017 it 
will lose approximately 15,000 controllers through retirement and other 
reasons. To replace them, FAA has already begun hiring new controllers 
and plans to hire almost 17,000 additional controllers by fiscal year 

FAA is on track with its hiring and has instituted training 
improvements to reduce the amount of time controllers remain in trainee 
status. However, the pace of hiring and training has changed some of 
FAA's training procedures. More often than in the past, FAA sends 
developmental controllers directly to busy facilities to begin their 
on-the-job training. In the past, developmental controllers would 
normally go to less-busy facilities for their first assignment, where 
they would gain experience before moving up to a busier facility. FAA 
must also carefully manage the flow of developmental controllers to 
each facility so that their numbers do not overwhelm the facility's 
capacity to train them. Furthermore, with fewer fully certified 
controllers and greater on-the-job training demands, controllers may 
work more overtime hours. Overtime can lead to fatigue, and many 
controllers routinely work overtime, raising safety concerns. 

Figure: FAA's Projected Air Traffic Controller Losses and Hiring, 
Fiscal Years 2008-2017: 

[Refer to PDF for image] 

This figure is a multiple vertical bar graph depicting the following 

FAA's Projected Air Traffic Controller Losses and Hiring, Fiscal Years 

Fiscal year: 2008; 
Planned hires: 1,877; 
Estimated losses: 1,621. 

Fiscal year: 2009; 
Planned hires: 1,914; 
Estimated losses: 1,608. 

Fiscal year: 2010; 
Planned hires: 1,871; 
Estimated losses: 1,599. 

Fiscal year: 2011; 
Planned hires: 1,840; 
Estimated losses: 1,648. 

Fiscal year: 2012; 
Planned hires: 1,764; 
Estimated losses: 1,665. 

Fiscal year: 2013; 
Planned hires: 1,733; 
Estimated losses: 1,624. 

Fiscal year: 2014; 
Planned hires: 1,616; 
Estimated losses: 1,562. 

Fiscal year: 2015; 
Planned hires: 1,498; 
Estimated losses: 1,460. 

Fiscal year: 2016; 
Planned hires: 1,458; 
Estimated losses: 1,394. 

Fiscal year: 2017; 
Planned hires: 1,409; 
Estimated losses: 1.302. 

Source: FAA. 

[End of figure] 

Ensuring technical expertise for implementing NextGen: 

To manage the implementation of NextGen, FAA will need staff with 
technical skills, such as systems engineering and contract management 
expertise. Because of the scope and complexity of the NextGen effort, 
the agency may not currently have the in-house expertise to manage the 
transition to NextGen without assistance. FAA contracted with the 
National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to determine the mix 
of positions--such as contract specialists, program managers, 
engineers, scientists, researchers, and financial specialists--and 
strategies that would provide the necessary expertise for NextGen. FAA 
estimates that it will need to hire about 350 additional staff over the 
next 2 years to obtain the needed skills. 

Improving labor-management relations: 

FAA is involved in extended contract disputes with two of its largest 
labor unions. The air traffic controllers are operating under a 
contract that resulted from an impasse, while bargaining units from the 
safety inspectors' union are operating under an old contract because no 
agreement was reached on a new one more than 5 years ago. According to 
senior union representatives, these situations contribute to low 
morale. As a result, the strained relationship between FAA management 
and the unions could slow the implementation of NextGen. 

What Is the Way Forward? 

Hire and integrate: 

* As FAA continues to hire additional controllers, it needs to 
integrate new staff in a timely fashion so as not to delay the 
integration of new technologies and the transformation of the national 
airspace system. We are comparing FAA's human capital structures and 
processes with those of leading organizations and expect to issue a 
report to this Subcommittee later this year. 

Provide training: 

* FAA has to provide technical training for all of its controllers on 
the new equipment necessary for NextGen while maintaining skills on 
existing equipment. 

* FAA will need to be vigilant to ensure that sending developmental 
controllers directly to busy facilities neither impairs safety nor 
results in increased failures that might not have occurred if they had 
been sent to less-busy facilities. 

Work with unions: 

* While some progress has been made in working with labor unions, it 
should remain a priority for the involved parties to follow through and 
reach agreement. 

[End of section] 

Timely Reauthorization: Ensuring Timely Reauthorization Of FAA 

What Is the Issue? 

FAA's authorizing legislation expired at the end of fiscal year 2007, 
and for the past 17 months, the agency has been operating under a 
series of funding extensions and continuing resolutions. In addition, 
the excise taxes that fund the Airport and Airway Trust Fund (Trust 
Fund) also expired at the end of fiscal year 2007 but were extended as 
a part of 2008 continuing resolutions. Several key issues directly 
affect future funding and FAA's ability to move forward with plans to 
address the needs of the national airspace system. 

* Dealing with the effects of temporary funding measures: The short-
term funding extensions and continuing resolutions could lead to delays 
in key capital projects. 

- According to FAA, the agency requires funding to support NextGen 
near-term decision points and associated pre-implementation 
activities, which will initiate new acquisitions programs for the 
midterm (2013 through 2018). Delays in NextGen funding could delay 
these critical activities and push the achievement of operational 
capabilities and operational improvements for the national airspace 
system beyond the midterm, according to FAA. 

- Delays in reauthorizing FAA programs have also hampered the planning 
and development of needed airport infrastructure projects funded 
through the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), according to FAA. Under 
short-term extensions of AIP or partial-year continuing resolutions, an 
airport's entitlement funding is prorated. Because of the uncertainty 
associated with future AIP funding levels, airport sponsors are less 
willing to commit partial-year entitlements to projects, instead 
electing to defer projects to subsequent years. According to FAA, 
approximately $209 million of fiscal year 2009 airport entitlements 
remained unused as of the end of January. Delays could lead to 
increases in construction costs. 

* Declining revenues in the Trust Fund: Trust Fund revenues have been 
less than previously forecasted, and forecasts of future revenues have 
declined. For the short run, Congress faces the likelihood of lower-
than-expected excise tax revenues, mainly resulting from the downturn 
in the economy, and the impact of this shortfall on the availability of 
Trust Fund revenues to fund FAA programs this year and next. In the 
longer run, revenues may be lower than projected several years ago, 
meaning that there may be less money available for capital projects 
than had been previously anticipated without a larger contribution to 
FAA's overall funding from the general fund. The House reauthorization 
bill attempts to address the concern that the Trust Fund balance might 
no longer be large enough to ensure that sufficient Trust Fund revenues 
are available to FAA even when actual revenues fall short of forecasted 
revenues. It proposes to base expenditures from the Trust Fund on 95 
percent, rather than 100 percent, of estimated Trust Fund revenues. 
This would reduce the likelihood of running the Trust Fund balance to 
zero, an event that would create implications for Congress in funding 
FAA programs. 

* Lack of a permanent administrator: The agency is facing a critical 
point in its transformation of the national airspace system, with many 
crucial decision points in the next 2 fiscal years. A permanent 
administrator could help guide FAA through these times. 

Key programs discussed in this testimony, such as for NextGen and 
safety, are adversely affected by breaks in funding. The House 
reauthorization bill proposes actions to address many of the issues 
raised in this statement. To its credit, FAA has also undertaken a 
number of initiatives to address the issues in the meantime. However, 
timely reauthorization--that takes into account the issues addressed 
here--is critical to ensuring the continuity of FAA's current programs 
and the agency's continuing progress toward NextGen. 

[End of section] 



For further information on this testimony, please contact Dr. Gerald L. 
Dillingham at (202) 512-2834 or Individuals making 
key contributions to this testimony include Teresa Spisak (Assistant 
Director), Paul Aussendorf, Lauren Calhoun, Jay Cherlow, Cathy Colwell, 
Jessica Evans, Cathy Kim, Bonnie Leer, Jessica Lucas-Judy, Ed Menoche, 
Richard Scott, and Pam Vines. 

Selected GAO Products: 

Federal Aviation Administration: Challenges Facing the Agency in Fiscal 
Year 2009 and Beyond. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: February 7, 

Federal Aviation Administration: Challenges Facing the Agency in Fiscal 
Year 2008 and Beyond. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: February 
14, 2007. 


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

Next Generation Air Transportation System: Status of the Transition to 
the Future Air Traffic Control System. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: 
May 9, 2007. 

Joint Planning and Development Office: Progress and Key Issues in 
Planning the Transition to the Next Generation Air Transportation 
System. [hyperlink,]. 
Washington, D.C.: March 29, 2007. 

Federal Aviation Administration: Key Issues in Ensuring the Efficient 
Development and Safe Operation of the Next Generation Air 
Transportation System. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: March 22, 


Aviation Safety: FAA Has Increased Efforts to Address Runway 
Incursions. [hyperlink,]. 
Washington, D.C.: September 25, 2008. 

Runway Safety: Progress on Reducing Runway Incursions Impeded by 
Leadership, Technology, and Other Challenges. [hyperlink,]. Washington, 
D.C.: February 13, 2008. 

Aviation Runway and Ramp Safety: Sustained Efforts to Address 
Leadership, Technology, and Other Challenges Needed to Reduce Accidents 
and Incidents. [hyperlink,]. 
Washington, D.C.: November 20, 2007. 

Aviation Safety: Improved Data Collection Needed for Effective 
Oversight of Air Ambulance Industry. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: 
February 21, 2007. 


Commercial Aviation: Impact of Airline Crew Scheduling on Delays and 
Cancellations of Commercial Flights. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: 
September 17, 2008. 

FAA Airspace Redesign: An Analysis of the New York/New Jersey/
Philadelphia Project. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: Washington, 
July 31, 2008. 

National Airspace System: DOT and FAA Actions Will Likely Have a 
Limited Effect on Reducing Delays during Summer 2008 Travel Season. 
[hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: 
July 15, 2008. 

Commercial Aviation: Programs and Options for Providing Air Service to 
Small Communities. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: April 25, 

Commercial Aviation: Programs and Options for the Federal Approach to 
Providing and Improving Air Service to Small Communities. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: September 
14, 2006. 


Aviation and the Environment: NextGen and Research and Development Are 
Keys to Reducing Emissions and Their Impact on Health and Climate. 
[hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: 
May 6, 2008. 

Aviation and the Environment: Impact of Aviation Noise on Communities 
Presents Challenges for Airport Operations and Future Growth of the 
National Airspace System. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: October 24, 

Human Capital: 

Federal Aviation Administration: Efforts to Hire, Staff, and Train Air 
Traffic Controllers Are Generally on Track, but Challenges Remain. 
[hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: 
June 11, 2008. 


Aviation Finance: Observations on the Current FAA Funding Structure's 
Support for Aviation Activities, Issues Affecting Future Costs, and 
Proposed Funding Changes. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: August 1, 

Federal Aviation Administration: Observations on Selected Changes to 
FAA's Funding and Budget Structure in the Administration's 
Reauthorization Proposal. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: March 21, 

[End of section] 

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