Planning for High-Priority NextGen Capabilities Underway, But Much Work Remains for Full Realization of Benefits
The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is a multibillion-dollar transportation infrastructure project to modernize our Nation’s aging air traffic system and provide safer and more efficient air traffic management. NextGen is a complex undertaking that requires developing and implementing new technologies and procedures and partnerships with multiple stakeholders. Since the effort began almost a decade ago, we have identified longstanding challenges with NextGen, such as FAA’s inability to set realistic plans, budgets, and expectations, and clearly identify benefits for stakeholders.
In July 2013, FAA tasked the NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC) to review the Agency’s current plans and activities affecting NextGen implementation and recommend investment priorities, citing uncertainty around funding for NextGen projects. In September 2013, the NAC delivered its report—providing FAA with industry’s highest priorities for NextGen primarily based on their benefits, technological maturity, and implementation readiness. The Chairman and Ranking Members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and its Subcommittee on Aviation, requested that we examine FAA’s response to the report.
Since April 2014, four FAA and NAC integrated work groups have focused on developing a master implementation plan for a selection of the NAC’s priorities including: (1) advancing the use of performance-based navigation (PBN)—the NAC’s top priority, (2) unlocking closely-spaced parallel runway operations, (3) enhancing airport surface operations through data sharing, and (4) developing data communications capabilities between the cockpit and air traffic control. In October 2014, FAA published the plan, which included commitments from FAA and industry for the next 3 years. The plan identifies locations for delivery, timelines, metrics, and cost estimates for each of the four prioritized capabilities.
We made three recommendations aimed at ensuring that all parties are held accountable for their commitments made as part of the FAA’s implementation plan. In its response to the draft report, FAA provided comments stating that it has already complied with our recommendations, but did not provide specific information on its actions or completion dates as requested in our draft report. All recommendations will remain open and unresolved until FAA provides specific information on its completed or planned actions and completion dates. We plan to issue a separate report at a later time on our assessment of FAA’s plans for implementing the prioritized NextGen capabilities.