Auditors Urge ITWS Deployment Changes

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The FAA has been told to get the best bang for the traveling public's buck with a new weather avoidance and forecasting system -- a.k.a. the Integrated Terminal Weather System (ITWS). An audit by the Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General says the FAA should put the best possible equipment into air traffic control facilities that need it most, rather than spread a watered-down system among all the control areas scheduled to get it. The problem, of course, is that it's the latest in a series of FAA initiatives that has gone significantly over budget. The ITWS displays current and forecasted weather conditions, allowing controllers to manage traffic more efficiently in bad weather. According to the audit, the system works and controllers love it. But (and why does this sound familiar?) the equipment will cost three times what the FAA had budgeted and there won't be enough money to fully deploy the system. The FAA had planned to make up the shortfall by putting in less-capable systems in all of the planned 38 installations. One of the key enhancements missing from those systems would be a 60-minute thunderstorm-prediction capability that was included on the prototypes and is coveted by the tower personnel who have been using it since 1998. The audit says the FAA should figure out which control areas would benefit most from the fully operational system and put in as many as it can afford. The FAA has agreed to rethink the deployment.