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United States Government Accountability Office: 
Washington, DC 20548: 

November 22, 2010: 

The Honorable John L. Mica:
Ranking Member:
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure:
House of Representatives: 

The Honorable Thomas E. Petri:
Ranking Member:
Subcommittee on Aviation:
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure:
House of Representatives: 

Subject: Integration of Current Implementation Efforts with Long-term 
Planning for the Next Generation Air Transportation System: 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the lead implementer and 
planner for the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen)--
an ambitious, multiyear, multibillion-dollar overhaul of systems, 
procedures, aircraft performance capabilities, and supporting 
infrastructure that will create an air transportation system that uses 
satellite-based surveillance and navigation and network-centric 
operations.[Footnote 1] NextGen was designed as an interagency effort 
to leverage expertise and funding throughout the federal government. 
The Senior Policy Committee--the overall governing body for NextGen, 
chaired by the Secretary of Transportation--consists of cabinet-level 
officials from each of the partner agencies.[Footnote 2] 

The initial planning for NextGen, which began with Vision 100[Footnote 
3] in 2003 and was carried out by the Joint Planning and Development 
Office (JPDO) within FAA, focused on improvements to the air 
transportation system that would be implemented through 2025. JPDO 
produced three key planning documents--a Concept of Operations, a 
NextGen Enterprise Architecture, and an Integrated Work Plan (IWP). 
Recently, FAA has shifted its focus from the longer term (i.e., beyond 
2018) and emphasized improvements that can be implemented in the near 
term and midterm (2010 through 2018). The shift responds, in part, to 
concerns expressed by stakeholders and Members of Congress about the 
lack of progress in FAA's implementation of NextGen, which they view 
as reminiscent of the schedule delays and other issues that plagued 
FAA's previous air traffic control modernization efforts. This shift 
is embodied in FAA's 2010 NextGen Implementation Plan, which responds 
to priorities put forward by stakeholders for NextGen implementation 
by the NextGen Mid-Term Implementation Task Force (the Task 
Force)[Footnote 4]. Members of Congress also have expressed concern 
that shifting too much focus to the near term may result in FAA's not 
taking actions that must be taken now to enable capabilities 
envisioned over the long term. 

In April 2010, we testified before the Committee on Transportation and 
Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Aviation regarding issues related to 
integrating near-, mid-, and long-term NextGen activities.[Footnote 5] 
In July 2010, we reported on NextGen metrics, discussing information 
related to FAA's goals and milestones for NextGen.[Footnote 6] This 
report summarizes and expands on previously reported information, as 
requested, and addresses (1) the extent to which FAA has clearly 
identified the NextGen capabilities that it plans to implement in the 
near, mid, and long term; (2) whether FAA and the Senior Policy 
Committee have laid out specific performance goals or metrics for 
delivering NextGen capabilities; and (3) the extent to which FAA has 
examined long-term NextGen benefits to make a business case for 
airlines to equip their aircraft with the advanced avionics needed for 
NextGen operations. 

To accomplish our objectives, we drew primarily upon prior reports and 
testimonies as we have previously described. In those reports and 
testimonies, we obtained and reviewed information from FAA's NextGen 
Integration and Implementation Office, Air Traffic Organization, and 
JPDO about NextGen plans that describe the capabilities that FAA is 
pursuing as well as reports used to justify NextGen programs before 
investment decisions are made, and that describe the metrics FAA uses 
to monitor program implementation and performance. In addition, we 
reviewed FAA performance reports and other documents that describe 
FAA's broader performance metrics and additional NextGen performance 
metrics that FAA is considering. We also reviewed FAA's modeling 
efforts designed to identify long-term NextGen capabilities, costs, 
and benefits. We interviewed key officials in these offices and 
organizations, as well as key staff of the Senior Policy Committee, 
and several key stakeholders for NextGen, including representatives 
from airlines; equipment manufacturers; federal partner agencies' 
RTCA, Inc.;[Footnote 7] the MITRE Corporation;[Footnote 8] and others. 
We augmented and updated this information through additional 
interviews with FAA officials, a review of FAA's recent NextGen 
activities, and consideration of the findings of Transportation's 
Office of Inspector General recent report on long-term challenges 
facing FAA.[Footnote 9] 

We conducted work for these previous reports from June 2009 through 
July 2010 and conducted additional work for this performance audit 
from July 2010 through November 2010 in accordance with generally 
accepted government auditing standards. These standards require that 
we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate 
evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and 
conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe the evidence 
obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions 
based on our audit objectives. 

FAA Has Generally Identified Near Term and Midterm Capabilities but Is 
Still Analyzing Long-term Capabilities and Has Yet to Make Key 

NextGen Capabilities Planned through 2018 Reflect Industry and Other 
Stakeholder Recommendations, but Some Gaps Remain: 

FAA has generally identified the NextGen capabilities that it plans to 
implement in the near term to midterm, through 2018. These 
capabilities are laid out in the 2010 NextGen Implementation Plan, 
which feeds into FAA's overall national airspace system Enterprise 
Architecture, which, in turn, is aligned with JPDO's NextGen 
Enterprise Architecture.[Footnote 10] Supporting the NextGen 
Implementation Plan are two more detailed plans--Segment A, which 
defines detailed activities through 2015, and Segment B, which defines 
NextGen capabilities through 2018. These two plans detail the specific 
actions that must take place to implement the identified capabilities. 
According to FAA, Segment A has been developed, while Segment B is 
expected to be completed over the next 12 to 18 months. These plans 
are not made publicly available, but FAA plans to include a 
description of Segment A in its 2011 NextGen Implementation Plan. 

In addition, these two plans reflect FAA's responses to 
recommendations from industry and other stakeholders, developed by the 
Task Force, which was formed at the request of FAA and included 
representation from the four major aviation operating communities--
airlines, business aviation, general aviation, and the military--as 
well as participation from air traffic controllers, airports, avionics 
and aircraft manufacturers, and other key stakeholders. Thus, the Task 
Force's recommendations represent a consensus view from industry on 
how to move forward with NextGen. The Task Force recommended that FAA 
implement those capabilities that the industry identified as 
maximizing benefits and facilitating a business case for industry 
investment across five key areas--surface operations, runway access, 
congestion relief in metropolitan areas, cruise operations, and access 
to certain airspace--and two crosscutting areas--data communication 
applications and integrated air traffic management. In developing the 
2010 NextGen Implementation Plan and its supporting documents, FAA has 
continued to work with the Task Force to further refine the 
recommended actions and priorities. 

While FAA has taken a number of actions to respond to the Task Force 
recommendations and integrate those recommendations in its plans, some 
gaps remain in FAA's response. In an August 2010 meeting of the Air 
Traffic Management Advisory Committee, the Chairman recommended that 
FAA address remaining gaps between the Task Force recommendations and 
the responses reflected in the NextGen Implementation Plan and publish 
an updated plan or a document that will detail the changes FAA will 
make to its plans to address these gaps. FAA directed RTCA to create a 
new advisory committee for NextGen--the NextGen Advisory Committee-- 
that includes senior industry participants. This committee has been 
tasked to follow up on this recommendation and be a mechanism for 
collaboration between FAA, industry, and other stakeholders. More 
recently, at an October 2010 meeting of the Air Traffic Management 
Advisory Committee, FAA presented responses indicating steps it will 
take to address the remaining gaps and reiterated that its responses 
and actions will be integrated into the 2011 NextGen Implementation 

Plans for Longer-term Capabilities Will Continue to Evolve in Response 
to Cost Considerations and Technology Development: 

JPDO's Concept of Operations, NextGen Enterprise Architecture, and IWP 
identify all of the NextGen capabilities envisioned through 2025 and 
continue to be the key documents that identify long-term capabilities. 
However, these documents not only identify specific capabilities that 
FAA plans to pursue, but also contain a wide variety of possible ideas 
and approaches. Therefore, they are not static documents and will 
continue to evolve. A recent analysis, commissioned by JPDO, sought to 
examine the costs, risks, and benefits of the IWP and modeled a 
variety of scenarios that assumed different levels of ground 
capability and aircraft capability over the long term. According to 
this analysis, implementing the highest performance levels envisioned 
in the IWP for ground and aircraft capabilities by 2025 could increase 
NextGen's costs significantly beyond the initial cost estimate of $40 
billion (e.g., in some scenarios that require every aircraft to be 
equipped with extensive avionics in a shorter time frame, estimated 
costs can go as high as $160 billion). If the highest performance 
levels are implemented over a longer period, by 2035, the cost 
estimates would be lower, but still would be considerably higher than 
$40 billion. This analysis also shows a subset of scenarios within the 
IWP, developed assuming lower levels of ground and aircraft 
capabilities, whose cost estimate remains in the $40 billion range. 
This analysis continues to be updated and revised, and other possible 
scenarios will be evaluated. In addition, estimates of long-term 
benefits associated with various NextGen alternatives continue to be 
modeled and analyzed. The newly appointed JPDO Director has committed 
to reexamining the long-term goals of NextGen in light of new 
realities in the economy and the aviation industry as well as the 
progress and results of NextGen implementation efforts to date. 
[Footnote 11] Furthermore, later this year, FAA will be reporting on 
additional scenarios through 2025. This analysis looks at examining 
alternative portfolios of NextGen capabilities that would extend the 
evolution of NextGen beyond 2018. 

Achieving the long-term capabilities envisioned for NextGen will 
require research and development by FAA, its partner agencies, and the 
private sector as well as effective transfer of the technology that is 
ultimately developed. We have previously reported on research gaps, 
[Footnote 12] and Transportation's Inspector General recently 
reported that significant research and development issues remain 
unresolved, including (1) synchronizing weather-related applications 
among JPDO, FAA, and Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric 
Administration; (2) coordinating joint surveillance requirements with 
Defense and Homeland Security; (3) developing a cross-agency plan for 
research on the human factors' impact of NextGen on controllers and 
pilots; and (4) developing cross-agency requirements, standards, 
procedures, and avionics for introducing unmanned aircraft systems 
into the NextGen environment. At your request, we have begun 
additional work on FAA's mechanisms and processes for technology 

Implementation of Capabilities at All Stages Depends on Decisions That 
FAA Has Yet to Make: 

We recently reported that FAA has yet to make many key decisions 
required to shape and determine the future direction of NextGen. 
[Footnote 13] We identified key decisions, such as how to provide 
incentives for operators to install avionics equipment on their 
aircraft where a clear business case is not evident, how environmental 
reviews can be expedited, and how much additional airport capacity 
will be needed. Absent decisions in these key areas, it is unclear how 
or whether FAA can achieve its plans for implementing NextGen 
capabilities. For example, without a clear strategy and decisions 
about how best-equipped, best-served air traffic management policies 
will work in practice;[Footnote 14] or what financial incentives for 
equipage, if any, will be offered, it is not clear when or to what 
extent aircraft operating in the national airspace system will be 
equipped to take advantage of capabilities being implemented on the 

Transportation's Inspector General recently identified additional key 
decisions that will affect the long-term direction of NextGen. Such 
decisions include the division of responsibility between pilots in the 
cockpit and controllers on the ground, the level of automation and 
degree of human involvement in future air traffic control procedures, 
and the scope of facilities consolidation that FAA may pursue. 
According to FAA, the agency's NextGen planning through 2018 has 
maintained the role of the human as the ultimate decision maker, and 
FAA does not anticipate the roles of pilots and controllers to 
fundamentally shift or be fully automated. Any other shift in 
automation or roles between controllers and pilots is subject to long- 
term research, and decisions about the level of automation could 
result in changes to research and development efforts currently under 
way. However, according to FAA, such shifts are currently not 

FAA and the Senior Policy Committee Have Not Established Performance 
Goals and Metrics for NextGen: 

While FAA has identified capabilities, modeled potential benefits from 
those capabilities, and identified broad performance areas for 
NextGen, the agency has yet to identify clear goals for the 
performance of these capabilities or to settle on a set of metrics for 
measuring their performance relative to any goals. For example, 
NextGen capabilities are expected to improve performance in a number 
of areas, such as increasing capacity to accommodate future demand, 
reducing delay, and improving environmental performance. FAA has 
modeled the potential benefits in these areas from implementing 
capabilities identified in the NextGen Implementation Plan through 
2018 and has estimated that--under certain assumptions--implementing 
these capabilities will reduce delays by about 21 percent, compared 
with doing nothing (although the model estimates that the average 
delay will nonetheless be greater than it is today), and save more 
than 1.4 billion gallons of fuel. However, FAA has not established 
these outcomes as goals for NextGen or identified how implementing 
NextGen capabilities will help lead to their achievement. In addition, 
the Senior Policy Committee, which is the overarching governing body 
for NextGen, has not established any specific milestones for 
delivering NextGen capabilities, nor has it set specific NextGen 
implementation goals or metrics for FAA or any of its other federal 
partner agency members. According to the Senior Policy Committee's 
liaison, now the new Director of JPDO, the Senior Policy Committee is 
working to set high-level goals and milestones, but no clear progress 
has been made to date. 

Without goals and metrics, FAA could pursue and implement capabilities 
that fail to produce the desired results. Currently, for example, FAA 
lacks goals and metrics for its development of performance-based 
navigational routes[Footnote 15] that focus on reducing delays and 
saving fuel, and stakeholders have complained that these routes 
provide relatively little benefit to aircraft operators. Instead, FAA 
measures its performance in this area by counting the number of 
procedures that it develops each year. Stakeholders argue that this 
performance measure has created an incentive for FAA to focus on 
procedures that are easier and quicker to develop than other 
procedures that might have greater benefits. If, by contrast, the 
agency measured its performance by the reductions in flying times and 
fuel use that operators derived from using the procedures, then the 
agency would have an incentive to focus on developing procedures with 
those types of benefits. 

We recently recommended to FAA that it work with industry and other 
stakeholders to develop outcome-based performance metrics and goals 
for NextGen broadly and for specific NextGen portfolios, programs, and 
capabilities and share them with the Congress.[Footnote 16] We 
recommended that FAA develop a timeline and action plan to agree with 
stakeholders on a list of specific goals and outcome-based performance 
metrics for NextGen. The Task Force also made related recommendations 
for the development of performance metrics and made recommendations 
specific to FAA's approach to developing performance-based 
navigational procedures. FAA has recently taken several actions that 
begin to respond to these recommendations and areas of concern. For 
example, in response to the Task Force, FAA is creating teams that 
will include FAA and industry to evaluate performance-based navigation 
procedures at individual airports. FAA has created two such prototype 
teams in Dallas and Washington, D.C. In addition, the new NextGen 
Advisory Committee has been tasked with collaborating with FAA on 
establishing high-level performance measures for NextGen. 

FAA Has Yet to Fully Assess Long-term Benefits to Support a Business 
Case for Airlines to Equip Their Aircraft with Advanced Avionics: 

FAA has yet to fully assess long-term benefits to help make a business 
case for aircraft operators to equip with advanced avionics. 
Nonetheless, each of FAA's NextGen acquisitions, as a matter of 
course, is approved by the Joint Resources Council, and justified to 
the council on the basis of an assessment of all of the direct costs 
and benefits that can reasonably be estimated to flow from the 
investment, both to FAA and to operators.[Footnote 17] For example, 
the justification for the ADS-B[Footnote 18] acquisition program 
assessed the benefits to FAA from improving the efficiency of its 
operations and reducing its radar maintenance costs and the benefits 
to aircraft operators, such as reduced waiting times, flight times, 
and fuel use. While FAA did develop estimates of operators' costs to 
equip aircraft, determining the costs for any particular operator 
relative to the benefits that operator would receive (i.e., whether 
there is a business case for any single operator to invest in the 
avionics needed) was not an explicit part of FAA's investment decision-
making process. It is important to note that given the competitive 
nature of the airline industry, it would not be appropriate for FAA to 
consider the circumstances of individual operators in making decisions 
about improvements to the national airspace system. 

In terms of supporting a business case for operators to equip with the 
necessary avionics, FAA has yet to develop a strategy to address this 
issue. Two key decisions are whether all scheduled aircraft need to be 
equipped at all locations and when aircraft should be equipped with 
various technologies. In addition, although FAA has established a 
working group to explore best-equipped, best-served focus areas, it 
has yet to make any specific decisions about how it will put its best- 
equipped, best-served policy into practice. In our past work, we have 
emphasized that FAA must align aircraft-equipping rules and incentives 
in a way that minimizes the government's costs and maximizes the 
overall benefits of NextGen.[Footnote 19] We also have previously 
reported that, in some cases, the federal government may deem 
financial or other incentives desirable to speed the deployment of new 
equipment, and that the decision to offer incentives will depend on 
the technology and its potential to provide an adequate and timely 
return on public and private investment. In particular, FAA must focus 
on delivering near-term operational benefits to users of the airspace 
by completing activities that will capitalize on users' past 
investment in aircraft avionics. Efforts to develop more-efficient 
procedures, redesign airspace, develop performance standards, and 
reduce aircraft separation standards will help build trust and 
confidence in FAA's ability to deliver benefits to users and provide 
incentives for users, especially commercial airlines, to invest in 
additional equipment for their aircraft. 

As we have previously discussed, FAA and JPDO are currently modeling 
the costs and benefits associated with various future equipage levels, 
types of equipage capabilities, and levels of ground capabilities 
implemented. This work will provide important information to 
stakeholders and decision makers about the benefits that can be 
achieved at various equipage levels and can help inform a strategy for 
achieving a desired level of equipage. This work is still in the 
preliminary stage. 

Agency Comments: 

We provided a draft of this report to FAA for review and comment. FAA 
provided technical corrections, which were incorporated into the 

As agreed with your offices, unless you publicly announce the contents 
of this report earlier, we plan no further distribution until 10 days 
from the report date. At that time, we will send copies to the 
appropriate congressional committees, the Secretary of Transportation, 
and other interested parties. In addition, the report will be 
available at no charge on GAO's Web site at [hyperlink,]. 

If you or your staffs have any questions about this report, please 
contact me at (202) 512-2834 or Contact points 
for our Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be 
found on the last page of this report. Key contributors to this report 
include Andrew Von Ah (Assistant Director), Kevin Egan, Bert Japikse, 
Brandon Haller, and Dominic Nadarski. 

Signed by: 

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

[End of section] 


[1] Network-centric operations involve the instant sharing of 
information and data among users, systems, and networks. These 
operations use infrastructure and information services to provide the 
critical exchange of digital information for air-to-air and air-to- 
ground applications as well as applications involving satellite-based 
information sources. 

[2] In addition to FAA, the federal partner agencies are the 
Departments of Commerce (particularly, its National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration), Defense, Homeland Security, and 
Transportation; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; and 
the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. 

[3] Pub. L. No. 108-176, Vision 100--Century of Aviation 
Reauthorization Act (Dec. 12, 2003). 

[4] RTCA, Inc., NextGen Mid-Term Implementation Task Force Report 
(Washington, D.C.: Sept. 9, 2009). 

[5] GAO, 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, 

[6] GAO, NextGen Air Transportation System: FAA's Metrics Can Be Used 
to Report on Status of Individual Programs, but Not of Overall NextGen 
Implementation of Outcomes, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: July 27, 

[7] RTCA is a private, not-for-profit corporation that develops 
consensus-based recommendations on communications, navigation, 
surveillance, and air traffic management system issues. 

[8] MITRE is a not-for-profit organization chartered to work in the 
public interest. It manages four Federally Funded Research and 
Development Centers, including one for FAA. MITRE has its own 
independent research and development program that explores new 
technologies and new uses of technologies to solve problems in the 
near term and in the future. 

[9] Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General, Timely 
Actions Needed to Advance the Next Generation Air Transportation 
System, Report Number AV-2010-068 (Washington, D.C.: June 16, 2010). 

[10] Enterprise architecture--similar to blueprints for a building-- 
provides the structure to relate an organization's mission, vision, 
and goals to its business processes and the technical infrastructure 
required to execute them. 

[11] In addition, the Secretary of Transportation has recently 
convened the Future of Aviation Advisory Committee, which, according 
to Transportation's Web site will "provide information, advice, and 
recommendations to the Secretary on ensuring the competitiveness of 
the U.S. aviation industry and its capability to address the evolving 
transportation needs, challenges, and opportunities of the global 

[12] 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, 

[13] [hyperlink,]. 

[14] Best-equipped, best-served policies are those in which higher 
levels of service, or priority service, is provided to those aircraft 
equipped with the necessary avionics. One example of a best-equipped, 
best-served concept would be for airplanes equipped with the necessary 
avionics to be able to accept clearances and changed flight plans 
automatically, which would provide an efficiency benefit to the 
equipped airplane, reduce controller workload, and save the system 
money. However, several practical considerations will need to be 
worked through for this to take place. For example, controllers will 
need to have a clear method for determining which aircraft they are 
currently controlling actually have the requisite equipment to receive 
the automatic clearances. 

[15] 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 

[16] [hyperlink,]. 

[17] Within FAA, the Joint Resources Council is an executive body 
consisting of associate and assistant administrators, acquisition 
executives, the chief financial officer, the chief information 
officer, and legal counsel. The council makes agency-level decisions, 
including those that determine whether an acquisition meets a mission 
need and should proceed. The council also approves changes to a 
program's baseline, budget submissions, and the national airspace 
system's architecture baseline. 

[18] Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast is a satellite-based 
information broadcasting system that is designed, along with GPS-based 
navigation technologies, to enable more precise control of aircraft 
during en route flight, approach, and descent. 

[19] [hyperlink,]. 

[End of section] 

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