Recently confirmed FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker has received his first assignment from the Government Accountability Office, and he should be familiar with the subject matter. The GAO says Whitaker should get cracking on the NextGen air navigation modernization program. Whitaker was in charge of the program as the assistant administrator from 2013 to 2016. The GAO said the program has eaten up $14 billion so far but progress is lagging. “In recent years, FAA has had mixed success in meeting program milestones, largely due to delays from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the GAO said in a detailed report on NextGen.
The GAO notes some successes, including establishment of digital communications systems at some towers, but that it didn’t meet its goal of getting the updates into 20 towers by 2021 and is still eight short of that goal. But while staffing and other issues related to COVID account for some of the stalled progress, the GAO said better management is needed to get the job done. All four of its recommendations are directed at Whitaker and lay out what he needs to do to get the program back on track. The goal is to transition to satellite-based navigation services and digital communications throughout the system, and the FAA says it will cost $35 billion by 2030.