DOT Inspector General Warns Of NextGen Delays

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April 21, the Transportation Department Inspector General, Calvin Scovel, spoke before a House panel regarding the cost and progress of key NextGen technologies and what he had to say wasn't all good. According to Scovel, the En Route Automation Modernization system (ERAM), set to be a major part of the FAA's NextGen system, is experiencing trouble at its Salt Lake City launch site. ERAM is costing the FAA $14 million per month in bug fixes and other deployments, and is likely to be deployed behind schedule. Also, according to Scovel, the FAA's telecommunications infrastructure program may not work well with NextGen programs. That system suffered a failure last November that delayed more than 800 flights. The two projects together account for a $4.6 billion stake in NextGen's estimated $40 billion cost. The failings, according to Scovel, can in part be blamed on failure of the FAA to effectively oversee contractors and may result in significant cascading delays.

In Salt Lake City, the ERAM system has misidentified aircraft and not worked well when processing radar information, Scovel said. So far, ERAM at Salt Lake City has seen its in-service operational date delayed to at least June. Major NextGen developmental decisions are complicated by these delays. That in turn further complicates the process of integrating the separate systems necessary to make NextGen operational. Capabilities originally planned for 2025, may be pushed significantly further back. Estimates commissioned by the Joint Planning and Development Office indicate NextGen's cost could now swell well beyond its estimated $40 billion. And the system's ground and air capabilities may not be realized until 2035, or later.