Total Costs, Schedules, and Benefits of FAA’s NextGen Transformational Programs Remain Uncertain
To meet its goals for the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) identified six “transformational” programs. These programs will provide a platform for new capabilities such as a precise satellite-based surveillance system and digital data communications for air traffic controllers and pilots. FAA has invested over $3 billion in these six programs since 2007, but has faced implementation challenges. Cost estimates for the transformational programs, as currently defined, now total over $5.7 billion and timelines extend beyond 2020. As requested by the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, we are providing an update to our 2012 report, which identified a lack of finalized program requirements and program costs, schedules, or performance baselines for the six transformational programs.
Since our 2012 report, FAA has made some changes to the cost and schedules of the six transformational programs. All programs are now initially baselined, but total costs and timelines remain unclear. FAA continues to use a segmented approach for the transformational programs, which reduces risks in the near term but masks how much each program will ultimately cost, when planned capabilities/benefits will be delivered, how many segments the programs will have, and when each program will be completed. FAA has not adjusted anticipated benefits for its transformational programs, and many benefits remain uncertain for improving the flow of air traffic and reducing Agency operating costs. For NextGen to realize its full benefits, airspace users must decide to make investments not only in avionics but in pilot and crew training. FAA originally identified the transformational programs as efforts that would fundamentally change the way the Agency would manage air traffic. However, our review has found that, at least until 2020, most of the transformational programs will not transform how air traffic is managed in the National Airspace System.
We made one recommendation to FAA help it better address these ongoing issues. FAA non-concurred with our recommendation, and we are asking FAA to reconsider its response.