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Status of FAA's Efforts To Develop the Next Generation Air Transportation System

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On September 11, 2008, the Inspector General testified on the status of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) efforts to develop the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), which is targeted for the 2025 timeframe. NextGen goals are ambitious but important to the health of the U.S. air transportation system and the Nation’s economy. NextGen is expected to triple capacity, boost controller productivity, reduce FAA operating costs, lessen impact of high energy costs, and reduce the environmental impact of aviation. Developing NextGen is one of the biggest challenges facing FAA. It is a high–risk effort involving billion–dollar investments from both the Government and airspace users.

To its credit, FAA is working on what can be done in the near term. NextGen costs remain uncertain, however, and much work remains to establish requirements, determine steps to deliver NextGen capabilities, and develop realistic transition plans. This will require sustained oversight and will therefore be a key issue for the next Congress and a top management challenge for the next administration.

The Inspector General noted that a number of actions are needed from FAA going forward to help shift NextGen efforts from research to implementation. Specifically, FAA must (1) establish priorities and include them in budget and planning documents, (2) focus much needed attention on technology transfer issues, (3) clearly define the roles of the Air Traffic Organization and the Joint Planning and Development Office and effectively use in–house resources, (4) place a high priority on relieving already congested airports, and (5) examine what can reasonably be implemented in given time increments.