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NextGen Benefits Have Not Kept Pace With Initial Projections, but Opportunities Remain To Improve Future Modernization Efforts

Mandated by the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018
Project ID: 
AV2021023
What We Looked At
The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is a multibillion dollar infrastructure project aimed at modernizing our Nation’s aging air traffic system to provide safer and more efficient air traffic management. Since 2006, our office and others have identified a number of challenges to implementing NextGen programs and capabilities, which have led to program delays and lower usage of new capabilities. Given these concerns, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 mandated that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) study the potential impacts of a significantly delayed, diminished, or completely failed delivery of NextGen. Our audit objectives were to (1) compare the current expected benefits of NextGen with the initial projections and identify the reasons for revising those projections and (2) identify lessons learned from developing and implementing significant air traffic modernization programs.
 
What We Found
NextGen’s actual and projected benefits have not kept pace with initial projections due to implementation challenges, optimistic assumptions, and other factors. FAA’s most recent business case projects total NextGen benefits to be over $100 billion less than the Joint Planning and Development Office’s original estimate, and benefits actually achieved to date have been minimal and difficult to measure. FAA’s projections were optimistic about traffic growth and did not account for risk factors. We also found that significant declines in air traffic due to COVID-19 have further extended the timeframe for realizing expected NextGen benefits. In addition, prior OIG NextGen-related work has identified lessons that FAA could use to improve NextGen delivery. For example, while FAA has collaborated with industry to prioritize, implement, and measure benefits of NextGen programs, there are still opportunities for improving transparency, which will be critical to secure industry’s long-term investment. Further advancing NextGen will depend on resolving complex implementation challenges, including effectively prioritizing programs, integrating interdependent capabilities, and harnessing controller automation tools to achieve benefits.
 
Our Recommendations
FAA concurred with our three recommendations to improve NextGen delivery and other future National Airspace System modernization efforts, and provided appropriate actions and completion dates. Accordingly, we consider all recommendations resolved but open pending completion of the planned actions.

Recommendations

Open

Closed

No. 1 to FAA

Publish metrics that measure performance of NextGen improvements across the NAS.

No. 2 to FAA

Develop and implement a process that incorporates interim adjusted benefit projections and interim implementation analyses to support prioritization of NextGen programs and deployment locations.

No. 3 to FAA

Update and provide stakeholders a risk adjusted NextGen benefit projection.