Although FAA Has Taken Steps To Improve Its Operational Contingency Plans, Significant Work Remains To Mitigate the Effects of Major System Disruptions
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) operates a vast network of facilities and communication, navigation, and surveillance equipment for managing air traffic throughout the United States. In recent years, FAA has experienced several major system failures that required individual air traffic control facilities to declare “ATC-Zero,” which means the inability to provide any air traffic control services. In response to a congressional request, we conducted an audit on FAA’s ability to manage air traffic control disruptions that arise in the National Airspace System. We found that while FAA has taken steps to improve the effectiveness of its operational contingency plans, significant work remains. FAA’s air traffic facilities are not fully prepared to respond effectively to major system disruptions, in part because the Agency lacks the necessary training for its controllers and the required redundancy, resiliency, and flexibility for its key air traffic control infrastructure. Many of the new technologies and capabilities that can improve the continuity of air traffic operations will not be available for years, and the Agency’s procedures for updating contingency plans remain incomplete. While the Agency has established new requirements for transferring airspace and air traffic control responsibilities to other facilities, those plans are not ready to be fully implemented. FAA also does not have an effective method for sharing operational contingency plans and lessons learned with its internal and external stakeholders. The Agency concurred with all eight of our recommendations to improve FAA’s ability to respond to air traffic control disruptions.