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GAO discussed the status of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) implementation of its National Airspace System Plan, focusing on the causes and effects of delays in implementing the system. GAO noted that: (1) FAA erroneously assumed that much system technology would be readily available and committed to a concurrent development and acquisition strategy that did not include adequate system testing; (2) FAA is improving its major acquisitions process, but the improvements will not benefit most plan systems; and (3) the volume of system development and integration work remaining may cause further delays in plan implementation. GAO also noted that: (1) the FAA controller work force is still not large enough, but major labor-saving features of the system are not expected to be in place for more than a decade; (2) plan delays have postponed expected benefits, such as reduced schedule delays and increased fuel economy; (3) FAA is planning to reduce the minimum flight separation requirement to the distance it was before the 1981 controllers' strike; (4) the Airport and Airway Trust Fund's balance will reach $5.6 million by the end of fiscal year (FY) 1987, and could increase to $12.4 billion by the end of FY 1990, given current revenue estimates, if Congress reauthorizes the Fund without any change in aviation taxes; and (5) plan delays are the primary reason for the Fund's large unused balance. GAO believes that: (1) before appropriating further aviation funds, Congress should require FAA to ensure that systems work before full-scale production; (2) FAA should realistically revise the plan schedules; and (3) FAA should consider the effects on air traffic control of reducing flight separation standards.

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