Aviation Safety and Security:

Challenges to Implementing the Recommendations of the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security

T-RCED-97-90: Published: Mar 5, 1997. Publicly Released: Mar 5, 1997.

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GAO discussed recommendations contained in the recently released report of the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, focusing on the implementation issues relating to three areas addressed by the Commission: (1) aviation safety; (2) air traffic control (ATC) modernization; and (3) aviation security.

GAO noted that: (1) foremost among the Commission's 14 recommendations for aviation safety is establishing a national goal to reduce the fatal accident rate by 80 percent within 10 years; (2) however, GAO believes that, as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) tries to fundamentally reinvent itself as the Commission contemplates through some of its recommendations, FAA and the aviation industry will be challenged by: (a) FAA's organizational culture and resource management; (b) FAA's partnerships with the airline industry; and (c) the costs of and sources of funding to implement the recommendations; (3) recognizing that new technology offers tremendous advances in safety, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness for users of the ATC system and for FAA, the Commission recommended accelerating FAA's deployment of new technology, but given FAA's past problems in developing new ATC technology and the technical challenges that lie ahead, there is little evidence that this goal can be achieved; (4) GAO agrees with the Commission's recommendations to integrate the airports' capacity needs into the ATC modernization effort and to enhance the accuracy, availability, and reliability of the Global Positioning System; however, GAO has two concerns about accelerating the entire modernization effort that focus on the complexities of the technology and the integrity of FAA's acquisition process; (5) the Commission strongly presented aviation security as a national security priority and recommended that the federal government commit greater resources to improving it; (6) in the past, FAA has had difficulty in meeting some of the time frames for implementing safety and security improvement recommendations; and (7) to improve aviation security, the Congress, the administration, and the aviation industry need to agree on what to do and who will pay for it, and then take action.