July 29, 2020
Requested by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and its Aviation Subcommittee
FAA Has Begun To Update ERAM but Faces Challenges Realizing Full Benefits for Airspace Users
What We Looked At
The National Airspace System (NAS) serves over 44,000 flights a day with over 5,000 aircraft in the sky at peak times. Critical to the NAS’s operations are the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) 20 Air Route Traffic Control Centers (Centers) that manage high-altitude air traffic. These Centers are equipped with the En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) system to manage and control high-altitude operations and provide infrastructure for new systems such as high-altitude data link communications for FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). In response to requests from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and its Aviation Subcommittee, we conducted this audit. Our objectives were to (1) evaluate FAA’s planned upgrades to ERAM and (2) assess ERAM’s ability to support key NextGen capabilities.
What We Found
FAA is making a significant investment to sustain and enhance ERAM’s hardware and software at the Centers. Over 6 years, the Agency will replace ERAM’s original computer hardware and modernize ERAM’s software to allow system improvements and new capabilities. Once these upgrades are complete, ERAM will essentially be a new system with enhanced capabilities. FAA plans to continue to add capabilities and keep the system up to date. FAA has re-categorized ERAM from a moderate to a high-impact system but has not yet determined what security controls the system will require as a high-impact system.
FAA has integrated NextGen capabilities into ERAM but faces challenges realizing full benefits for airspace users. FAA considers ERAM foundational to many NextGen systems, including the Automatic Dependent Surveillance—Broadcast (ADS-B) system, performance based navigation (PBN), and data communications (DataComm). The Agency has integrated ADS-B and PBN with ERAM but has encountered delays implementing DataComm’s high-altitude services due to the impact of the Federal Government shutdown in late 2018 and early 2019, air-to-ground network problems, and other issues. Because FAA will develop new procedures and training for controllers and pilots for these capabilities, it is uncertain when these enhancements and NextGen capabilities will provide full benefits for airspace users.
We made one recommendation to help FAA improve its efforts to upgrade ERAM to support NextGen capabilities. FAA concurred with our recommendation.