FAA Faces NextGen, Funding Challenges

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The FAA needs to address ongoing problems that could "impede NextGen implementation in the mid-term," according to an assessment by the Transportation Department's inspector general. The report (PDF), released last week to members of Congress, cites the "cascading effect" of failures in the $2.1 billion En Route Automation Modernization tool, the backbone of the FAA's flight-data processing system. ERAM has been experiencing software problems and delays in going online, and costs will likely escalate by another $70 million to correct the flaws, according to the report. Meanwhile, the FAA continues to struggle with financial challenges, as Congress last week passed another bill to extend current funding for just three months, to March 31, 2011, failing to commit to a long-term plan.

Meanwhile, a federal advisory panel said recently that the federal government should provide more funding to both commercial aircraft and general aviation aircraft to install equipment needed to operate in the NextGen environment. The Future of Aviation Advisory Committee said a "menu of financial options" -- such as grants, loans, leases and loan guarantees -- should be created, with input from industry players. "There have to be incentives to equip early," said Cessna CEO Jack Pelton. "We want to see accelerated benefits." The advisory board was created by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in May, and issued 23 recommendations (PDF) earlier this month.