Billion$ + 10 years = No air traffic control modernization, No final price tag, No end date

The Federal Aviation Administration has little to show for a decade of work on modernizing air traffic control, and faces barriers and billions more in spending to realize its full benefits, says a report released last Tuesday by a government watchdog.

The FAA estimates it will spend a total $5.7 billion to finish its current work on six “transformational” technology programs at the heart of its NextGen modernization effort, said the report by the Department of Transportation’s inspector general. But the agency’s current efforts don’t fully implement the programs, and there are no timetables or cost estimates for completion…

Moreover, there has been “significant ambiguity both within FAA and the aviation community about expectations for NextGen,” including the ability of core programs to deliver important new capabilities, the report said.

Most of the airline industry has made privatizing air traffic control their top legislative goal — with Congressman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., as their champion. They have the support of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union that represents controllers. Paul Rinaldi, the union’s president, said controllers have lost faith in FAA’s modernization effort and want the new air traffic tools they see in use in other countries like Canada, which has privatized air traffic operations.

Most Democrats, other FAA unions and segments of the aviation industry, like business aircraft operators, are opposed to privatization.

“The inspector general’s report at most faults the FAA for describing NextGen programs as ‘transformational’ when they really just improve how the FAA manages air traffic,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the senior Democrat on the transportation committee.

It is far from clear that privatizing the air traffic control system would expedite NextGen and address the issues raised in the inspector general’s report, he said…

Air traffic control never recovered from the Reagan lockout in 1981. The United States muddled through with crap performance made acceptable by the Reagan White House and obedient flunkies in Congress. Trouble is that style of work remained in place over the decades since. Little attention paid to how computer systems have been modernized in both installation and use, common software and updates – and a helluva lot more traffic.

And then there are the lobbyists fiddling how anything is sold to the federal government and where that has gotten to following Reagan models – and Clinton copies of Reagan models.

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