Air Traffic Control of the Future Requires Better Coordination Today, GAO Says


Airlines need to upgrade planes to get the most from FAA's $18 billion system.

The Federal Aviation Administration should coordinate more with airlines on plans for a next generation air traffic control system or it risks missing out on some benefits, government auditors said.

FAA pared back its midterm NextGen goals to ensure it would produce tangible benefits for airlines and passengers by 2018, according to a Government Accountability Office report. During the next five years the agency will focus primarily on installing a satellite-based navigation system, known as performance based navigation, at 30 airports. The system, which will cost $18 billion to implement through 2018, will allow airlines to take more direct routes, saving time and fuel.

FAA hasn’t done enough to ensure that airlines are on board with all its proposed changes, though, or to measure how widely they’re implementing plane upgrades that will be necessary to get full value out of the new navigation system, GAO said.

The airline industry must cover $6.6 billion out of the total $18 billion to implement NextGen goals by 2018, GAO said.

FAA dropped other midterm goals to avoid triggering lengthy environmental reviews that would have delayed savings, GAO said.

FAA’s long-term NextGen plan includes transferring information between airplanes and air traffic controllers using data packets rather than voice transmissions. The project has been plagued by delays and cost overruns of $500 million or more.

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