Thursday, January 12, 2023

The FAA has struggled to update computer and air traffic control systems

FAA has struggled to modernize computer, air traffic operations


WASHINGTON: The failure of a crucial computer system, which caused US flight departures to be halted on Wednesday, is not the first incident of its kind to impede FAA operations and occurred amid efforts to upgrade technology.

A problem with an alerting system that sends safety messages to pilots and others caused the 90-minute halt less than two weeks after a different important air traffic control system caused flight delays at major Florida airports. On Wednesday, more than 11,000 flights were impacted by the most recent issue.

Air traffic control has been difficult for the FAA to modernize. The FAA's multibillion-dollar Next Generation Air Transportation System (Next) infrastructure project faced numerous difficulties, according to a 2021 Transportation Department Office of Inspection General (OIG) report.

"FaA has struggled to integrate key NextGen technologies and capabilities due to extended program delays that caused ripple effect delays with other programs," the OIG stated of its findings.

For instance, in October, the FAA stated that it was attempting to put an end to the long-discredited and decades-old practice of air traffic controllers using paper flight strips to track aircraft. However, the FAA won't be able to implement the change at 49 major airports until late 2029.

According to the FAA's website, the agency has also attempted to modernize the Notices to Air Missions (NOTAM) system "to improve the delivery of safety critical information to aviation stakeholders." Relevant, up-to-date, and accurate safety notices are provided to pilots, flight crews, and other users of US airspace by the system.

From the $5 billion that was set aside in the infrastructure package that was passed in 2022, the FAA began investing $1 billion in repairing and replacing key equipment that is part of the air traffic control system. This equipment includes power systems, navigation and weather equipment, and radar and surveillance systems all over the country.

At the time, FAA deputy administrator Bradley Mims stated, "There's a great deal of work needed to reduce the backlog of sustainment work, upgrades and replacement of buildings and equipment needed to operate our nation's airspace safely."

The FAA issued a ground stop order on January 2 in Florida as a result of an air traffic control system known as the En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) slowing down traffic into airports and snarling hundreds of flights.

Dutzendes of flight delays at Miami International Airport and flights into other airports in the southern US state were caused by an issue with the ERAM system at a significant regional air traffic control center in Miami.

At 20 FAA Air Route Traffic Control Centers across the country, the 40-year-old En Route Host computer and backup system was replaced by ERAM in 2015.

Republican chair of the House Transportation Committee Sam Graves called the FAA's failure to properly maintain and operate the air traffic control system "inexcusable."

In 2020, the FAA stated that "the FAA to hire technical talent as quickly and effectively as in the past" would be more challenging.

Information technology has been a challenge for the FAA's oversight body, the Department of Transportation. According to a 2019 report on IT planning by the Government Accountability Office, the DOT was one of three major agencies without a modernization plan.

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