Watchdog Worries About NGATS

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The FAA's Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) is making progress towards the lofty goal of reinventing the National Airspace System, but there's a minefield of coordination, budget and implementation issues ahead, according to a report from the Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General. OIG said the creation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NGATS) is "an extraordinarily complex and high-risk effort given the potential multibillion-dollar investments by FAA and airspace users." While there seems to be an overall plan to coordinate a bunch of agencies toward the goal of accommodating three times the air traffic of today by 2025, the OIG worries that there's a lack of specific direction within those agencies to make sure the work actually gets done. The OIG is naturally interested in just how the FAA is going to invest all those billions of dollars in NGATS equipment and facilities, but it's also concerned about the financial impact on those who will use the system. Among the big questions is what equipment aircraft will need and who's going to pay for it. It's a given that NGATS will involve a shift of more responsibility for separation to the cockpit and that satellite-based gear is going to facilitate that. But just who will do what in the new system and whether pilots and controllers alike can handle the anticipated workload are open questions. "We are recommending that the JPDO conduct sufficient human factors analyses and studies to ensure that the changes envisioned for NGATS can be safely accomplished," the DOT OIG concluded.