FAA Oversight Is Key For Contractor-Owned Air Traffic Control Systems That Are Not Certified
On August 4, 2011, we issued a report on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) oversight process for contractor-owned air traffic control systems. We conducted our review at the request of the former Chairmen of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and its Subcommittee on Aviation. In 2007, FAA revised its certification policy to no longer require certification—a quality control method designed to ensure the safety and efficacy of systems and services—for contractor-owned systems. For example, to oversee the contractor-owned ground infrastructure of the Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast (ADS-B) system, FAA is using an automated monitoring tool in lieu of certification. We found that it is too early to fully assess the impact of FAA’s revised certification policy given that FAA is still in the initial stages of its experience with overseeing non-certified systems. However, FAA’s monitoring oversight approach to ADS-B presents risks, particularly in regards to limited data analysis resources and ensuring network reliability. We also found that, as FAA shifts from operating its own systems to overseeing contractor-owned and -managed systems, the Agency faces long-term vulnerabilities because FAA’s commitment to applying the same safety and quality control standards to contractor-owned systems remains unclear. Further, FAA does not yet have sufficient logistics expertise personnel for effective contractor oversight. We made several recommendations to FAA to enhance its oversight of these systems. FAA concurred with all of our recommendations, but we have requested clarification on the Agency’s response to two of them.